Lately I’ve been feeling both uninspired and anxious about the freelance projects I’ve accepted, to the degree that it has adversely affected my mood when I’m trying to do other things.
Upon reflection, I think my difficulties stem from a mindset I’ve fallen into over the past year or so. Much of my freelance work over that time has involved tasks that I don’t find stimulating or that I don’t see as valuable.
One example of the former would be inputting metadata tags for the various components of a science or social studies program. It has a purpose, but that purpose is purely for record-keeping, and the work itself is both tedious and detail-oriented. An example of work that doesn’t feel valuable to me would be writing large numbers of multiple choice questions for a given set of textbook content.
I’m not fond of multiple choice questions to begin with; I think they are overused and have limited value as measures of student knowledge unless they are used as a small component alongside different sorts of assessments. This basic dislike pales in comparison to the problems I have with writing dozens of multiple choice questions for, say, a single chapter, a process which entails increasingly awkward contortions of language and eventually a focus on minutiae simply to ensure that each question is vaguely unique. That’s simply overkill. It’s also difficult, at least for me.
So lately I’ve lost most of my appreciation for the process of doing my job. Instead, I’ve come to base my evaluation of my success upon my output. And the only aspects of that output that I can take pride in are the speed and efficiency with which I complete my assigned tasks. I established a reputation for getting things done ahead of schedule and in good enough condition that they required relatively minor adjustments to meet the project standards.
The problem with that sort of value system arises when I’m handed an assignment that has very tight deadlines, very vague guidelines, or both. In those cases, it’s quite hard to work ahead of schedule. It’s equally hard to produce work that won’t need significant revisions, because the standards being used to assess the work are moving targets. In those cases, I find myself becoming very anxious and often irritable. Instead of being the team player that I’ve prided myself on being in the past, I start seeing the project as an opportunity to fail by the metrics that I’ve established for assessing my own value as a writer and editor.
I don’t really know what would happen if I did “fail” on a project by turning work in late or in mediocre shape. I’m fairly certain that I would survive and continue to receive contract offers. But I’m frightened by the prospect and upset when confronted with projects that might derail what I perceive to be an excellent record. It’s especially difficult when I perceive corrections as slights or I get annoyed because I don’t respect what I’m working on and so think of the changes as just more running on a treadmill.
Having identified these challenges, I’m not sure what to do about them. I don’t know how to go about finding different types of freelance assignments that might feel more fulfilling. I’m also uncertain how to adjust my perspective on work in a way that would let me appreciate the process of working on the kind of assignments that have been coming my way since the ideology of standardized testing overwhelmed the mindset of the K-12 education publishing industry.
I do think that, if I get the opportunity to work on more stimulating projects again, I have to shed this fixation on speed and avoiding initial mistakes. And if I’m going to be a professional, I need to accept the change requests whether I respect the work or not.