9 To Thrive: 9 Thoughts For A Healthy & Happy Freelancing Career

9 To Thrive: 9 Thoughts For A Healthy & Happy Freelancing Career

9 To Thrive: 9 Thoughts For A Healthy & Happy Freelancing Career

Elena Maro
Elena Maro
a month ago

Freelancing in the film industry, whatever your role, and as exciting as it can be, sometimes means navigating turbulent waters. So how do we stay put and not lose sight of our true North?

I moved from Italy to Los Angeles in 2016, after a 21-year-long plan to follow my childhood dream of making music for the silver screen. Once in L.A., coming from a 9-to-5 day job, I soon realized how much I had to learn not only about Hollywood but also about how to stay healthy while freelancing.

In the first three years, I went through many ups and downs and got very close to burning out. I was working nonstop (it is about being passionate, right?!) and I started feeling like life was going double speed, passing me by, while I was ending up miserable.

9 To Thrive 9 Thoughts For A Healthy  Happy Freelancing Career

An Imbalanced Life

I was living an imbalanced life. Being a Film and TV Composer was what I always wanted and I wasn’t enjoying it at all! I needed to make some changes in the way I was dealing with the whole “follow your dreams” stuff and all the issues seemed to be pointing in the same direction: I needed to love myself more.

I love Film Scoring immensely, but my relationship with it had somehow become toxic. I was working too much and was trying too hard to do and to be something specific based on what I was hearing from others. I thought I needed “to make it in Hollywood”. At first, I assumed that maybe it was just me having those difficulties, but then, day by day, I kept noticing it wasn’t.

I was having coffee with a director I worked with when he told me: “You know, since the moment I moved to Los Angeles to actively pursue a directing career, every time I am tired and consider taking some time off, I don’t because it makes me feel so guilty. I am here for a reason!’, and he looked long past exhausted. Another established filmmaker told me he was hospitalized a few years ago because once he moved to L.A. he was work, work, work until he just collapsed. He learned to approach creative work with more balance the hard way.

These are just a couple of examples from people that I respect as capable professionals and it is hearing of similar experiences that gave me the little “push" to write this blog. Our ability to create brilliant content and our productivity go along with our mental and physical health, peace of mind, and emotional balance. After I managed to get my balance back and feel like myself again, I have come to some conclusions. They’re not a magical potion to keep all the problems away, but they have proven to be very helpful in approaching the industry with more equilibrium.

9 To Thrive 9 Thoughts For A Healthy  Happy Freelancing Career

1. Leaving No Room For Negativity

This actually means two things:

  • Being aware of the people who don’t understand us and our dreams and goals. The people who always have negative remarks or when we are having a setback, look like they are telling us, “I knew it, I told you so”. Remember: it is your dream, your passion and you want to look at all that happens with a positive mind (or at least with a more objective one). You are the only person in charge of your personal and professional journey. When the negative people around us chime in, we need to cut them off because we love ourselves more.
  • Becoming aware of the negative thoughts and emotions that in difficult times sneak into our heads. We must first acknowledge them, deal with them, and then get rid of them. It is incredible how easy it is to start worrying too much and anticipating disaster and to lose hope and feel frustrated, angry, or resentful if we are not vigilant. We don't want to waste our time and energy on such unfruitful, self-destructive activities.

2. The Best We Can Do Is Not The More We Can Do

As human beings, we don’t have limitless resources. It is right to work hard, to be committed, reliable, and responsible, as much as it is important to know when to stop and take some rest so that we can preserve our clarity of mind, focus, and creative flow. This way we can be at our best when doing what we love. This brings us to the next point…

9 To Thrive 9 Thoughts For A Healthy  Happy Freelancing Career

3. Learning To Say “No”

I have lost count of those who told me to never say no, because “you must never miss an opportunity”! The concept of opportunity is a very subjective one because it depends on where we stand in our careers, if the job can fit into our schedule, and if the compensation (in any form) is worth pursuing. So a good opportunity for me may not be good for others and vice versa.

As freelancers, it's crucial to recognize that not every gig coming our way is a good fit.

While we spend so much time, thought, and effort in marketing ourselves for what makes us an essential asset to a film and for the unique traits that we “bring to the table”, it is also important to stay alert for those gigs that we know will drain our creativity. Either because we feel that those potential clients don't respect our worth or because that job doesn’t fit our values.

A “no” to a project that doesn’t feel right for us is actually the real opportunity, the chance to make room for more suitable gigs and other successful and fulfilling experiences. The ability to say no, to set boundaries is a way of honoring our own personal career and life journey because we love ourselves more.

9 To Thrive 9 Thoughts For A Healthy  Happy Freelancing Career

4. Making The Best Use Of Your Time

It is about finding the right mix between work and rest. Having a clear mind so that we can plan accordingly. If we can master our own time, we will be surprised at the amount of things we will get done while simultaneously taking care of ourselves and enjoying life.

5. What We Do Is Not What We Are

As much as we love what we do, it is more than okay to spend some time on other activities.

We need to take breaks, rest, and recharge to find our inspiration again. For me, in order to get back to work fully recharged, it is essential to be out in nature, hiking up a hill or even just taking care of my garden and my vegetable patch. Or to cook and eat a healthy meal without feeling guilty, because I know that the moments away from my desk are as needed as my ability to write music to get the job done in the best and (counterintuitively) fastest way possible.

By acknowledging that what we do is not what we are, it becomes easier not to take any criticism or setbacks too personally or feel like it’s the end of the world. It helps you keep a healthy perspective on the “down moments”.

9 To Thrive 9 Thoughts For A Healthy  Happy Freelancing Career

6. Filtering Out The Noise

Every day there is something new to learn. It’s good to listen to suggestions, but it’s just as important to take that advice and filter it through our own values and meter because deep down, we always know what is best for us.

Just a few days ago, I was talking about this with our Stage 32 Community Executive, Ashley Smith, and she was telling me that in the past she’s felt the “clock ticking”. She explained that directly following film school, she and her peers often felt pressured that they weren’t taking the right steps to pursue their dreams by doing the suggested things at the suggested time. Yet her actual achievements prove that the clock ticking was nothing to worry about.

I hear so much advice that is supposed to work every time, but I noticed it is often contradictory. “You need to go to college, then train…”, “Don’t waste your time and money to go to college…”, “First of all you must take an assistant position”, “An assistant position will just delay your career start”, “You need to go to those places, those events”, “Don’t waste your time going to these places or events”

The list goes on and on and the fact that it includes everything and the exact opposite of everything is to me proof of the limited effectiveness of such suggestions. In fact, I think these suggestions are pure noise. What I have observed by looking at the careers of the people I know, personally or not, is that there are no rules. Specific choices work for some and don’t work for others; we are all finding and defining our own paths. If anything we are suggested makes us feel uncomfortable or doesn’t feel right, then it is not for us. Our unique qualities and professional profile, which are in the end the result of our personal choices, are what make us interesting and valuable. We should never stop respecting who we are and honoring our uniqueness.

9 To Thrive 9 Thoughts For A Healthy  Happy Freelancing Career

7. What’s Success?

No matter how much we work, success doesn’t come automatically, it is not always a reward for our hard work. It’s far too unpredictable. Having this in mind, we need to find our own definition of success. So I would ask myself, “What does being successful mean to me?” At the end of the day, it is up to us and us only to define our goals. It is important, to be honest with oneself and to know what we really, really want, independently from all the stereotypical concepts of “success”. Because we are not stereotypes, we are real people.

8. Rejections Are Part Of The Journey, Just Like Our Accomplishments

If we pursue a career in entertainment, we can’t expect to always ‘win”. Quite the opposite, actually, we are going to hear tons of “No”, we’ll hit closed doors and glass ceilings. We are going to be rejected and many times even ignored. Rejections are possibly one of the hardest aspects of freelancing. They are something we can’t change, but we can change the way we look at them and process them so that they become valuable experiences.

How? Well, staying focused on our goals and pursuing our journey in a balanced and healthy way will make us resilient when necessary. We won’t allow setbacks to be disruptive, because we love ourselves more.

9 To Thrive 9 Thoughts For A Healthy  Happy Freelancing Career

9. A “Go To” Self-Love Notebook

I keep a diary where I take notes on the difficulties that I overcome so that I have written proof that, despite it all, there is always something to learn. That I am moving forward and nothing can scare me because I am progressing.

In the evenings, I write down three good things that happened each day, to train my brain to look at the positives.

I also keep a folder I call the “composer survival kit” where I collect thank you notes from clients, praises, or enthusiastic comments, to help me remember the number of people I am making happy with my work or I simply touched with my music. It is a good, factual reminder of my achievements and it really helps in those difficult moments when it may become hard to look at the bright side.

I hope you all enjoyed reading these tips and suggestions. I hope that they help you to continuously thrive on your own journey!

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About the Author

Elena Maro

Elena Maro

Music Composer

Sought after Film and Television Composer Elena Maro is the living proof of how perseverance and the courage of making radical life choices do make dreams come true. From 2017, after she moved to Los Angeles from Italy to start her freelancing career, she has written music for several Film and Te...

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