I’m having a work slump. I haven’t worked regularly for about three months now.
I had some exciting weekender work about three weeks ago that will cover one month’s worth of expenses, but it’s not pumping right now. I’m looking forward to a long contract over summer and into the new year, but that won’t start until mid-October. For now, there’s just the wait.
This happens a lot. All the time, in fact. Even at my busiest, I’ve had two-month slumps interspersing the chaos.
Usually slumps are chopped up with some incoming payments or outgoing invoices, so it seems like work is happening because admin has taken place. But sometimes there hasn’t been a job in several weeks, the last invoice was paid a month ago, and there’s no foreseeable income or work buzz happening. That’s when the Squeeze sets in.
The Squeeze is that tight ball in your stomach that only an influx of cash can release. It’s when you’ve started to grind your teeth again from unresolved tension. It’s the hawk-like watch you keep on your bank account, willing money to appear in it.
Sometimes you snap and make a purchase you can’t really afford, just to stop worrying about being broke for ten seconds. It works until the moment you get home, and then the guilt floods back in. It’s a dry, desert island with no rescue ships in sight. All there is, all you have, is time. And the Squeeze.
I’ve experienced the Squeeze several times before and they were all bad. Some were worse than others, when they compounded already fraught situations. I had no plan beyond hoping they’d never come.
I developed some coping mechanisms through each work slump – not all of them good. I’d mostly just grit my teeth and get through it. I worked on personal projects and avoided going out, so that I wouldn’t accidentally spend money. I’d put some effort into self-promotion. I would hibernate and deep-dive into a series or podcast to kill time. There was literally no financial backup plan. I would just sit tight and trust that everything was going to be okay.
And it almost always was. But I got out of there by the skin of my teeth.
Work Slump or ‘Mini Sabbatical’?
Looking back, I realize these months were a form of debtor’s prison for me. I had splashed about when times were good, and had to simply wait in anxiety when times were lean. By overspending in the moment, I’d borrowed against my future, taken away from the peace of mind I might have enjoyed during a slump.
It never occurred to me that I could build a work slump into my financial plan. I never realized I could USE the fact of my sporadic earnings as a massive advantage in my life, rather than a burden to bear.
Most people wait on tenterhooks for a retirement or a sabbatical to give themselves permission to pursue their passions. I have free time already built into my year – I just never know when it’s going to happen.
As a financial plan, it has its dangers – my income (and therefore my savings) are unpredictable, month to month and year to year. I could hit a slump and then wipe out my savings because of an emergency. Routine and planning is harder than necessary because my schedule is all over the place. I will climb the financial freedom tree in a less linear fashion to people with regular jobs, and it might take me longer to get there…
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