Being an editor has been my professional life plan since I was fourteen. What I didn’t plan on back then was starting my own editing and publication design business. I started my firm, Looseleaf Editorial & Production, in 2011 and have been muddling my way through building a successful and sustainable business ever since.
Lots of things have changed in the past decade-plus of being in business, but one thing has remained constant: If I don’t take care of myself, then I don’t get taken care of.
Professional self-care is important whether you’re a solopreneur or a part of an extensive team. Everyone has their own perspective, and no one has a better perspective on what you need to have a sustainable work life than you. When you take good care of yourself, you’re fortified to manage crises, adapt to flexible situations, and maintain healthy boundaries.
This ACESChat has several learning objectives:
What is professional self-care?
Professional self-care means using habits, processes, systems, and communities to make your work life sustainable. It’s not glamorous—it’s usually a lot of debriefing yourself after crises and creating battle plans for later—but it’s a vital, ever-evolving part of creating work-life balance and boundaries.
Editing and publishing are fraught with burnout, high turnover, and sacrificed personal time. When you take a timeout to develop processes that sustain you as a person, you give a gift to your future self. Surviving a crisis is a triumph of resilience; using a crisis to create a process to transform future crises into briefly uncomfortable problems is a triumph of self-care.
How do you develop processes to avoid professional crises?
Because you and your work are always evolving, new professional self-care often happens after a work crisis. You look back on it and go, “Whoa, that was awful! I never want to go through that again.” Instead of merely hoping, sit down, have a little chat with yourself, and create a strategy to effectively manage a similar situation in the future. That doesn’t mean the next challenge won’t be uncomfortable, but the plan can keep it from becoming a crisis.
Maybe someone delivered a project late to you, which meant you worked evenings and weekends to meet the deadline. What could you do next time to make the process manageable? Would charging a rush fee provide you with enough compensation to feel better about the extra hours? Could you have clients agree in advance to a deadline extension or rescheduling process if they deliver their projects late? When you’re answering these sorts of questions, consider worst-case scenarios and build contingencies for those too. Then you won’t have to improvise when you’re faced with something awful.
How do you effectively self-advocate by saying NO?
Saying no to unreasonable requests is essential to keeping our boundaries. But having the courage to say no can be difficult, and stonewalling clients or employers isn’t usually a good long-term strategy. So what do you do?
Part 1: Find the courage. Remember that you, your skills, and your time have value. This is a business relationship, and only so much sacrifice is appropriate. It will never get easier to say no unless you practice, so dive in. Avoid apologizing for facts. Apologize if you have messed up, but informing someone that there isn’t sufficient budget (in money or time) for what they’re asking isn’t something to apologize for: it’s just facts.
Part 2: Find ways to say yes even when you’re saying no. For example, “No, I can’t do that much editing on that deadline, but I CAN do this level of editing in that time.” In what areas are you flexible? Are there weekends you’re willing to work? Could you adjust the deadline or offer a refund? Your functional flexibility will change from month to month, so keep your priorities in mind and evaluate them regularly so you be generous even when you say no.
With that generosity, give the client or employer alternative options. Propose an alternative deliverable, an alternative timeline, or an alternative price. Let them choose what works best for them. Providing options gives them agency in the nonideal scenario and lets them practice self-care and manage their own expectations.
How do you address your professional weaknesses?
Not every crisis or professional discomfort happens because of external circumstances—sometimes you mess up! We all have areas where we aren’t as capable. That’s not a failure as a professional; it’s just being a normal person. We can shore up those weaknesses with plans for times when we’re weak and with education and practice that are part of a regular plan. When something isn’t going well in your professional life, consider whether it’s due to one of your own weaknesses.
For example, I know that when I’m overly stressed, I forget to leave positive feedback for authors. I can’t completely avoid getting stressed, but I can be self-aware enough to know when I’m getting in that headspace. When I notice that, I set myself a ratio for positive-to-critical comments. It’s like bowling with the bumpers up because I’m dizzy. The new rule—based on my own self-awareness of a personal weakness—mitigates the problems I can create.
As part of ongoing professional development, I recommend all editors create a trigger to evaluate their development. I use the new year: every January I consider what I want to learn or how I want to develop in the coming year, and then I schedule a big chunk of study or practice for the summer, when I tend to have a bit more time for it. But go ahead and use your birthday, a particular month, or a certain success benchmark as your evaluation trigger. You need something other than “when I get around to thinking about it,” because that leads to procrastination and avoidance.
If you regularly evaluate your goals and the ways you want to grow, it’s easier to create a habit of improvement over time. This sort of incremental, sustainable development keeps you on a healthy growth path for your professional life.