It's been nine months since I've left my full time job and embarked on the path of teaching yoga and writing as a freelancer. With everything I've learned from the experience, it feels more like it's been a year.
Jumping into the world of freelancing and being my own boss was definitely one of the scarier things I've done in my career so far. After being employed for four years with complete stability, it was like being a tiger in a zoo - once you're set free, you'll find you need to learn all the skills for foraging for yourself from scratch. Suddenly there's no one giving you food on a daily basis and you realize that if you don't get up and hunt, the food is never going to come - or in this case, money.
On the first day of transitioning from being employed to being self-employed, I pretty much had a panic attack. I entertained thoughts of begging to get my job back and even cried a little. Looking back now, I realize it wasn't really regret that got me so emotional — I was just that overwhelmed. Since then, it's been an uphill journey of growth, mostly pushed forward by the need to survive. Every day has been a valuable learning experience.
Here are a few things I learned from being a freelancer that have made the leap into self-employment worthwhile.
I learned to create opportunities for myself.
Freelancing, especially when you're starting out, is all about creating opportunities. Finding opportunities is one thing, creating them is something that takes a bit more thought. Basically, this means laying down the ground work so that eventually it will become easier to find opportunities and make them yours. You build yourself up so people will start looking for you. This includes doing things that may not directly earn you some cash and, just like any business, sometimes you have to spend money to make money.
As a writer, I created opportunities in a few different ways. I cultivated a blog where people could find my work, and where I could practice more and more on my writing skills. I attended events and put myself out there, introducing myself as a writer people could hire. I also attended events so I could write about them for my blog, or pitch their stories to online publications. On my social media accounts, I post insights and stories — to constantly produce content and, again, to practice my skills — and to identify myself as someone people could look to as a writer. I went back to my LinkedIn that I hadn't touched since being employed and updated it to announce to the world my status as a freelancer.
There are many ways to do this and I'm sure I haven't figured all of them out. It's a challenge to you to find ways to create opportunities, rather than having a ladder you can climb up on. The more outside-of-the-box you think, the better. For sure, the chance to flex your creativity muscles abounds in the freelance life as long as you think of it as a challenge rather than an opportunity. In a way, it's a lot like creative problem solving - something we all need on a daily basis, throughout our whole lives.
I learned to be my own (lovable) boss.
In my previous job, I was in managing different teams, assigning tasks, managing the time of my team and my own, and basically just being in charge of getting things done. I thought this was something I would be leaving behind on this new journey as a freelancer — I was definitely wrong.
As a freelancer, you are both the boss and the employee. This two-sided coin makes it very easy to see your flaws in both roles. As your boss, you have to create goals for yourself on a weekly and monthly basis, constantly manage your own schedule and your time, keep your productivity consistent, measure your own monthly improvement, and see how all of this affects the bottom line or your income. Freelancing will be the management boot camp you always needed. If you weren't in a managerial position in your old job, you definitely will be now that you're working for yourself.
Of course, managing yourself is still different from managing a team, or an entire department. But taking responsibility for your own growth and your delivery of outputs will give you discipline and, more importantly, train you in making decisions with the big picture in mind.
I learned to be comfortable with uncertainty.
For me, being comfortable with uncertainty is the most worthwhile thing I've learned from freelancing so far.
Despite how good you could be at creating opportunities and no matter how great a boss you are to yourself, that won't change the fact that freelancing can be highly unstable. One month could be filled with projects, in the next month your projects could be counted on one hand. It's all part of the game. The uncertainty is what makes freelancing scary but there's no escaping it. The only choice you have is to relax into the uncertainty and roll with the changes. The more and more you get used to it, the more and more you become uncomfortable with uncertainty in all aspects of your life - not just your career.
Freelancing isn't all about freedom and having your own time. It presents its own set of challenges that in my experience, will really bring you more maturity and more practicality. As they say, life begins outside of your comfort zone. Welcome to the world of freelancing.