Basement | ˈbeɪsm(ə)nt’ (noun)

1. The floor of a building which is partly or entirely below ground level: he retired to his basement in hope of escape.

2. Metaphor for creative reclusion; escapism to avoid difficult life decisions: what are you shying away from in your basement?

1. Oxford Dictionary of English definition, 2. My imagination

About 18 months ago I disappeared into a dark little hole of my own making. It began, innocently enough, as a household renovation project. I planned to turn our cellar into a self-contained flat we could put on Airbnb.

But it soon escalated into a full-blown, existential, mid-life career crisis.

A foul change was in the air

After almost 10 years in marketing I’d become jaded by its limitless manipulation, self-congratulation and championing of toxic consumerism. I felt freelancing, as a vehicle, didn’t make a difference.

So my compulsion was to bail out and find a career with more virtue. But in the meantime, our basement beckoned…

Middle-aged person freaks out at futile existence

Brooding in the basement with my hammer and drill, I grew resentful of freelancing. There’s some validity to my criticisms of bad marketing, but the problem was I’d lumped copywriting in with it. I’d poisoned my art. I also blamed everyone else, from the competition to millennials, for my economic woe. This shirking any responsibility for being part of the remedy.

Moreover, I directed my frustration at the How and What of freelancing. All the while overlooking the Why – meaning and purpose in the service of others.

Unsurprisingly, for someone who locks themselves away in a dark hole, I came out of our basement withdrawn, unable to make a living, and bereft of social contact.

Strange that.

Nor was it a fabulous prescription for great mental health, or a successful, thriving freelance business.

But what a lovely little metaphor though

I crawled out of my metaphorical basement about four or five months ago. And since then I’ve redirected my energy, from endless DIY, into overhauling my freelance business.

I went right back to basics. I took advice, read books and reflected on all the insight I’ve shared with clients over the years. Advice I hadn’t really applied to my own business, having always run it half-in, half-out.

So along the way I’ve accumulated a crateful of insight on meaning and purpose. That’s on top of being a freelancer with almost a decade of experience. I’m lucky too – being a copywriter I can express all this succinctly, when other creative people might struggle.

What I realised though, is that everyone has their basement. Especially creative people with small businesses and freelancers. Whether that’s:

  • Being inside your own head for too long
  • Working alone, isolated in a spare bedroom
  • Avoiding doing those things we all know we ought to do (like sales)

Everyone has a space they withdraw to. Somewhere you might indulge yourself. And divert your attention from difficult, more pressing issues.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this, in moderation.

But when your basement dominates your life, impedes creativity and disconnects you from the people you can help.

That’s a problem.

Hear all about this (in my usual irreverent style) on Tuesday 26th November

Word gets around. So tomorrow, Glug Leeds have invited me back (as a favourite speaker; believe it or not) to talk about their serendipitous theme:

“…insights on how you’ve evolved and changed professionally over the years, the theme is all about reflection, handling change and moving with the times… based on personal and professional experiences to provide anecdotal insights and tips.”

Naturally, the basement metaphor lends itself perfectly to this event. Come along and hear me talk about going slightly mad, escaping, and 11 lessons hard-learned.

For the record…

The basement project is ongoing (time and money permitting). But now I’ve found balance. I love DIY but I also love helping people. I do this by empowering them to focus on what really matters. So they realise their full potential. And copywriting coaching, a podcast, and insightful case studies are just a few of the hows that let me do that.

And right now, freelancing remains the best vehicle to fulfil my Why.

In a way, I’ve been fortunate. No one got hurt, after all. And now I can apply what I’ve learned to help likeminded creative people avoid similar pain. So they too can get more meaning into their work (hence the new direction).

I have unfinished business. Literally.