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Vacation time... or maybe not!

How to not get burned out working as a freelance illustrator as a side hustle

· illustration

I work two jobs, and have done so for quite some time. I am a freelance illustrator and I have a day job (although in reality it is mostly early mornings) as a reporter and radio talk show host at YLE. Sometimes all I (literally) dream of is vacation, as this Friday Comic shows:

Dreaming of vacation! Friday Comic. Sebastian Dahlström, all rights reserved. 2019.

I have been really stressed out a couple of times during my career. Luckily I have always taken the symptoms seriously at an early enough stage and made proper adjustments. Over the years I have learned how to recognise when it is time to step back, say no or take some other action (or no action at all). Other times I have failed at this, which has resulted in a longer recovery period and unnecessary unhappiness.

A job that you love is still a job

It is not always easy though. I think it is particularly tough when it comes to creative work such as illustration. It took me a couple of years to realise that even though drawing is my hobby, or even passion, working for a client is still... well, work. And work requires recovery time.

Deadlines are stressful, the fear of not being good enough is extremely stressful, pricing is stressful and book-keeping is a bit stressful as well. To me stress is a double edged sword. In right amounts it is a useful tool. I'd much rather be a bit stressed than a little bored. But too much stress is just awful.

Caricature of Stefan Mutanen. All rights reserved, Sebastian dahlström Drawings.

An example of freelance work. A caricature I made some time ago. All rights reserved.

How to avoid stress as a freelance illustrator

My creative work doesn't happen between nine to five. Managing two jobs means that a lot of my illustration work gets done on weekends and evenings. But the thought process goes on in the background all the time. Thinking about work is also work. As a journalist I am used to a quick production process - one story or one radio show at the time - and then it is gone. Keeping an illustration project "on the back burner" for days, weeks or in some cases even months without constantly thinking about is a skill i have yet to master.

What I have learned that works for me is to get the job done as soon as possible, and avoid doing things at the last minute. This reduces stress enormously and gives a sense of being ahead of the curve. Another thing I've learned to accept is that nothing will ever feel absolutely perfect (or if it happens it happens extremely rarely). The point is to decide when it is good enough (without feeling bad about it). Being extremely good is important, but being a perfectionist is not.

Last but not least: always strive to get better, never settle. But don't try to do everything at once. Some things take a long time to master. It is ok.