I'd rather be on the rollercoaster than the hamster wheel

What does "hard work" really mean?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to work hard recently. 

When I was a fresh-faced graduate and first started working, I would pack too much in. I was getting up before dawn to squeeze in a workout, before commuting to an office where I’d spend more time analysing the politics of the place than doing any meaningful work. Most evenings were taken up cycling through “catch-ups” with friends in Ping Pongs all over London. 

Now, my working life looks very different. Granted, I’m not 22 anymore, but something about my whole outlook on work has nonetheless shifted. To start with, work and life are a lot more blended for me these days. My home is literally my office. For some people, that might seem like a bad thing but for me, it works. 

I used to try and cram my life in the margins of my days before, whereas now I can fit everything I want to do into my schedule with room to breathe. I used to be the last one to screech into a spin class after work, now I’m early for my 11 AM Pilates class on Fridays. 

There are also ways in which I work now that would have blow 22-year-old me’s mind. Ever since my podcast co-host, Tiffany Philippou, told me she doesn’t use an alarm to wake up anymore, I also stopped using one. I still get up early, but it’s on my own terms.

Here’s the thing, though, I work harder now than I ever did before. The curious thing is that work no longer burns me out, exhausts me and makes me miserable in the ways it used to. Now, I get to decide how, when and even if, I’m going to work each day. Knowing that each day I wake up and feel like I’ve cheated the system.

I can’t believe that I get to call what I do “work” because it’s not what I used to think work should look like. I thought you were working hard if you were trying to get somewhere, chasing a never-ending list of achievements that kept moving further away each time you got closer to them. Hard work was about being seen doing something and if I’m totally honest, the work itself was boring. To lean on a cliche, I was on the hamster wheel. 

Now, hard work is about the work itself. I work hard when I’m sat, uninterrupted, for a few hours writing a feature (or this newsletter) that helps me make sense of the world. Hard work is knowing what to do when something goes wrong, which it does on a semi-regular basis. What I find most challenging about freelancing is having to figure everything out myself. There’s no HR department to turn to when something goes pear-shaped or a break-out area to go to with a colleague for a whine and a moan.

While the lows of freelancing can feel lower than those of an in-house job, recovering from them feels that much more rewarding. There’s no doubt in my mind that riding the freelance rollercoaster is hard, but I’d rather be on the rollercoaster than the hamster wheel.