I've been having a few ups and downs in the world of freelancing lately. Ups have included a cheeky mid-week break in Edinburgh; downs mainly involve narrowly missing out on some work I would have loved to do, and worked really hard to try and win. Still, life goes on. The scars will heal. The bills will be paid (I hope.)
One thing I've realised is that freelancing is a lot like dating. In the last few months I've swapped contact details with someone who sparked my interest then played the will-they-won't-they-call waiting game; I've had coffee with a few people so we can size each other up and I've had a REALLY awkward break-up conversation. Someone I know has said to me 'I'm not going to hook up with this person, but I think they're perfect for you. Can I pass on your details?' and I've even, I'm a little ashamed to say, resorted to dodging emails in order to extricate myself from an expired (in my mind, at least) relationship. None of these things had anything to do with my personal life.
Courting people for work, courting people for romance....there's a lot of overlap. You're constantly presenting your best self to others, then waiting for their judgement. You have to be honest with other people and - the even harder bit - with yourself, about what it is you're looking for, and what you're not prepared to do. You have to be brave enough to say no to things which aren't quite right, and trust that there's something else out there. And when you do find what you're looking for and you fall in love – whether with the perfect work opportunity, or the right person, you have to go and chase after it, without any idea of what the outcome might be. You have to take risks. Constantly.
In both love and work, there are safer options. You can simply do nothing at all (and end up unemployed and alone) or you can take the 'normal' route. Find a regular full-time job, settle down with Mr He's-OK-I-guess-and-it's-better-than-being-alone. These are not terrible options. Plenty of people take those options and there is still, even now I think, a lot of pressure to follow that path. It's easy to see why it's so tempting.
But for some of us - and I think we're growing in number – that's not the right choice. The alternatives might involve doing things which are, quite frankly, sometimes terrifying, but as hard and as scary as it can be sometimes, we still know what feels right for us. Don't ask me how we know - we just know. I know I'd rather be freelancing than be tied down to a not-quite-perfect job in much the same way I'd rather be single than settle for a relationship with just anyone. I suspect it's the same something, deep in my DNA, which is responsible for both.
It takes guts though. You need the courage to go against the grain in the first place. And then (and here's the real kicker) you have to keep being courageous, performing little acts of bravery over and over again. It's easy, after a while, to forget that this is what you are doing. Being brave might have become a habit, but doing something habitually doesn't necessarily make it more pleasant, or less painful. Anyone who has kept a regular waxing appointment will tell you that.
Being brave is hard. Really hard. In the news, we hear stories of great acts of courage all of the time. People who climb dangerous mountains to rescue other people and who watch loved ones battle cancer and who fight for what they believe in even under the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
Perhaps not as newsworthy, but no less important, are the smaller acts of courage. The tiny moments of fear which we feel but try to ignore. The times we don't just listen to our heart, but we actually act on what it is telling us, even though or head is freaking out. The times when ask for what we want, or tell someone how we really feel about them, or ask a question we're scared to know the answer to. We finally press the 'send' button on the kind of email where you have to take a deep breath, and hover your finger over the keyboard for ages first, and that when you do send it, makes you feel a combination of relief and anxiety and hope and wishing the internet had never been invented all at once.
The risks we take in love, in work, in life generally, every single day, seem small. We have to tell ourselves that these moments are tiny, and were no big deal, otherwise we'd never be able to cope with the thought of doing them. But sometimes it's important to remember how big they feel in the moment too.
One of my friends performed one of those little acts of bravery recently, in matters of the heart. It didn't pay off – or at least, not in the way that she wanted it to - but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth the risk. Regardless of the outcome, those moments leave us with something.
They leave us with stories.
The stories of these tiny-but-huge moments are the ones we tell ourselves the next time we need to do something scary. We use them to remind ourselves that we know how to be brave, because we've done it before. When they have happy endings they provide concrete evidence that sometimes risks are worth taking. And when they don't, they give us the comfort of knowing that we've been through something similar and survived. They help us remember that no matter what happens as a result of the crazy, hold-onto-your-hat-and-just-jump leap of faith we're about to take, we'll be OK.
Those stories are what make us brave enough to be brave again. And again. And again. They provide an extra boost of courage, just when we need it the most, and give us tiny scraps of faith we can cling on to. They are what make the difference between thinking and doing, acting and not acting. Being proud that we tried or regretting the fact that we didn't.
The best thing about bravery is that it's contagious. Talking to my heroic, kick-ass friend the other night reminded me of that. By sharing her story, she passed a tiny nugget of courage on to me, too. I haven't done anything with it yet but I absolutely intend to. And when that tiny-but-huge moment does arrive, it is going to find me waiting. Still terrified, still wondering what I'm about to let myself in for, but with enough courage to go and find out.