COVID-19 / Speaking Out

Women freelancers speak: How to survive and thrive during the lockdown

. 6 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Women freelancers speak: How to survive and thrive during the lockdown

The coronavirus-induced lockdown has been tough on freelancers, both financially and emotionally. Here’s some advice, straight from the source.

All great actors and artists are freelancers at the end of the day, although the term isn’t generally associated with them.

Come to think of it, the greatest and most successful artists do things they are deeply passionate about. And it is their passion that helps them become free from the clutches of time. Their passion is their currency, which they use to buy time. They are ‘free’ to dictate the terms of their existence.

But how does one express their passion or their art, if there’s no audience to see their passion? How do freelancers not only survive but also effectively thrive during the lockdown?

We talked to some amazing women freelancers from different corners of the country about how the sudden lockdown has impacted them.

Hope is the first step

Harrsha Paliwal from Ghaziabad is a freelance storyteller who believes there is nothing that a good story can’t make better.

Harrsha Paliwal

She puts the situation in perspective bluntly: “There has been a sharp drop in income. I used to get called by reputed schools, malls, NGOs, corporates and even for individual parties and soirees to do story-telling, but all that has come to a sudden stop.”

Harrsha also used to conduct activity classes for young kids in her locality, but that has also found a pause. Nonetheless, she is persevering, saying, “The lockdown is tough, but I plan to be tougher.”

Neha Bahuguna, a Mumbai-based writer and creative director, has worked in entertainment for years. And it just happens to be one of the few industries that has come to a complete standstill.

She says no new work is forthcoming, because she had blocked all her dates to work on a film and a couple of TV shows. “The only thing moving me through the lockdown,” says Neha, “is my enthusiasm for life.”

Neha is certain in her conviction that enthusiasm mixed with discipline is the key to the lockdown (pun intended!).

Alright, but what after hope?

Good things come to those who are unafraid to ask for help.

A voice-over artist, a freelance writer, and an impresario—these are just a few of the hats Bangalore-based Swagata Majumdar wears. She also runs a platform called Boyaam, which gives freelance artists a chance to showcase their talents. She, more than most, is completely clued into the problems faced by freelancers.

Neha Bahuguna

She says, “If you are feeling overwhelmed by the lockdown and are worried about an uncertain future, go for counselling. Many counsellors and therapists are giving online sessions for free.”

Swagata also points out that many people are suddenly feeling lonely. She has been receiving calls from people who now talk about general topics, while earlier the talk would only be restricted to work. “However, don’t pretend that you are listening to people just to get work!” she adds.

Harrsha has a tip for those who feel the urge to act out of the panic or fear: do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.

It is very easy to lose track of your strengths in panic. Similarly, one also needs to factor in their weaknesses during a crisis.”

Beware of the urge to over-hustle!

Lahar Mehta – an interior designer in Mumbai who incorporates art-based counselling to create nurturing spaces for her clients – says that the lockdown should not propel one into overdrive.

Take it one day at a time,” she advises. “Don’t try to live too far into the future. This is an unprecedented situation, and it’s okay to not know what to do. A little downtime is the least you can do for yourself.”

Swagata Majumdar

Neha also advocates for a less money-oriented approach to working while not actually working. With a brand that is spread across social media (she runs a YouTube channel, an interactive Facebook and Instagram page), Neha makes it a point to answer to all those people who comment on her pages.

It might not immediately translate into money, but it helps me understand and connect with people through conversation. It is very important for a writer to know the way people tick.”

Another angle which not many have accounted for is the sudden influx of household work, what with domestic workers not being able to come in.

Swagata chimes in: “Don’t start doing excess household work to fill in the gap created by lack of freelance work.”

She also adds yet another layer to the idea of oversaturation in lockdown, saying that while keeping up with the news is necessary, drowning yourself in information is not.

Even though it may not seem so, a lot of your life is still under your control. The trick is to keep your mind free and occupied, in a balanced manner.”

Effective isolation takes both discipline and relaxation

It is said that half the task is done just by starting to do what you need to.

Lahar Mehta

Neha agrees: “The first day of any sudden change is crucial. If you lose your confidence on day one, it will be a tough task rebuilding it. If you set a routine – I gave myself a 21- day writing challenge – then you can spend time on work as well as doing things that make you happy.”

The dangers of half-done tasks (or even overdone ones) are extremely pointed now, when personal time and professional time merge.

The trick is to start the day with work, and wind down with the things you enjoy doing.

Conversely, Neha also thinks that one should use the lockdown period to not take life too seriously, because so much is unpredictable.This allows her the ability to adapt and evolve with the circumstances, because the mind remains fresh and unburdened.

Harrsha adds: “If food on the table has been assured for at least a month or so, go ahead and focus on all those things you’ve been putting aside because you thought ‘it isn’t the right time’.

Professionally, it is better to express yourself authentically, rather than forcing yourself to impress. Clients like the naturalness that comes with genuinity.

Reach out and reach within

In times like these, we truly learn the power of community and sisterhood.

Harrsha believes that talking to a friend should be prioritised over stalking professional contacts about work. “Sisterhood is the glue that holds your world together. Never speak to your contacts with heightened emotions. If you talk to them as compatriots, they might even be able to connect you with work opportunities!

Most freelancers work in silos, usually out of compulsion rather than choice. However, more often than not, the final product of their labour is dependent on team-work. Neha thinks that isolation can be harder if one is not comfortable with being able to work in teams, even if only through video calls.

Neha also emphasises the power of doing nothing. “Lock down all your thoughts for a few moments, maintain social distance with your worries. Investment in the self might take some time to mature, but in the long-run it will not go to waste.”

Lahar, in turn, intersectionalises this idea of positive dependence: “For most freelancers it is only their individual lives that have been impacted, but for me as an interior designer, the livelihood of a lot of people is dependent on the amount of work that I get. It will take a long time for the labourers to put faith in the system once more.”

While it is tough for freelancers, it is indeed tougher for contractual workers who are often considered ‘unskilled’. By keeping them in mind, and also raising awareness about it, we can attempt to help them as well.

Too long, didn’t read? Don’t forget the basics

  1. Hope is the first casualty of unpredictable chaos. Hold onto it, and reap the benefits.
  2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t block all your time and energy for one project.
  3. Love and respect yourself. Time spent on yourself can be extremely fruitful in keeping your strength up in tough times.
  4. Work may be scarce, but perseverance should never be.

We have often given thought to the word free in freelancer (someone who is free to choose who to work for). Let’s now shift our focus to the word ‘lancer’ in freelancer.

Lancing means to move suddenly and quickly while using a weapon. So a freelancer by that definition is someone who can move quickly between assignments or work, without losing their freedom, or their identity.

Doesn’t a freelancer in lockdown sound like an oxymoron? A warrior confined. Not at all! This lockdown was necessary for our physical survival, but the thing about warriors is that they find ways to attack their problems even in the most difficult of sieges.

Happy freelancing!