Sometimes the Best We Can Do Is Just Hang In There

The tide always comes back –these were the words my first proper girlfriend said as part of her ‘you’re fired’ speech. I didn’t get much comfort from this nugget of wisdom at age sixteen, but this truth has become like a rock I cling onto when times are hard. The tide always does come back and sometimes the best we can do is just hang in there until it does.

Cliff Hanger

Bad Days Happen

I’ve had a rough few weeks due to problems with my freelance writing business. A client offered me a ton of work – a project he promised would last for months – but then cancelled his order. I’d cleared my schedule and turned down other work offers, so it came as a bit of a blow. I tried to use my groveling skills to win back some of the projects I’d turned down, but those ships had already sailed. In one day I went from having too much work to hardly any work – instead of being able to save a nice sum of money at the end of the month, I’ve been struggling to stay afloat.

The exact same thing happened to me last year. It’s always a risk to rely too much on one client, but I can’t see any way around it. I just can’t afford to turn down offers of high-paying or long-lasting gigs. I’m probably going to end up in the same position many times in the future. When it happened last year, I fell into a deep depression – this time I’ve dabbled with feelings of hopelessness and despair, but I’ve mostly just kept pushing forward as best I can while I wait for the tide to return.

My motivation and energy levels were in the stratosphere up until this happened, so it feels like I’ve really hit the earth with a bang. I’d created a nice daily routine to increase my productivity, but I haven’t been sticking to it the last couple of weeks. I’m not going to beat myself up over my lack of discipline because at the moment my priority is getting back on track.

Things are starting to pick up for me again – I can feel the tide returning. I feel relieved to have weathered another storm in my life, but it’s a humbling experience. It is a shock to realize how easy it can be for my life to start to fall apart – something that is easy to ignore when things are going well.

Do the Bad Days Have Meaning?

I don’t subscribe to the ‘shit just happens’ philosophy of life. I’m not claiming bad things happen just to teach me life lessons, but I’ve no doubt these rough patches produce positive change in my life. It’s not so much that the difficult periods teach me anything, it’s more like they force me to abandon beliefs and ideas that have been holding me back.

I like to think of these rock-bottom days as being like entering a cocoon – it can be a terribly dark and lonely place but it is worth it for the transformation that occurs afterwards.

How to Just Hang in There

• Try to remain as productive as you can until the tide returns
• Don’t beat yourself up if your motivation and energy levels have plummeted – the guilt will just make the problem worse
• Remember how you have survived the bad times before
• Keep your eye for signs that things might be improving
• Take action even if it feels like you are grasping at straws – this is the best anecdote for worry
• Read inspiration material by people who have made it through incredibly tough challenges
• Remember that things are never going to be as bad as the story provided by your imagination
• When you are faced with uncertainty remember that a negative outcome is the least likely – the odds are it is going to be a neutral or positive outcome.


  1. Jim

    Hi , Paul .
    A very interesting read . I think the most important thing , as you say , is to keep taking action .

    I am an ex Royal Navy sailor – not many of those with a drink problem – not many who have recovered anyhow !

    When I have purple patches like you discussed , I often think of the analogy of a ship in battle . Sometimes moving forward all guns blazing , taking damage and keeping things under control . But , sometimes there is critical damage , your dead in the water and trying to stay afloat , your main concern is no longer sinking the enemy , its defending what you have left while repairs are carried out .

    I think it takes real skill , in life , to be able to fight a defensive battle when wounded , and regain the strength to get back in the fight proper .

    Sounds like your underway again , Paul . Full steam ahead , I hope you find some calmer waters .

    All the very best .

    • Hi Jim, I love your analogy of a battle ship just trying to stay afloat – I can’t think of a better description. I also think ‘purple patches’ is a great way to describe these periods – I’m going to steal that phrase 🙂

  2. Hi Paul, I’ve learned one glorious universal truth in the past 10 years, in any business – freelance writing included – there are an awful lot of ‘time-wasters’ out there.

    I basically rely on selling advertising space and I get plenty of people contacting me and wanting this and that and promising the earth. In the past, the dollar signs would flash in front of my eyes, but now I have a saying – “the money isn’t in your hand until it’s in the bank” and I keep a very indifferent attitude to potential big-spending clients. That’s not to say I don’t do my best to get the order but if it all falls through – as it very often does – I don’t dwell on it and let it get me down like it used to.

    I’ve also learned that one door closes and another door very often opens. Although you may have bad months here and there, over the course of say a year, things tend to even themselves out.

    There’s an old saying that goes something like “never look as though you need the work” People always want to do business with people who are ‘too busy’. If a potential client senses that you are desperate for their money, it can often work against you.

    Just my two cents.


    • Thanks Phil – great advice. I think you’re spot on about clients wanting to work with people who are too busy. I’m either up to my eyeballs in work or all I can hear is crickets. I’m going to try to follow your example and not allow myself to put too much faith in those who are promising to make me rich 🙂

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