You can still have bad days when you work for yourself.

Bad day work from homeBack when I used to work for a company, I always wanted to work for myself. I wanted to get away from other people’s stress, to not be told what to do, and to do more creative work than I had been doing. I wanted to work from a home office, make my own hours, fix my own lunch in my own kitchen, write with my cat on my lap and take regular yoga breaks right behind my desk whenever I feel like it. (That last one would have been very distracting in a working newsroom.)

These days I do all of the above. I’m an adjunct professor, freelance writer, author and artisan. I manage all these projects from my home office, which is, in fact, equipped with both a cat and a yoga mat. It’s exactly what I wanted when I was employed by a larger company. But here’s the thing I didn’t expect:

I still have bad days.

I know. This sounds incredibly naïve.

But here’s the thing. Back in the day, I blamed my bad days on my job, on my work, on my deadlines, on the office itself, on the time it took to commute to work, on the paycheck, on my schedule… you name it. Me having a bad day wasn’t my fault. It was the fault of something around me.

Now when I have a bad day, I’m forced to admit that the problem isn’t my office, or my work or my commute. The problem is me.

Last week, for example, was a terrible work week. I sat and stared at the computer screen and was unable to summon a single thought. I tried to write my book. I tried to create a lesson plan. I tried to post here. I did force some work, but it wasn’t that great, and all I wanted to really do was click over to Facebook and just watch the status updates scroll on by. At the end of each day, when I’d come downstairs, I’d feel guilty about the crappy work I’d produced and the hours I’d wasted.

Back in the day, I would have blamed those bad days on my job. But now I see that my job was unjustly blamed for some of the problems that I create on my own.

This is not to say that jobs don’t create stress. Of course they do. Conflicts with other people, difficult assignments,  tough deadlines, long hours, those weird industrial lights that are part of so many offices and stores… working in an office or a shop or a school carries all kinds of stress with it. For the most part, my life is a lot less stressful now. **

But all the previously-stated  stresses were never my biggest problem. My biggest stressor always was an internal voice that told me I wasn’t working hard enough or well enough. That’s still my biggest stress, whether I’m in the classroom or writing at home. It just took me getting my dream job to understand that I’ve been my worst taskmaster.

Or, to be a nerd about it, working from home is like visiting Lothlórien. One carries one’s own bad days in with them.

But I digress.

So what to do about it?

Well, to be honest, there are always days when I could work harder. I could shut off the Internet, close my door, and work like the devil himself was behind me, screaming obscenities.

(I mean that the devil would be screaming obscenities, not me. Sorry if that was confusing. Although screaming obscenities would totally be cathartic and it would give the neighbors something to talk about. Everybody wins.)

Or maybe I should use those days to complete different kinds of tasks. If I can’t write, I can find a home for one of my short stories, or an essay, or an article.

I can use the time to book an appearance.

In extreme cases, I can do what I did last Thursday, when I despaired of ever writing another word: I bleached the life out of the bathroom.

working from home bad days

I only advise this in extreme cases.

Generally, though? I think I’m going to have to start being easy on myself in the guilt department. I think it’s fine to expect a lot of myself and to apply pressure in the beginning of the day. It’s fine to make myself work hard during the hours I’ve set aside for work. It’s even fine to give myself hell for being on Facebook during working hours because hey, unless I’m building my platform, I have no business writing a status update.  I think any boss would agree with that.

But guilting myself when a workday didn’t go as planned serves no purpose whatsoever. And that’s what I have to give up.  And for some reason**, I know that will be the hardest thing for me to do.

Workers from home, do you have the same problems? How do you deal with it?

*Example: In my previous life, I might have to take a break from typing something because someone who was deeply unhappy with something I wrote was waiting for me at the front desk. Today, I had to take a break from typing because the neighbor’s mastiff, in a fit of friendliness, stuck his head through our fence.

**Growing up Irish Catholic, maybe?

For 2011: A little more hot chocolate, a lot less stress.

Today, one of my plans fell through.

I can’t identify the plan on this blog, but it doesn’t matter. It was something I wanted and it’s not going to happen. End of story.

Normally when something like this happens, I have a pretty scripted response. I freak out. In order to circumvent the cycle of disappointment and self-blame that my brain is about to initiate, I turn off my brain and turn on my mouth. I talk non-stop about went wrong. I follow my husband from room to room, babbling at him. As soon my husband appears to have reached the breaking point, I call my mother and talk to her for hours. I “casually” mention the thing that’s been bothering me to friends, thereby hijacking all conversation with my worries.

All of this is a desperate attempt to convince myself that I:

a) did the right thing

b) didn’t do the wrong thing

c) am not a bad person/irresponsible/ failure at life

d) should not blame myself

Usually all of this frenzied talking does nothing to make me feel any better. Usually it means I spend far too much time dwelling on the problem. I fret, I lose sleep, I don’t write, and despite all the reassuring evidence I’ve marshaled  to prove to myself that I am not a failure, I end up feeling like one.

It’s really about the worst coping strategy a girl could want.

So I am not doing it anymore.

One of my resolutions this year is to be a calmer person. This evening, to cope with my disappointment, I’m trying something different.

As soon as I got the bad news, I went downstairs and found my husband. We talked about our goals for this year and for the next ten years. After looking at our goals for the next several years, it turns out that one setback in 2011 is just a blip on the radar screen. It’s not worth worrying about, because we have bigger fish to fry.

I have huge goals for this year alone: I plan to finish my novel. I plan to publish at least one story in a literary magazine. I’m applying for fellowships. I’m going to try to publish a novelette this year. By the end of 2011, I hope to have at least made a dollar off my creative writing. I’m building a list of agents to query when the first draft of my novel is complete. I plan to get my website set up. And most importantly,  I will graduate this summer with my Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing.

Those are just the writing-related goals. I think they’re all feasible, and the fact that I can reasonably achieve all that makes any setback seem minuscule.

Now I’m kicking back with some hot chocolate and writing this blog post. I haven’t even called my mother.*

*To be completely accurate (and because I know she does read this blog sometimes) I did spend an hour and a half talking to her this afternoon. But not about this.