The 3 identities freelancers have to manage

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Happy Friday y’all!

Freelancers face an interesting challenge. Working solo, we are our own “chief cook and bottle washer” to borrow a phrase my dad really likes to use.

We have to do it all. And that’s fine. It’s not only the choice we made, but in many cases the life we crave. We LIKE doing it all – because it means we’re in total control (cue: “I did it my way”).

But what’s interesting is not that we have to DO everything. It’s that we also have to BE everything.

The three planes of existince

A lot of people know that self-employed people must be their own:

  1. Employee
  2. Entrepreneur

That makes sense, right? When selling expertise as a self-employed business owner, you have to deliver services (employee) and you have to manage the business or any staff and contractors you work with (entrepreneur).

But there’s a third identity: Individual.

It’s not just that we are working in the business and on the business, but that we have to live with our decisions in both instances.

As employees (even high ranking executives), there’s a certain dissonance between you and the business: it is just your job at the end of the day. For freelancers, your identity IS your job. And working remotely doesn’t help this mental state because you have no physical separation between your life and your work.

What it means to self-switch context

The problem of handling three identities is that things can get out of control quickly.

In a given day, you might have a sales call (entrepreneur) and have client work to do (employee). But then you’ll have to experience and process the individual emotions you feel about both of those things.

… are you feeling overworked?

… are you worried for the future?

… are you figuring out where the next client will come from?

… are you feeling underpaid?

… are you making a big investment in your growth or professional development?

These are employee and entrepreneur concerns. But your individual psyche – your insecurities, fears, concerns, worries, etc. – come into play here.

Your “entrepreneurial” self might be ready to take a big risk – it is that identity’s job, after all – but your individual self may have significant insecurities around that risk.

Death by a thousand context switches

So far in my freelance business, the way I’ve gotten around this is focused work – and admitting that I can’t remove my “individual” identity from the work I do each day.

Instead, I think about:

  1. How to act in accordance with my personal beliefs.
  2. How to let the “employee” and “entrepreneur” mindsets care for and support the “individual” (instead of only ever the other way around).
  3. Learning to sit with discomfort – as usually that means I’m growing.

What do you do?

Thanks For Reading!

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