Hear ye, hear ye!
It is with great pleasure that I would like to announce I’ve officially taken the first step on the road to ultimate freelance freedom: I’ve requested one day off work each week to focus more on my writing—and my boss agreed to it!
This is a step I’ve been contemplating for a while now, but I had to make sure enough stars were aligned, enough i’s dotted and t’s crossed, to make it a smart, productive step rather than a holy-crap-I’m-leaping-something-please-catch-me step.
For you kids following along at home with this whole grand master plan of mine, here’s a rundown of what led to this decision, what I’ve learned from it, and where it’s leading me to next.
How I Got Here
I started off at my firm 10 years ago (I know—good lord!) as a part-time clerk my freshman year of college. I answered phones. I filed things. I got people coffee. I cleaned up the spills in the kitchen from other people’s coffee.
I was a lackey. But I was the best damn lackey I could be. And I always wanted to be better. I studied previous cases, teaching myself the firm’s systems and formats, learning the language we use for our pleadings, picking up whatever I could about the way things worked. Sometimes I saw ways things could be done more efficiently, so I tried ideas out. I created a billing system. I created a library system. I generally tried to make myself useful.
I could have just asked people what to do every time I ran up against something new, learning only what I needed to know to do the immediate project at hand and sticking with rote performance. But that’s just not my style. I’m an overachiever and full of antsy energy, and quite frankly, I get bored with just going through the motions. And to my surprise, while bringing my A-game simply because B-games annoy me, people started to take notice. They gave me more responsibility. They seemed to value my input. Instead of dictating letters to me, attorneys started giving me instructions like, “See what you can do to draft a response to this. Here’s the vague idea…”
I became the receptionist full-time when I graduated college, then personal assistant to one of the partners, then a learn-as-I go paralegal. I still did the coffee-spill-cleaning as needed, because I was still counted on for all the other stuff I did previously. But I was advancing at the same time. I got on the letterhead. I got business cards. I got my own (well, shared) office instead of the constant-state-of-interruption reception desk I’d outgrown. And since I’d come up through the ranks, I knew a fair amount about pretty much every aspect of the day-to-day doings at the firm. I became the go-to girl for everything from printer jams to client crises, and although that frustrated the daylights out of me sometimes, I went-to with all my might. And it paid off.
I’m still a little dazed that it did, and as well as it did, but you know what? I’m gonna run like the wind with it.
What I’ve Learned
Lesson #1: Be a Linchpin (a.k.a. the Best Damn Whatever-You-Are You Can Be)
If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? It will make anyone amped to bring their A-game to the office every day. It’s the inspiration that led me to the philosophy I laid out in “How to Be an Awesome Employee In a Less-Than-Awesome Job.”
Linchpins are the people that stand out in an organization. They initiate things, they seek to improve things, they create solutions instead of reacting to problems. They’re proactive, engaged participants, not just seat-warmers putting in the bare minimum for a paycheck. They make a difference. They become an integral part of the team. And people start to notice.
I put in my time over the decade I’ve been with my company. I worked my pretty little tail off to do the best job I could, at whatever my task was, and because of it I proved myself to be a valuable resource. When I went in to propose my one-day-a-week-less plan to my boss, he didn’t get P.O.’ed at me and fire me on the spot for being an upstart. He actually congratulated me on my freelance success and offered me a better proposition than I’d gone in with. (More on that in a bit.)
Disclaimer so I don’t feel like a total douchebucket: I didn’t do all this strategically to gain leverage. I’m not that calculating, or opportunistic, and I sure as hell had no grand master plan back when I was 19. But, I’m glad it worked out this way, because it truly proves that you can control (and make) your opportunities just by approaching things with the best you can give. Hustle pays off. (Hustle with a smile pays off even more.)
Lesson #2: Dreams Need Plans. That’s Not Horribly Exciting, But It’s Best for the Dreams.
Like I discussed in a recent Brazen Life post, sometimes it’s better to view your “day job” as the funding for your dream rather than a mortal enemy you need to bail from as soon as possible. Going quitsies in one fell swoop and praying for the best may seem like the most poetic and honorable way to chase your dream—but when you find yourself scrambling for next month’s rent money and the only gigs biting pay $2 for a 1,000 word article, guess what you’re gonna wind up doing? Not so good for the quality of your dream, or your happiness.
I’ve been ridiculously careful in evaluating whether I was ready to make a change. I calculated exactly how much pay I’d lose per week if I cut a day at work; I knew how much I normally bring in a month with my freelancing; I had a few month’s worth of gig money saved up to cover any initial slow periods once I made the change. I knew what I was giving up, what I needed to cover the difference, and I talked everything through with the husband to make sure he was on board with it. The leap doesn’t feel nearly so gut-wrenching because of this; it just feels like the next natural progression of my journey.
I was a little stunned when my boss actually offered to work with me on a week by week basis, meaning if things are slow with my freelancing, I can come in for a full week whenever and not have to worry about paying the electric bill that month. (I’m sure his logic ran more along the lines of “I can get an extra day of work from her,” but still, it’s a huge bonus.) That was a safety net I wasn’t anticipating. But when I made the decision, I was 100% prepared and willing to take whatever action I had to to keep the budget up after I switched.
Taking a part-time dog-walking job, selling some of my things on Craigslist, making t-shirts on Zazzle to bring in extra revenue—I knew I’d never be in a position where we’d be in serious financial trouble, but I also knew I was going to have to hustle extra hard and probably make some sacrifices, and I was o.k. with that. I was ready to make it work.
Lesson #3: Don’t Save the Good China
Part of the reason it took me a while to decide to finally make the change was because I’d been viewing my freelancing income as an untouchable savings fund—something I had to diligently squirrel away until I got such a large, self-supporting balance I could just call it quits once and for all. I didn’t just want to be careful; I want to be super, extra-special careful. Using any of it now seemed greedy and impulsive.
But the more I considered it, the more I came to realize something: the whole point of embarking on freelancing was to give myself my life back. To let me work on something I love on my own terms rather than being chained to a desk in a career I don’t care about. And I can start having some of that life now. I’m already making my dreams on a reality, on a small, gradual scale. I shouldn’t look at that as an irresponsible premature leap—I should look at it as a flippin’ marvelous little success.
I just bought myself a day a week with my freelancing. As things progress, I’ll buy myself another day, then another. In the meantime, I’m granting myself a little extra sanity and a lot more of the things I love, rather than waiting for some grand “some day” payoff when I can finally enjoy all the work I’m putting in now. There’s no point in saving the good china if you never find an occasion worthy enough to bring it out. I’ve worked durn hard to get to the point I’m at, and I’m ready to allow myself to enjoy some of the results of that.
What I’ve Got Planned
Oh baby, what don’t I?
There’s an ebook on the CCIQ philosophy—in the final stages of drafting now, with an editor and designer lined up to start bringing this puppy in for a landing. (Mixed metaphor, I know, but excitement leads to linguistic lapses. Fie! Land, puppy! Land!)
There’s an active e-mail list—a real, honest-to-goodness list for all you poor, neglected souls who signed up for one and haven’t seen a thing from it since. Cross my heart. You’ve been so patient. Your Insider status will be giving you all sorts of fun shite in 2012, from extra doses of inspiration to the possibility of seeing me in all my panda-hatted glory in some exclusive Insiders-only video blogs. For reals. The more I consider doing them, the more excited I get about it.
There’s a book-book of some nebulous sort—possibly semi-autobiographically about my descent into craziness, possibly the dystopian fantasy I’ve had in my head since I was 12 and keep secretly revisiting like a guilty love affair, possibly some sort of Eat-Pray-Love accounting of what it’s like to call it quits. Most likely all three, worked on simultaneously, ’cause that’s just how manic me rolls.
There’s more bloggy goodness, and interaction with all you lovelies, and who knows what else, all coming down the pipe. Why? Because I can.
That’s right. Because. I. Can.
And pssst…you can too.
What’s YOUR “next step” going to look like?
Image: Jesse Menn / Flickr
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