I moved from Portland, Oregon, to Hannover, Germany back in 2012. Now, I’ve never claimed to be a brave man, but that was one of the ballsiest things I ever did. I donated 95% of my earthly belongings to Goodwill, sold my car, rented out my house, said goodbye for my friends and family and — most importantly — lost my job. I was a full-time graphic designer working for a well-established marketing agency, and although I made one hell of an appeal to my boss regarding the advantages of having an employee working in a time zone 9 hours ahead, it just didn’t make financial sense for the agency to keep me on the payroll. So, after I finally arrived in Germany and reunited with my German wife, I concentrated my energy on building up a client list of my own. (And by “concentrated,” I mean frantically emailed every single person I knew and shamelessly begged for work while crying.)
Luckily, I had some very good friends and a decent professional network at my disposal, so I was able to eek out a living in my first couple years as a self-employed expat. I could pay for our groceries, part of the utilities, and even help my wife cover the rent for our apartment, which was located on the second floor of Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
My client list continued to expand and improve, allowing me to raise my hourly rate from, “Zero-Dignity Creative Prostitution,” right on up to, “No, I Will Not Design a Cheap Logo for Your Daughter’s Remarkably Awful Kitten Blog.”
My wife and I moved into a beautiful house in the suburbs of Hannover, and can now split all of our living costs 50/50 — no easy feat when your wife is a gainfully employed Gymnasium teacher. Some months I earn way more than she does, but others I come up a little short. And that is the nature of freelance work; it isn’t always consistent — there are ebbs and flows — and sometimes the ebbs can be downright terrifying.
Every year, the summer months and winter holidays are quiet because clients tend to go on vacation during these times… leaving me to bite my fingernails down to bloody stubs and mainline 4-8 milligrams of Xanax for lunch. See, there’s always the fear — no matter how irrational — my clients just won’t come back. Maybe they all die in a freakish New Years spelunking accident. I don’t know, but the stress always follows the same spiral of despair:
- Three of my primary clients have been silent this month.
- This is a sign of the financial drought to come.
- Soon, I will need to rely upon my hard-earned savings.
- My savings account will be depleted within six months.
- I will turn to credit cards in order to survive.
- I will drown in a sea of debt.
- I will refuse to ask my wife for help.
- I will plunge into depression, no longer shaving or showering.
- My wife will lose all respect for me.
- I will pen the greatest suicide note of all time and then deep-throat a shotgun while listening to Enya.
No, no — if you’re a great designer, dependable and hardworking, your clients will always come back to you. Quite often, my clients like to contact me all at the same time, in fact, slamming me with 3 or 4 different projects simultaneously, so my fears swing wildly from not having enough work, to, Holy shit, there’s no time to sleep! Oh god, oh god! I cannot possibly deliver all of these things before I have a breakdown and some burly men in white scrubs come to my front door with a straightjacket, speaking in eerily soothing tones: “Easy now, Mr. American blogger. We’re here to help. You just need a little rest. Now, we’re going to give you a shot to help you relax, and then… shit! Code Red! Code Red! We got a runner!”
So that’s the lesson I’ve learned over the years: work hard and save your pennies during the busy times, and try not to stress during the slow ones. Everything is going to be fine. But I think my German wife put it best the last time I freaked out, when she gave me a hug and said:
“Don’t worry, mein Schatz; there will soon be a warm rain coming.”*
*From the German idiom, “ein warmer Regen,” which means, “to receive unexpected money.” However, whenever I think of warm rain, I think of some sadistic god in the clouds pissing on my head.