There are three common elements in every successful freelancer I know: fear, focus and freedom.
Every freelancer and entrepreneur who has gone from thinking about a change to following through and making it happen will tell you that these three common themes emerge over and over again on your journey.
Fear has big eyes
My father-in-law is a German born Canadian who had a long and fruitful career as a diplomat for Canada. He has been around the world and has a handy phrase for nearly every situation in life, many translated from the original German to English giving them some added oomph. One he’s often repeated to me at different times in my life is this: “Fear has big eyes.”
And your eyes will never be bigger then when you are staring out at your future thinking about making a change and going freelance. Especially now when the phrase “gig economy” seems to pop up in every article about the future of work, often highlighting what gig workers miss out on (benefits, pensions, paid holidays and sick leave). With so much to lose, why would anyone choose to forsake the security of a full-time job to join the precariat and have to hustle for a living?
Why indeed. But that’s just your fear talking. And the bigger those frightened eyes are, the shallower your depth of field becomes leaving you fixating on the very immediate near term without seeing further down the road to the riches that may well lie ahead, just out of sight.
Fear, and the paralysis it can bring, is antithetical to change. But change is exactly what you seek if your current situation is making you unhappy, unmotivated or leaves you wondering if there might be a different way to live your life.
You won’t find out just by thinking about it. You have to do it.
Only then can you realize that much of what you feared would happen won’t, or if some of it does, it’s rarely-if ever-as bad as you feared it would be.
Which leads to what successful freelancers do next. Focus.
It may be the photographer in me speaking here, but I believe focus is the key ingredient of creativity. And if you think setting out to launch an entrepreneurial or freelancing career is anything but creative, take a longer, deeper look.
Focus is how you get anything done, from tying your shoes in the morning, to completing a multi-step, complicated project spanning months and involving collaborative efforts from multiple team members. Nothing gets done at all without focus, and the tighter your focus is, the more intensely you can drive results.
Learning how to focus is a core competency every freelancer requires. Happily, what is mainly needed is practice and commitment. You don’t need absolute silence, a cabin in the woods far from distractions or a mountain retreat in Japan to learn how to meditate. You just need to start approaching everything you do with a simple thought before you begin.
“What am I trying to do right now?”
Ask yourself this regularly. Do it the night before you go to sleep when you are planning out your next day. Do it again in the morning when you start work. Do it at the start of each task on your to do list.
Over time, this mental habit of focussing in on what you are trying to do will sync with what is important to you. You will naturally align yourself to your big, important goals when you stop and think about what you are doing.
So much time and productivity gets wasted, scattered and diffused when the mind is left to its own devices. The human brain is very good at consuming distractions. It craves them, like a child does candy. It’s called the monkey mind, because, just like a monkey, a mind left undirected will hop from branch to branch, chasing the newest shiniest thing and never staying in any one place long enough to actually get something done.
Put your mind to better use and train it to focus on the single task at hand, whatever that task is. The more you work in focused bursts, the more fluidly you will find yourself able to move into focus quickly. Punctuate periods of intense focus work with planned, measured breaks and you will soon find yourself powering through more in a day than some people achieve in a week.
And the result of course, is freedom.
You don’t have to wait for your retirement to live the life you want to live.
You don’t have to be told what to do in order to get work done.
You can captain your own ship, set your own course and begin now.
However small and insignificant you may feel in the beginning, the sooner you start the better.
A life built on doing the kind of work you choose to do for yourself is a life flush with freedom.
You don’t have to dread the start of the week, or pine mournfully for the end of the weekend. Your work can be both satisfying, sustaining and enjoyable. Choosing to work as a freelancer is actually choosing to live a life of freedom. As with all freedom it is paid for with a different set of responsibilities and commitments (mainly to yourself).
But freedom it is.
You are free to choose how you work, where you work, who you work with, how hard you work and how much you charge for it. Of course it takes time, it takes sustained effort, it takes commitment and it takes faith in yourself to get there. But if you really want it, you will get there.
All you need to do is conquer your fear, focus on the work you’ve chosen to do, and use freedom you earn to stay strong and keep going.