It’s been nine years since I quit a full-time job to pursue more creative endeavors as a freelancer. Along the way, I have learned lessons of personal and professional growth I’m not sure I would have otherwise:
1) Happiness Matters
You hear these stories all the time: people give up hefty salaries and stressful jobs to turn a passion into a full-time career and the resulting levels of happiness and self-satisfaction they experience are worth more than a large paycheck every week, and I can add myself to that ever-growing list. It isn’t an easier path, but happiness is a crucial element when it comes to dealing with stress and challenges on the job. Because I love my job, stress now motivates me to push forward and grow instead of wanting to run and hide.
2) Complacency is deadly
Too often, I’ve been the victim of my own complacency, dismissing the urge to hunt for new, more challenging gigs while work steadily flows in. But when that steady stream slows to a trickle, then nothing, that feeling is quickly replaced with panic. I’ve fallen prey to this disease more than once and had to hustle to survive when things slow down, which leads to the next lesson:
3) Stay on top of your game
I still work for other professionals in the field while developing my own portfolio and client base. In order to stay relevant and keep getting hired, keeping track of current trends and events and learning new technologies and methods as they develop is crucial. As an artist, I’m personally hesitant to embrace them and, for a while, this attitude spilled over professionally and derailed opportunities for new work. But survival is a reality I’m forced to wake up to every day because in the world of a freelancer, nothing is secure. Stay current and one step ahead in order to stay relevant and stay busy.
4) Maintaining a positive attitude is crucial
There will always be competition, meetings that lead nowhere, countless unreturned emails and phone calls, someone younger or better or cheaper. I’ve dealt with all of this many times over and will continue to. It’s easy to become discouraged or compare myself to others or become nervous and I’ve dealt with all that, too. But I remind myself that I’m good at what I do and trust that the right opportunities will always come along. When I embrace on this mentality during hard times, it never fails me.
5) Know thyself
I work with some clients simply because of the money and that’s fine because the bills don’t pay themselves. For a while, however, it constituted the only kind of work I had and that old, familiar feeling of unhappiness would creep over me. It was reminiscent of being at my old job: I woke up thinking, I have to do this again today? Tomorrow too? I stepped back a little and reexamined what I really wanted out of this career; after all, I had given up everything to pursue it. While I can’t expect to be happy at every moment, I shouldn’t be miserable all the time, either. I’m now more selective and will turn down certain jobs in order to work on something that will instead further my career.
6) Step outside of your comfort zone
I can be incredibly shy and have a hard time promoting myself or trying something new. Small talk and large groups send me into a panic. But if I want to keep working, I have to move past all of that. It can be uncomfortable at times but therein lies the challenge and I’m willing to face them every day.
7) New experiences and people constantly
A desk job or a full-time is not in the cards for me; what was missing from my life is the opportunity to do something or meet someone new all the time. At my old job, I saw the same thirty people throughout the course of the day and executed the same tasks at the same desk with a repetition that nearly drove me to tears. As a freelancer, I’m constantly meeting and working with new people and never experience the same day twice.
It’s also made me a better problem-solver and a sponge for information: one day alone on a new job and I’ll walk out with a head full of new knowledge and five new ways to approach a situation.