What swimming has taught me about freelancing

It unnerves me to say it but, I’m finishing January feeling my first month of the year hasn’t gone as well as it could, despite bringing more consistency to my weeks and an increase in my efforts. After a slow morning on the last day of this never-ending month, I hit the pool. I figured doing something was better than nothing. And I came to a realisation mid-backstroke. Staring up at the ceiling while trying to quieten my mind after a rough week, it dawned on me that freelancing is a lot like swimming.

I started swimming regularly back in October last year. It wouldn’t have been my first choice given my fear of the deep end, the fact I never properly learned to swim until my early twenties, (and even then the only stroke I was comfortable with was backstroke), not to mention the rigmarole of knotty wet hair, snappy swimming caps and the perpetual struggle of getting dry with a damp towel. But it’s been a brilliant way to get back into exercising after a long time off. And I’m loving it.

Yes, there’ve been struggles and discomfort, but keeping up the habit has helped me kick my deep end terror and not give my knotty damp hair a second thought. It’s then that I realised the pool is just a big metaphor for the ebb and flow of my freelancing life.

Hanging out at the shallow end, where my toes touch the floor and the water tickles my ribs, is the comfort zone. Here floats the manageable fun and administrative tasks – the place where work needs to happen if you’re ever going to get to the other side. But it’s easy, if not a little boring, but that stuff needs to happen.

At the other end is the daunt: pitching, landing commissions, finding clients, and writing the damn thing. These things can feel scary or cause uncertainty, especially if you feel out of your depth with a new topic, new title, or you just can’t hold onto the wall for safety. But letting go and taking the plunge is never as bad as you think. And once you’re done, you actually feel pretty good about it.

Down the centre of the lane is you and your stroke: each one as important as the last, and as the next. An action, a task, a thought, a conversation or a feeling – to help you make progress and take you to the next. Sometimes it all flows and you feel lighter than anything. Sometimes it feels like you’re moving through mud. Sometimes it’s the easiest lap you’ll do all day. Sometimes it’s the hardest you’ve done all week. Sometimes you know you just need to get it done. Sometimes you’ll enjoy every bit.

Sometimes someone will overtake you and your self-doubt creeps in (“I’m not fast enough; I’m not good enough to be here.”) Sometimes it’s just you, going it alone and feeling serene. Sometimes it’s an effort just to keep your head above the water. Sometimes you can’t describe the ease at which you float.

The consistency I’ve kept in my swimming has moved me on so much – and it didn’t happen in a week. I took it one day at a time, one lap at a time, one stroke at a time. Three months later, the chronic pain for which I started swimming has virtually gone – along with my deep end fear. My stamina’s increased. And I don’t hang out in the shallow end psyching myself up for the next lap like I did in the first few weeks.

Back on dry land, I know I need to give it time. I’m pitching more regularly each week, I have a more consistent daily plan, and I have goals I’m working towards and tracking. There’ll be splashes and surprises, and there’ll be quiet too. But I know I have to remember that each stroke brings change, and progress is happening.