I’ve been self-employed for nearly all of my working life. When I tell people this, a common response is: “Oh I could never work for myself. I’d never get anything done.” To which I say: “You would, because you’d have to.” I accepted, long ago, that the trade-off for controlling my own time would be holding myself accountable for how I spend it. And so I make sure things get done.
After almost a decade of this arrangement, you'd imagine that I'd have built a seamless working schedule. And while I certainly maintain a handful of deeply-entrenched daily habits, the truth is that my days vary wildly depending on where I am and what I’m working on. There was a time when I attempted to rigidly control my time as a way of managing my anxiety about work (and life), but the past couple of years have thrown me a series of curveballs that totally upturned my routine – and in doing so, challenged me to greatly reexamine my stance on willpower, focus, and self-control.
Where do our ideas about discipline come from? Too often, I suspect they are not our own. For a long time, mine certainly weren't: I was trapped in a vision of optimum productivity conjured up by Instagram, shitty self-help books, and late-stage Capitalism. Last year, a series of bad injuries forced me to totally change the flow of my daily life; to reorient my days around recovery and rest. For the first time in a long time, I stopped to reconsider who I was really serving by forcing myself to work out six days a week, and staying chained to my laptop long after I had any financial incentive to do so. That period of enforced stillness was gnarly at times, but it taught me to be softer with myself in a way I desperately needed to learn.
Sometimes, I reflect on my past self who would leave the house in the dark for 7am spinning classes and turn down road trip invites in order to work, and I'm filled with a strange and distant sense of admiration. But I know that her relationship with self-discipline was rooted in ideas which no longer make sense to me, and so any attempt to recreate her schedule would inevitably prove irrelevant - not to mention ineffective - for my life as it is right now.
These days, my vision of self-discipline is less about self-flagellation, and a lot closer to self-knowledge, self-belief and self-love. It’s no longer about scheduling my time down to the last minute and more about knowing what I want to do, deciding how I want to do it, and then trusting myself to get it done. That part is a lot harder than colour-coding my iCal, but it feels infinitely more worthy of my time.