This is an interview-style post with Marina from The Zen Freelancer.
Hey Marina! Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
Hey there! I’m Marina, a freelance copywriter and the person behind TheZenFreelancer.com.
I’m passionate about words and websites! Besides with writing (for the blog & for clients), I’m also busy with editing, translating, online marketing and web project management.
What was it that made you quit your well-paid job back in 2015?
For a while, I’d been feeling like I deserve something better than lousy management, lack of challenges and life in a poisonous environment.
I couldn’t breathe or sleep, but I kept on pushing myself despite all of the signs my body was giving to me.
The extremely ambitious and productive Marina slowly vanished, and instead, there was one constantly irritated and tired person.
I had burnout without even knowing that such a thing exists. Now I’m thankful for the experience as it made me think what I really want.
This tough period allowed me to take the risk of quitting my job and starting my freelancing career.
What are the first signs of burnout and what do you think people should do when they notice them?
Burnout is closely related to the stress levels in one’s life. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s difficult to recognise the stressful event or environment while we’re constantly in it.
The long-term stress might be at work but also at home, caused by our closest people.
Among the first signs of physical and mental exhaustion are:
- concentration issues
- pain (in the neck, shoulders or back)
- confusion at crowded places
- sleep issues (insomnia or troubles getting out of bed)
- escapism (smoking, drinking or taking drugs)
- emotional lability
- constant feeling of tension.
The issue is that most of the people tend to neglect these symptoms thinking that they’re “strong enough to cope” or that it’s common to feel like this.
It’s important to emphasise on the fact that long-term stress often leads to more severe issues like depression, panic attacks, social anxiety and lack of emotion regulation.
The first step to preventing burnout is to recognise and acknowledge the signs I mentioned.
If you feel under a lot of pressure or you notice a sudden negative change in your
Try to be honest and admit what adds tension in your life. It’s a personal decision whether you’ll use self-help or you’ll talk to a specialist, but it’s crucial to gain back your balance.
How has your life changed since becoming a freelancer?
I started travelling a lot! The flexibility to work at any time and any place is priceless.
I also have a significantly healthier lifestyle. Moreover, thanks to the possibility to work on various types of projects, I widened the scope of my skills and gained valuable experience in different fields.
Read also: How This Dad Quit His Job 2 Years After Starting a Blog
Tell us a bit about your solo
travelling experience and how it led to finding your ideal destination, which is now your home.
As I said, I started travelling a lot when I became a freelancer.
I was a digital nomad, always on the road, planning my next trip. But after a while, I decided that the time for a new and exciting experience has come.
24 months ago I packed 24 kg of stuff in my backpack and headed to the biggest adventure of my life. A whole life in a backpack. A whole life left behind.
For the first time, I bought a one-way ticket. Choosing the first destination of my journey was easy.
Among all of the countries I’ve ever visited, there was only one that I immediately fell in love with: The Netherlands.
Since the first time I came here as a tourist, I’ve been dreaming to experience the Dutch lifestyle and to get to know the Dutch culture.
What I didn’t expect was meeting the most caring, kindest and understanding person on earth. This is how the first destination of my great journey also became the last.
I decided to stay for good, and here I am – a Bulgarian girl working in English and speaking in Dutch!
How do you start from scratch in a new country when your portfolio was built in another?
You need three things: patience, motivation and someone who believes in you more than you do. At least this is how I did it!
You’re creating a brand around your name and philosophy with The Zen Freelancer. How did that start?
“Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”,
Confucius said a long, long time ago. And there are a lot of people who believe that working as a freelancer is the easiest thing to do.
We choose the projects we work on, we define our working hours, and we can work either from home or from a cool place like The Maldives or Bali.
While all of the above can be true, it’s also easy to slip and to become obsessed with our job. We’re online 24/7, constantly checking our email and social media, and having the feeling that we’re always one step behind.
I wanted to share with other fellow freelancers the things I’ve learned for the years I’ve been self-employed. I wanted to help other entrepreneurs to stay sane and to find the work-life balance.
That’s why I created The Zen Freelancer – a quiet space for busy minds which has the purpose to help freelancers from all over the world to take good care of themselves and to work smarter, not harder.
How do you stay focused when working from home?
Most of the time I don’t really need a special trick. I keep my working place tidy and I have a strict schedule.
As I’m not an early bird, I use the mornings to work out. Doing sports gives me the energy to go throughout the day but also clears my mind so that I can focus on the most pressing tasks.
Of course, there are days that I’m prone to distraction – then music helps me to get into the flow.
What are your best productivity and time management practices?
I have many to-do lists and I even have a list of my to-do lists.
During the day I’m regularly checking the things I’ve done – tracking my progress does miracles to my motivation.
In the evening, I’m making an overview of the tasks for the next day and I’m setting my priorities.
Recently I also started tracking my time.
Let’s say that I’ve decided to write for two hours, but I feel like having a cup of tea. If I choose to get up and prepare it immediately, I have to write down this interruption.
Time tracking works as a gentle slap which reminds me that I’m busy with another thing right now. And I’ll get a cup of tea when it’s the proper time for that. Not now.
What are your best tips for those who want to quit their 9 to 5 job and start freelancing?
Go for it but don’t rush it!
If you’re dreaming about working as a freelancer, but you keep on seeing obstacles instead of opportunities, try to make an action plan.
My advice is to quit your job only after considering all of the potential risks of being self-employed.
While you’re still going to work from 9 to 5, you have to prepare for the freelancing adventure.
The first, most essential step is to start saving money. You must have a buffer which will allow you to take the time and build your career as a freelancer properly.
Some of the other steps in your action plan might be:
- Determine what skills and experience you can use.
- Decide upon your niche.
- Create profiles on LinkedIn and platforms for freelance jobs.
- Start networking – having the right connections is crucial.
- Pitch potential clients and apply for freelance projects.
- Once the wheel starts turning, quit your job.
Do you think every freelancer should have a blog and why?
Yes! Even if it contains only one page.
This is one of the easiest ways to build a portfolio as a newbie freelancer.
Whatever the niche is, there’s a way to make a nice-looking blog which represents one’s skills and experience.
Read also: How Much Does It Cost to Launch a Blog
You’re doing a good job on Pinterest too. How did you grow your page there?
Thanks! My secret to gaining more than 77k viewers within a month is consistency.
In the beginning, I was pinning every day, and I was pinning a lot! Afterwards, I started using Tailwind – a scheduling tool that saves a lot of time.
I also spent some time on Pinterest SEO, I activated a business account, and I claimed my website. I suppose that all of these steps showed Pinterest that The Zen Freelancer is a trustworthy source of information.