It’s been some time since I wrote lengthy posts on this page….Hello, from the other side….(Sorry, that damn Adele song is on so much I had to do it!)
Things are different now, but for the right reasons. Today I’ll share a monumental change that’s happened, how it happened, and how it liberated me.
I sit at 2:42 in a Starbucks. My office is everywhere, and nowhere. I am currently handling ‘upkeep’ – email responses, small tedious tasks, and setting up meetings – for the upcoming weeks. I’m prepping for the launch of Ortus Academy’s Financial Literacy program. I’m researching community developers for a client, and designing a flyer for another. Compared to a year ago, I am less burdened (as in I feel less stress) while also managing to work nearly 2-4 times as productively.
On this side of the proverbial fence, there are three main things that a person can do in a day:
- Work towards a payment
- Work towards a mission or purpose
- Not work
At first glance it appears that number three is not a viable option in a lifestyle that is dependent on finding your own income sources, however, I’ve found that it’s actually an important aspect of this change. Because work and play are now so blurred, I have to work hard to define boundaries, create off-times, and disconnect, otherwise, I can’t recharge. More on that later.
Working towards a payment and working towards a purpose are clearly different in intent, and that brings me to my point today:
If you are focused on your payment, it becomes harder to be focused on your purpose.
Building a non-profit has been a tough challenge. It’s a lot to set up, expensive as well, and it takes time to do something great. Nonetheless, we’ve made progress. I, as the visionary, have gone through my ups and downs that most do – you lose sight of the bigger picture, and become intent on the short term snapshot as a reflection of your progress. When clear on where we wanted to go, in a big context, the smaller components have become easier to identify, goals have been easier to set, and progress is quicker to see.
Some days I eat my ego alive. Other days I thrive, confident to cockiness borders. Some days I’m virulent, other days I’m passive.
I’ve had the fortune to be able to make money in a lot of different ways. Since leaving a full time job, I of course have to hustle to make ends meet. I trimmed my expenses by about 23%, knocking down smaller expenses and living within my means. I slimmed to only what I need to have and I cut out some fruitless spending in favor of a different method of getting my “shop” on. I took on some odd jobs, but by keeping my rates high, and using some arbitrage, was able to net well and maintain a low work rate. But making ends meet was never the goal. Naturally, I sacrificed the floor to take away the ceiling with the hope that I would earn more than I was before, but I also wanted to do things I loved – anything from writing, to reading, to getting healthier, to more youth involvement, more family time and deeper relationships. Money can’t do those for me, but smart work and smart time investments can.
Lesson 1: Barter, Barter, Barter
There’s real value in being able to trade. It’s an old school method, dating back to before money was even around. In the BC era, artisans and craftsmen bartered to survive, trading for what they could not create, build or grow themselves. Bartering has a poor stigma to it, as though it’s not approved, but elite freelancers and smart businessmen know a good deal doesn’t mean a pretty one.
I offer my services in exchange for someone else’s, and compare them and the value of them so that it’s mutually beneficial. Remember, there are limits that everyone has. Some people need cash in their business, so I’m not often put off if I receive a no. However, if it does work, I’m sure to have constant check ins to make sure both parties are happy.
- No cash exchange means no taxes paid
- Services that you normally wouldn’t have access to become available
- Can still leverage the relationship for testimonials, references
- You’ve still earned a client
- While you’re not working for free, you’re still using your time
- It’s easy to take advantage or be taken advantage of; consistent check ins are key
- Your impulses may pull you to exchange for things you don’t really need
Lesson 2: Mentors and Persons of Interest – Give First, Ask Later
Since I no longer have a job structure to do it for me, I’ve become a professional networker. Sometimes I need some support in overcoming a wall, a good reference to an auto vinyl company, or a sounding board to make sure I’m on the right path. For example, you’d be surprised how quickly a reference can change your hunt for a qualified company, service, or person. I spend a lot of time building a network of trustworthy, reliable, high-integrity people. When I get stuck with decisions or choices, I lean on them for advice, but it didn’t start that way.
More importantly, these are the smartest, most prevalent names I can find, and their expertise far outweighs mine. I like to be the weakest, dumbest, most inexperienced guy in the room.
To join their team, (and later, for them to join mine) I’ve employed a lot of different strategies, reaching people in and out of network for a multitude of reasons. Have a Person of Interest (POI) that would be a good mentor, a reliable source of advice, a great hub for meeting others, or is a personal hero? Here’s a few ways you can reach them with credibility and get them in your corner:
Before any contact, reflect on your POI’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). What can you offer to them? Second, can you clearly state what it is you’re looking for? Help, money, or a chat, isn’t specific enough for someone who gets consistent requests for donations of time or expertise.
- Solve a problem you know they face (you’d be surprised what you can come up with from online sources). Whenever you reach out to a new party, have an angle; give, offer, or supply something to them before you ask for something in return.
- Connect them to someone that can solve their problem. You don’t have to be the guy they need, but if you can be the link between the two, you’ve become a strong utility, worthy of attention.
- Find referrals from Friends, Family, or Close Colleagues of your POI
- Approach the POI from two angles. If you know his confidant, and his personal trainer, and you can get a referral from both, you’re going to be more likely to make contact.
- Have nothing to offer? That’s ok, but don’t hide that, in fact, share what you’re interested in and that you’re unsure of how you could make the relationship two-way.
- Sending a long email shows that you aren’t respectful of their time. Keep it concise, and if it’s not concise, take the time to make it that way. Reminds me of the quote “I’m sorry this letter was so long. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”
- Never, EVER, EVER lie about your connection to them, your interest, what you found in researching them, or how you can help them. It seems like a no-brainer, and I haven’t done it, but I’ve seen relationships crumble and reputations broken this way.
- “People don’t buy what you sell, they buy why you sell it.” Process that before you move forward with an elaborate attempt to lure a high-quality person into your network.
- Keep your communication relevant. If you’re off on a tangent, and you emailed me, I’d stop as soon as I lost you. Other successful people think that way as well. Time is limited.
For the OCD, always going Dynamos like myself, the hardest thing to do is stop. Sometimes, I work so frivolity that I forget to eat, so I have to constantly work on this, personally.
This advice comes from my good friend, Jae Jin, a musician that was dear enough to impart some of his mantras with me. When you work for yourself, on yourself, or in your own business, you go, and when you aren’t going, you’re generally sleeping. It’s sink or swim.
Reflection, and problem solving, don’t come from mysterious places – the brain processes and breaks down solutions. They always tell you to take a 15 minute break at work, but how often does that happen? Now that I work whenever and wherever, I have to tell myself to walk away from problems.
But why boredom? That’s the polar opposite, isn’t it?
In order to fully launch into your pursuit, namely your purpose, your downtime is vital. Watch a TV show, get out in the sun, go for a walk, and sit in public with your phone off and in your pocket. When you start up again, go full throttle into what you’re doing and don’t stop til you’re dead tired, and repeat the process. The break in between has been the genesis of many a bright idea.
Suggestions for Boredom Breaks:
- Turn your phone off and use your watch (whoa, I know) to track time. If you have an hour, give yourself an uninterrupted hour.
- Watch a TV show, and let your mind wander into whatever it is that’s happening. Forget about the meetings, problems, employees, offers, and whatever else is up there. Let the clouds roll by for a while.
- Do something creative (paint, draw, doodle, etc.) or exercise – both are known vices for entrepreneurs and freelancers
- A sharp body is a fitting home for a sharp mind.
- Read: Read for fun, read for research, read for reference. PRO TIP: Be careful on internet reading. It’s easy to get distracted and lost.
Lesson 4: Categorize Your Endeavors
It’s okay that you have to make ends meet, there’s truth in that. But, if you’ve ever been caught up taking on more than you’re used to, working longer than you thought you would, you can probably relate to feeling like you’re “in too deep” with a project you weren’t pumped about. If you’re onto your purpose, but a project is about your means, label it as such.
I’m not suggesting you prioritize one over the other, because your quality of work is important as a professional, but knowing you are doing something to keep yourself afloat, rather than to reach towards your purpose, is imperative. When things get stressful with your means, you can give yourself a reminder based on what’s most important, and what you’re main focus is. When I feel overwhelmed, I remember the impact I’m trying to make, rather than the money that I need to make it happen. That calms me.
Whatever method you use to keep yourself on track (calendar, white board, lists, chalk on a sidewalk, whatever), make another one, and separate it into two parts, labeled “Means,” and “Purpose.” The projects that you have get identified this way.
Lesson 5: Have Some Fun
I currently have 7 projects on my desk. Some overlap more than others, but they are all more deeply connected to WHO I am now than my projects were with a full time job. Someone assigned me that when I was their employee. Now, it’s my rules.
To be able to pick my projects is a blessing. I really do admonish and appreciate all that I have, and do so every day. Now, when I don’t think I’ll enjoy doing something, I can say no, or amicably walk away.
If you don’t love what you’re doing, you won’t put in 100%. I have so much going on, that when I put into a project, I HAVE to give 100%. Imagine training for an iron man (running, swimming, biking) and not training hard for any of them. When I’m on the grind, I’m going as fast and hard as I can.
Some tips to make sure you have fun:
- I like to think of Aaron at age 30, 35 and 40; knowing I’ll get through it, what will he think about these projects looking back. Sometimes that helps me relax a bit and know that I’ll be ok.
- I enjoy comedy. I put on comedies in the background when I’m creating art, creating material, or building programmatic materials. It makes me laugh and is good background noise.
- Call a friend during a break. Ask them how they’re doing. When they ask you about you (since everyone answers in three words “things are good,”) really dive in and ask them for more info. See how they are REALLY doing.
For all those freelancers out there, I hope this is helpful. If you’re thinking about how much you dislike your job, because it misaligns to what you think your purpose is, then let this article be the kickstart to practice the above. Do it while you’re in your job, and you have little risk. After work, see if you can apply what I’ve learned. I bet it helps!