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Freelancing

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.

Clearing the mental queue

Whenever I feel stressed out or overwhelmed, I can usually narrow it down to one main reason:

My mental queue is jam packed.

Imagine your mind as an inbox that is overflowing with outstanding priorities, goals, calls, meetings, errands, and countless other distractions. I’m sure most of you don’t have to imagine - in today’s crazy, technology-driven world, this tends to be the default.

Honestly, this is how I feel a lot of the time, especially when I forget to check in with myself.

Whenever I forget to groom my mental queue, it quickly fills up with outstanding commitments.

How do I stop this from happening?

Like most things, it’s simple (I didn’t say easy).

As someone who regularly suffers from paralysis-by-analysis, I have to actively force myself to make decisions, pull triggers, and push stuff out of the door.

In other words, I have to clear my mental queue.

This involves actively mapping out all of my commitments, deciding next steps, and holding off from taking on anything new.

When I don’t do this, I tend to procrastinate and overthink things, which leads to even more stress and less mental bandwidth - it’s a vicious circle.

If you haven’t recently, make a quick list of every single commitment you have and ask yourself, “Does this belong in my mental queue?”

All-in is all wrong

As someone who was recently on a panel that gave feedback to entrepreneurs, I was asked, “Why are entrepreneurs taking advice from full-time employees?”

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear this is the “all-or-nothing” mindset that continues to permeate entrepreneurship.

Sure, there is no shortage of stories that tout a “rags-to-riches” rise to success for entrepreneurs all over the world, but that is exactly what they are - stories.

Over the past decade of full-time freelancing and entrepreneurship, I learned that living life in the extremes is usually a dangerous place to operate. If you’re not prepared, it can be lonely, stressful, and even lead to harmful thoughts of self-worthlessness.

I’ve always been a trial-by-fire kind of person who does better when there isn’t a safety net, but I’ve gone all-in before and honestly, it doesn’t always have to be this way.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that there are countless ways to create your own path.

Going back to the above question, I truly believe that you can always learn something from the person in front of you, no matter how different they may appear to be.

Why are entrepreneurs taking advice from full-time employees? Because many employees have experience with budgets, timelines, product validation, scalable (and unscalable) business models, bringing products to market, and simply talking to other people.

Just because they choose to work for someone else doesn’t mean that they don’t have relative experience to share. In fact, they may have the missing piece to the puzzle you’re trying to solve as an entrepreneur.

The sooner we can dial down the extremism of entrepreneurship, the better off we’ll all be.

Customer service no-nos

I don’t care what industry you work in. If it involves working with people, you’re in customer service.

When meeting or talking with a potential customer or client:

  • Stop asking leading questions simply for the sake of appearing smart as you reveal your answers. They trap your potential client and make them feel dumb. If they knew the answers, they probably wouldn’t be talking to you.

  • Stop waiting for your turn to speak and start listening with the intent to understand the person in front of you. They’re talking to you because they have a problem and you (might) have the solution. Let them tell you what they think the problem is.

  • Stop using industry jargon and buzzwords that confuse people. If you truly understand what you’re talking about, you will be able to break it down and make it accessible to anyone. Even your grandmother.

  • Stop making assumptions even if they are only your mind. You may think you know the person you’re talking to, but in reality, you don’t. They are different from every other potential client you’ve met in the past. Treat them as such.

  • Stop focusing on short-term results during the conversation. If you do your job right, they’ll come back, even after talking to others. When you’re narrow-minded, it shows.

The 85 Percent Solution

I recently finished reading I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi.

I know what you’re thinking, “Wow, you got suckered into buying and reading a book with that title?!”

First of all, it was gifted to me after accepting my first full-time position and second, I honestly wish I would’ve read it a decade ago.

After moving past the seemingly shallow title, I learned so much about:

  1. Optimizing credit cards

  2. Setting up no-fee, high-interest bank accounts

  3. Opening investment accounts

  4. Creating a conscious spending plan

  5. Automating the entire process

  6. Learning how to pick the right investments

Outside of these six steps, one of the most helpful insights I learned was “The 85 Percent Solution.”

In Ramit’s words, it’s basically the idea that “getting started is more important than becoming an expert.”

After reading this, I realized that this not only applies to finance, it can be used in any area of life.

Whether you’re a writer, a freelancer, or a new entrepreneur, putting something in place that works is much more important than getting it “right.”

Your idea doesn’t have to be fully fleshed out in order for it to be valuable to someone else.

In fact, I bet there are plenty of people out there who need an imperfect solution now instead of a perfect solution later.

85 percent isn’t 100, but it’s better than zero.

Bringing people together

This past Friday, I had the chance to come together with all of the other experience design consultants from Slalom for an all-day offsite get together.

We reviewed where we’ve been, what we’re doing now, and where we want to head in 2019.

Not only was it productive in the sense that we all got to express and align our ideas together, but we also got to know each other a little better.

With many jobs, you work in the same office with the same people and the culture organically grows around you.

With consulting, many people are offsite with clients, which means you may not get to meet everyone until an all-hands meeting or a quarterly get together.

Because of this, it’s much more important to spend the time we have together intentionally because, whether we realize it or not, we’re setting the tone for how things will be in the future.

I am truly grateful for a company like Slalom that invests not only in their people but in the time those people spend together.

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.

Coffee and consulting

Whenever I get stuck in a rut with my online writing, I sometimes ask myself:

“Why the hell am I still doing this?”

I was reminded why earlier this week over coffee.

I sat down with an independent creative director who came across some of my writing on LinkedIn and she wanted to hear more about my transition from full-time freelance to joining Slalom Consulting.

She was curious to hear more about my background and why this was my first full-time opportunity.

What started as a review of my first three months at Slalom turned into a full-blown conversation around working for yourself as an independent creative professional in St. Louis.

We covered everything from self-awareness to strategically positioning yourself and everything in-between. We even addressed how St. Louis-based businesses can balance outside opportunities while using the competitive advantages this city has to offer.

This was the kind of conversation that spanned over two and a half hours and two coffeeshops.

It was clear we both walked away feeling energized and ready to get to work on our own priorities.

I couldn’t help but feel validated in becoming a consultant because I realized a significant part of consulting is having these types of conversations, listening to understand, and then asking thoughtful questions that provide objective perspective.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to an individual or team from a multi-million dollar company - listening and asking the right question is valuable in any setting.

Me versus we

I met someone new for coffee last night and, as we both agreed, it wasn’t weird.

This might be an unusual way to look at it, but even as an extrovert, I sometimes feel uncomfortable meeting new people.

In this case, I met with someone who has also been in the St. Louis design/marketing industry for a while. We shared our stories, talked shop, and touched on some of the problems St. Louis is trying to solve.

One of his biggest questions right now is, as an independent professional, should he brand himself as a one-many army or an agency. In his words, he was debating on “me versus we.”

For many independent creatives, this is one of the toughest hurdles to overcome in the beginning. The thought of a potential client not taking you seriously because you’re on your own can be paralyzing.

I dealt with this same question when I was first starting my full-time freelance career.

Since radical transparency has always been a core value of mine, I decided to brand myself as the individual I am instead of “hiding” behind a brand that seemed bigger.

When tackling this question, the most important question to ask yourself is what matters most to me?

Is your goal to scale and work with others from the get go? Then maybe a bigger brand is right for you. Do you want to communicate a more person, one-on-one relationship with your clients? Then create a personal brand that reflects what matters most to you.

At the end of the day, there’s no silver bullet to any of this. You have to make your own decisions (and mistakes) and learn from them.

When it comes to solving the problems of others, it doesn’t matter if it’s “me” or “we.”

The focus should be on “us.”

Investing in process

When you work for yourself, investing in processes is one of the most valuable ways in which you can spend your time.

Clients and users come and go. Results eventually fade. However, the processes you create for you and your business will stay with you over time.

Unfortunately, most don’t pay attention to processes that scale until it’s too late. You can file this under the “important” category that most people ignore because it doesn’t seem that urgent.

Do you know what else falls under this category? Health, fitness, financial saving, relationships, and other long-term considerations that we don’t think about until it’s too late.

We don’t pay attention to these until something catastrophic happens, like a heart attack or the death of a loved one. Only then do we stop and think about what we’re doing and where we’re going.

With entrepreneurship, it doesn’t have to be something this drastic - any number of smaller, less obvious issues can eventually sink your company.

When you focus on creating processes that scale, you’re ultimately giving you and your business the competitive advantage of time. This is why so many startups are able to “out-innovate” larger, more established companies with greater resources - they make the most of their time.

Your company doesn’t just create a product - it is a product. When you adopt this mindset, investing in processes just makes more sense. Both for your own sanity and for the long-term success of your business.

Drifting

Do you ever feel like you’re drifting?

As adults, we’re surrounded by this invisible pressure to have all of our shit together when, in reality, our lives resemble organized chaos more than anything else.

I’'ll be honest - in this moment, I feel a little lost.

Since making a pretty big shift from freelance to full-time employment, I’ve made a tough realization: I didn’t know what I was doing.

The more I think about it, I wasn’t being guided by anything concrete.

Like many freelancers, I was making enough to get by month-to-month while fumbling through the process. This uncertainty inevitably carried over into my new professional life, hence the feeling of drifting.

Now that I have a sense of stability, I need to shift focus to where I’m going and why I’m going there.

Otherwise, I will never feel grounded.

This goes for anyone. If you have the luxury of stability, you owe it to yourself to look forward and figure out how you can eventually help others in doing the same.

The best kind of regret

Last night, I had the chance to talk with a friend who recently moved to another city for a new job.

After catching up, he admitted that he wasn’t sure he made the right choice.

While living in St. Louis, he felt like his job wasn’t aligned with his core values. So, he did something not many people do - he made a change.

After being gone for about a month, he now feels as if he left behind some meaningful relationships that weren’t initially apparent to him.

Sure, hindsight is always 20/20, but you don’t get hindsight without making a decision.

In this case, he made a bold decision that many people probably wouldn’t have the guts to make.

If you ask me, it’s almost impossible to life a life without regrets, no matter how hard you try. We’re human, which means we’re messy and imperfect.

When I look back on my life, I would much rather regret the things I did instead of dwelling on the things I didn’t do.

You may not be thinking about moving across the country, but I’d bet there’s something else you’ve been wanting to do fo a while.

What are you waiting for?

One simple question

In this very moment, do you know why you’re doing what you’re doing?

Do you have some idea, no matter how vague, of where it fits in with your future plans?

If I had to guess, the answer is probably no.

I don’t mean to make assumptions here - you very well could have your life mapped out.

For the rest of us, we don’t take the time to sit down and actually think about our future.

Unfortunately, life isn't like college where we’re assigned an advisor that’s in charge of helping us make a five to ten-year plan.

We’re on our own.

Sure, you could hire a life coach, but that takes money you might not have. You could retreat to a cabin in the woods to think about what would truly make you happy, but that takes time you probably don't have.

Like most things, it doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it.

You can start with one “simple” question:

What might my life look like in one year from now? Three years? Five years?

You don’t have to figure everything out at once. In fact, most people don’t. It takes time to make a thoughtful plan and the willingness to update that plan when life gets in the way.

Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s also easy.

Start now and you’ll figure out the rest as you go.