Viewing entries tagged
freelance

Insidious little voice

I’ve noticed that over the past few months, I’ve lost some steam when it comes to sharing my writing online.

After taking time for some good ‘ol fashioned introspection, I’ve realized that it’s probably because I’m afraid that I am no longer doing something worth hearing about.

I know deep down inside this isn’t necessarily true, but it’s still a valid concern nevertheless.

Back when I was freelancing full-time, I was doing something that was out of the ordinary.

Now that I’ve been working a 9-to-5 while also working for myself, I’m experiencing a relative amount of stability for the first time.

Because of this, a small part of my feels that my insight may not be as unique as it once was or that it’s not as valuable to others.

If I drown out all of the other noise, I know this is simply that insidious little voice inside my head.

Even though I’m no longer working for myself full-time, I’ve still created my own professional path and this is something I imagine others might find valuable.

The hardest part is breaking everything down in a way that makes sense and is interesting enough for others.

When it comes to creating something for someone else, quieting this voice is nearly impossible.

In fact, the more experience you gain, the quicker you realize it’s not about silencing this voice at all.

Being a professional means learning to ignore it while moving forward anyway.

Indecision is still decision

I’ve been hyper-focused making decisions.

From taking inventory of my current decisions to making better decisions for the future, I’ve been doing my best to become more mindful.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed something about myself that probably applies to many others:

I procrastinate with some decisions and immediately take action on others.

Can you guess which ones are which?

It’s probably pretty obvious - I tend to put off larger decisions that have long-term results and take action on those that are relatively easy and have immediate impact.

For example, I’ve set a goal to open a high-interest, online savings account in order to start a new emergency fund. This was almost a month ago.

Why haven’t I followed through yet?

Probably for the same reason most people use - I’m afraid of making the “wrong” choice.

It’s easy to forget that, in the grand scheme of things, indecision is still a decision. In fact, it’s the worst decision you can make because you aren’t owning the outcome.

Like most things, it’s a matter of simply making a decision and, if needed, tweaking it later.

Once you make one major decision, the momentum carries over to the next and, before you know it, each one becomes a little easier.

A harsh realization

Like most weekend mornings, I’m sitting here in the corner booth of a local coffeeshop, going through the paces of my morning routine.

While journaling this morning, I came to a pretty harsh (yet fairly obvious) realization:

I can’t do everything if I ever want to do anything extraordinary.

I know, I know. This isn’t anything revolutionary, but like most epiphanies, we come to them in our own time.

In today’s world, one of the hardest things to accomplish is focus.

I’m not talking about overcoming normal distractions like email and social media. I’m referring to identifying one long-term goal, breaking it down into short-term steps, and focusing on each one at a time.

Add the crippling, self-imposed pressure of mastering everything you try and it’s baffling that anyone gets anything finished.

Like many “creatives,” I’ve always prided myself on my ability to juggle several projects at the same time. From writing to illustrating to launching my own products and services, I’ve tried a little bit of everything.

If I’m being brutally honest, this is the very reason I’ve never reached a level of mastery with any of it.

At the end of the day, going all-in on any one thing scares the shit out of me thanks to one very real question:

What if I miss countless other opportunities simply because I chose to put all of my eggs in one basket?”

I’ve realized this is the wrong question to ask.

Instead, I should be asking myself, “How can I possibly carry all of these baskets anywhere without dropping them?”

I think I’d rather make extraordinary progress on one thing instead of making very little progress on many.

The one thing

As I’m reading The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, I’m starting to realize a hard truth.

Since starting my daily writing routine over three years ago, I’ve identified and written down one specific action for me to take each day. In my mind, this is one action that will make the biggest difference in working towards the future I want.

If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve realized that even though identifying one specific action is better than nothing, I haven’t really been identifying the right daily action.

Instead of looking ahead into the future, identifying a clear purpose, and reverse engineering it into a set of priorities (or dominoes as Keller describes), I’ve been going after low-hanging fruit.

Basically, I’ve been taking action steps that seem productive day-to-day, but in the grand scheme of things, they are leading me into a very nebulous, unknown future.

This has been a great habit to practice, but without the long-term purpose or direction, it’s simply leading me towards more uncertainty.

Thanks to this book, I’m starting to focus on bringing the future into the present.

My argument for freelancing

After reviewing portfolios at a local design student conference, one of the students reached out to ask about how to price her first two freelance projects.

As we discussed charging per hour versus a flat project fee, including taxes, and other important considerations, she mentioned that one of her professors suggested staying away from freelancing right out of school.

I get it. What educator in their right mind would openly advise their students to take such a risky step straight out of the gate?

I’ll tell you who - someone who knows what is actually going on in the real world.

At this point, over 43% of the U.S. workforce is considered subcontracting or freelancing and that number is only going up.

Admittedly, many of these people essentially work full-time for companies that don’t want to give them the status of “employee” and others operate in the “gig economy,” but there are more and more creative professionals who are choosing to go their own direction.

Thanks to the democratization of software like Quickbooks, Stripe, Squarespace, and countless others, freelancers can fill in their gaps for little to no cost, which helps to take some of the risk out of the equation.

Sure, there is still an inherent risk that comes with working for yourself, but there is also inherent risk with relying solely on one source for your income.

Whether you’re gigging on the side or going all-in, laying the groundwork for a freelance career will never be a bad idea.

Screw my ego

Something strange happened a few days ago: I felt a little twinge of resentment.

In the moment, I was frustrated with my own inability to take ownership over a new project.

However, after taking a few moments to look inward, I realized I was projecting my own insecurity onto someone else.

As someone who worked for myself for almost a decade, I got used to taking 100% ownership over any project I started.

As great as this may sound, this isn’t how things happen in corporate America.

People work in teams and those team members are collectively responsible for the overall success of the project.

Unfortunately, people tend to forget (like I did) that everyone on that team has something to learn from everyone else, whether it’s directly related to the project or not.

Like most people in a professional setting, I feel a need to prove my value.

However, I care way more about creating successful outcomes than I do about stroking my own ego.

At the end of the day, I’m part of team which means sometimes taking a back seat and learning from others.

Make less commitments

At this age, I take commitments very seriously.

When I give someone my word, I try to do whatever it takes to back up that word with action.

Sure, there are times when things get in the way. After all, part of being human is being imperfect, which means we take on too many commitments, set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others, and we let our optimism get the best of us.

As long as this is the exception and not the rule, I’d say this is just fine. We should strive to either keep all of our promises or focus on the quality of our commitments instead of the quantity while knowing full well that we will sometimes fail.

No matter how much we learn, no one actually enjoys failing. It’s messy, uncomfortable, and it forces us to admit we were wrong.

The thing is, it’s OK to make mistakes because that’s when we learn the most.

Most people would probably agree that the one thing we shouldn’t do is to continue making the same mistakes. Not only is this disappointing, it means we aren’t learning.

Moving forward, I’m doing my best to make fewer promises while also making new mistakes. This way, I can devote my time and attention to fewer commitments and learn from the past.

Taking a break

I’m sitting at my kitchen counter, thinking about this long Thanksgiving weekend, and I can’t help but notice a huge difference.

In the past, each day of this break has felt the same. When I was freelancing full-time, I was never able to fully appreciate each of these days with loved ones - I always felt as if I should be working or making progress towards something bigger.

This year, I’m thankful for stability. It has always been an abstract idea that I strived towards, but I never really knew what it looked like until now.

It means the peace of mind to spend quality time with the people you care about. It means not letting stress infect every part of your life. It even means being able to show the people you love how much you care about them.

I will always strive for something greater, but during this long weekend, I am able to pause and give thanks for the fact that the people I care about are safe, happy, and healthy.

I can’t think of a better way to take a break.

A significant shift

There has been a tangible shift over the past few years.

As I catch up with friends who live in different cities, I’m noticing that more and more of them are dipping their toes into the worlds of freelancing and entrepreneurship.

I’m hearing origin stories that include turning a previous employer into a first client, partnering with a significant other, and even catching a big break after sharing some work online.

I don’t really believe in blanket statements, but if you think this is simply a fad, you’re dead wrong.

At this point, over 43% of the U.S. workforce is subcontracting and that number is only getting larger.

Sure, the gig economy plays a large part in all of this, but there is also a huge shift in mindset.

People are tired of working their asses off for companies that don’t appreciate the value they bring to the table.

I’ll admit - I was extremely lucky to find a progressive company like Slalom Consulting that embraces everyone’s individuality while working towards a collective goal.

I feel like this sort of progressive mindset is rare, especially in the Midwest.

Whether you’re working for yourself or looking to align with a company, think about the things that matter most to you in the long-run.

Otherwise, you’ll probably remain unsatisfied and uninspired, no matter where you work.

Look around

I’m sitting in what I could only describe as my own personal hell on earth: 

Waiting in a St. Louis Bread Co. at the mall for an appointment at the Apple store in order to fix the display on my laptop. 

At this point in the day, I would usually be head down, full-swing into freelance clientwork. 

Needless to stay, my current predicament has forced me to stop and take a look around.  

As I sit tethered to the nearest outlet from my table, I hear children pleading for their mom to buy them a cookie. I see people meandering about, hopping from store to store. I notice one of the employees is busting his ass, making sure each and every table is clear.

These things may seem mundane and unimportant, but they’re part of everyday life.

At this moment, I’m more present than I’ve been in months.

The sad thing is, it wasn’t by choice. It took a pretty drastic (and hopefully fixable) situation in order for me to slow down and look around. 

It’s hard to create these moments for ourselves without help from an inconvenient stick in our spokes.

I’m going to keep this in mind whenever I have a few moments to look around. 

Now let’s just hope I’ll be I’ll be writing tomorrow’s thought from my laptop...

 

 

Critical thinking

In my ripe old age of 30, I’ve learned that there is one skill that is severely underrated:

Critical thinking.

Here’s the official definition - the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

The key words here are objective and judgment.

Looking back to my foggy college days, one of my favorite classes was Writing as Critical Thinking, or WACT as we called it.

It was my first intentional look at what it means to think for yourself while developing the ability to effectively communicate my thoughts and opinions to others.

If you ask me, this is what’s missing in today’s world.

When a friend asks, “Did you hear what happened in the news?” usually what follows is a recounting of a specific event.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s extremely important to be well-informed, but what is the point if all you’re doing is regurgitating information you hear on a podcast or read in a newsletter?

What I want to know is:

  1. How did that event make you feel and why?

  2. So what? Why does it matter?

If we applied critical thinking to most facets of our lives (especially politics), we would be much better off.

But hey, don’t take my word for it - try thinking for yourself.


Getting started

Over the years, I’ve learned that most people face the same challenge while working on creative projects:

Getting started.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Thanks to the Internet, we now have access to a million and one ways to tackle pretty much anything we come across.

With all of this information comes the inevitable paralysis-by-analysis.

As much as I tend to overthink things, I always come back to the same piece of advice: keep things simple.

Do you want to start writing that book you’ve been sitting on for years? Take out your phone and write the introduction using your Notes app.

Do you have an idea for an illustration series? Draw the first one and upload that sucker to Instagram.

Do you want to start your own clothing line? Lay out one t-shirt in Photoshop and share it with others.

I know I’m making the first step sound easy, but that’s because it really is. As always, we tend to overcomplicate things in theory.

At the end of the day, most things in life are just a series of steps.

All you have to do is figure out how to take the first one.


Early to bed...

Today, I was reminded of Ben Franklin's age-old adage:

"Early to bed and early to rise, makes a (wo)man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

Depending on whom you talk to, these words either make perfect sense or, they represent a close-minded mindset when it comes to productivity.

As someone who has been self-employed throughout my professional career, I have (almost) always been in charge of my own time. Thanks to this flexibility, I haven't ever had a set schedule.

You might be wondering, "Then how the hell do you get anything done?"

Just because I don't have a set schedule doesn't mean I don't have a routine.

What exactly is the difference?

In my mind, a schedule is based on time - you do certain tasks at specific times. On the other hand, a routine is a rigid set of tasks that can be completed whenever necessary.

Even though I aim to I complete my routine in the morning, there are still some days where I don't start until the afternoon. To me, it doesn't matter, just as long as I finish what matters.

In other words, it doesn't matter when you go to bed or wake up. If you tackle the things that mean the most to you (and take care of yourself along the way), you're already healthy, wealthy, and wise.


Personal day

Today, I'm taking a personal day.

I am staying home to drink tea, write, take care of a few chores, and maybe even play video games (Spider-Man for PS4 anyone?)

Why am I telling you this?

It seems as if people only take personal days once it's too late. They wait until they're exhausted, stressed out, sleep deprived, overworked, and sick.

Instead, why not be proactive and give yourself the chance to take a breath once in a while?

After all, we're only human and, no matter whom you work for, you won't be of any use to them if you're unhappy and sick.

Consider taking a personal day before you need it.

A little self-care can go a long way.


Growth hacks

I absolutely hate the term "growth hack."

In case you aren't familiar, this catch-all phrase lumps together marketing, engineering, and data analysis. In theory, it supposedly requires a deep understanding of each discipline.

Unfortunately, in practice, it's usually a quick fix or a marketing cheat code that focuses on a short-term problem.

For example, if your goal is to gain more followers on a social media platform, growth hacks make this process easier by casting a broad net and essentially spamming people.

The biggest issue I have with this concept is the word "hack". It implies a silver bullet that will take the work out of marketing.

Instead of wasting time on growth hacks, marketers should be spending time on the only activity that actually matters - growing a community by providing value.

You can keep your growth hacks. I'd rather put in the time to create meaningful connections.


Questions I often ask myself

  • What problem, if I solve now, will have the biggest impact on the rest of my life?
  • How can I set myself up for success tomorrow?
  • What is the most important thing I can accomplish today?
  • How can I live a more intentional life?
  • Are my short-term actions aligning with my long-term goals?
  • How can I do things that compound into the future?
  • Will my ambition get the best of me?
  • How can I create a routine around this goal?
  • Is this the best use of my time?
  • How can I help others create their own paths?
  • What is one step I can take to make this idea happen?
  • How can I avoid making the same mistakes?
  • Will I ever be satisfied?
  • How can I connect existing dots instead of creating more?
  • Will anyone find this valuable?

Change is coming

As someone who thrives amongst the chaos of everyday life, I tend to welcome change.

In my mind, it allows us to grow and adapt while learning more about ourselves in a shorter period of time.

At this point, I'm ready for a significant change, a new chapter in which I can reshape my story.

It's not that I'm unhappy, I just have veered a little off course and I would like to get back on track.

In an ideal world, I could make a change like this on my own. However, I'm self-aware enough to know that I am more externally motivated than anything else.

Put me in an environment in which others are thriving and succeeding, and I will rise to the occasion. Ask me to do the same on my own, and admittedly, it will take me much longer.

I look forward to the discomfort that inevitably comes with change. This sort of friction is productive, much like the pressure needed to turn carbon into a diamond. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with carbon but, if you ask me, I would much rather be a diamond.


Coffee and tea

This morning was like any other.

I woke up and groggily stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee.

However, instead of grinding coffee grounds, I decided to try something different: I chose to make a cup of tea.

It's funny how coffee and tea are essentially the same - grounds or leaves steeped in hot water, but we look at them in very different ways.

We hear famous phrases like, "Coffee is for closers!" or "Never trust anyone who doesn't drink coffee" implying that coffee is meant for those who want to be awake and productive.

On the flip side, tea is seen as a way to relax or a soothing drink when we're sick with a sore throat.

With this in mind, I realized I should probably drink more tea. I'm always constantly thinking about what I need to do next and how I can be more productive. What I should be doing is finding ways to relax and be more present.

Regardless of whether or not I drink more tea or coffee, I think it's safe to say that either one is better than having another beer...


Compromise

Whether we realize it or not, compromise is part of everyday life.

From navigating workplace politics to finding common ground in a relationship, playing well with others is key when it comes to future success. 

Just because this is true doesn't make it any easier.

I have to admit, as someone who can be very stubborn, I sometimes have a hard time with compromise. I'd like to think that when it comes to major decisions, I can go 50/50 on almost anything.

However, my stubbornness tends to come out with smaller, more frequent choices.

You know, the "Where do you want to eat?" kind or the "What do you want to watch?" variety.

Regardless of the kind of compromise you're making, I think the most important part is paying attention to long-term trends.

Are you unwilling to compromise nines times out of ten? Do you always have your way when it comes to one specific type of decision?

If you ask me, these trends say a lot more than a one-off decision.


Decisions

I'll be the first to admit - I'm not the most decisive person.

Like plenty of others, I have defaulted far too many times to the nefarious decision by indecision.

Decisions like choosing a movie on Netflix or finding a place to eat don't really require that much effort. After all, we're not talking about life and death here.

However, when an important decision comes along, we can't help but fall back on our habits.

Do you have a new job opportunity? Are you deciding where to travel for vacation? As you can tell, these decisions impact our lives way more than other, more trivial things.

We've all heard practice makes perfect, right? Why not apply this mantra to the way in which we make decisions. Use the smaller choices to practice being decisive and, when the larger ones pop up, they won't be as paralyzing.