Optimism has its place. We need other people’s words and stories to encourage and inspire us. We need their perspective to help us take a step back from our own lives and recognize fear and anxiety for what they are. Those thieves of peace sneak into our thinking under the camouflage of “realism.”
Realism has its place too. Otherwise, as you perused all the paper-thin positivity and digital pep rallies on your socials, you might start to think you’re the only one who has bad days.
Sheesh… Why are these people’s lives so consistently glamorous? Do they ever work? Maybe you, and your career, and relationships, and your photo editing prowess, have some fatal flaw?
Perhaps you lack mental toughness, emotional resilience, some essential x-factor that enables the winners to persevere in the face of great adversity. They persevere without chipping a tooth or displacing a single hair on their perfectly coiffed heads.
Don’t believe it. Freelancing is hard — even when you’re winning.
That dose of realism is better medicine than the sugary platitudes too prevalent on the web. Trust me: Their lives have bruises too. They’re just better makeup artists.
Allow me to lead by example and lay bare the last six weeks in the life of Austin L. Church and Wunderbar LLC.
Trying Situation #1
One consulting client, a tech company that has kept me on retainer for several years now, asked to switch to hourly while they weather a cash crunch.
Though I’m not eager to do hourly work, I own a small percentage of equity in the company. Agreeing to change our arrangement was one way I could contribute to solving the root problem.
Even if the change makes sense for the company, it still means that $1,000 will no longer show up in my checking account each month.
Trying Situation #2
Another client, a software development company, recently hired six new employees.
These new hires obviously changed the company’s payroll. Until the owners figure out their new operating budget and recruit one or two new clients, they must pause Wunderbar’s content marketing retainer, which is $1,500 per month.
We’ll finish up our two outstanding projects and talk again in three months.
Trying Situations #3 & #4
A third client in the midst of being acquired told me to not start any new projects for June. $2,250 per month.
A fourth client asked to decrease scope from $3,000 to $1,500 per month while they are in their “off season.”
As these business relationships began to run amok, other parts of my life followed suit.
Our emergency fund has taken a beating because we had to pay some unforeseen medical bills, as well as buy new tires for my truck.
And how could I forget new brakes for both family vehicles; dining room chairs (because we had none); miscellaneous repairs around the house, including a new HVAC unit; and six or seven gifts for various occasions?
Then, both of our kids had strep throat. Then, they gave it to Megan.
Then, the icing on the mudpie cake was an abnormality in the second ultrasound for Baby #3, also known as “Biscuit.” (I will spare you the details. Please pray for Biscuit if you’re the praying kind.)
Why am I sharing this with you?
I’m setting aside the makeup so that I can encourage you.
I don’t have much ra-ra in me right now. My heart is a wrung-out towel. Lying on a rock. Somewhere in the Nevada desert.
But I know that just because something is wrong doesn’t mean I am doing something wrong.
Remember that: Just because something is wrong doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong.
Freelancing is hard.
What I neglected to mention earlier is that all of the clients who are changing the nature of our working relationship have given Wunderbar glowing reviews.
Wunderbar’s clients are happy with our work. Yet, five of our clients needed to make adjustments. Typically, we see an adjustment like that once a quarter. And we have a bit more time to prepare. This time around, however, five adjustments all happened and walloped me upside the head.
What am I tempted to do?
I’m tempted to take the last month and jump to conclusions. To heap blame on myself. To assume that I wasn’t smart enough or good enough. To feel discouraged and dejected.
In actuality, my business has trended up, up, up, since I rebooted consulting in earnest back in May of 2015.
That was two years ago: twenty-four months; ninety-six weeks.
Let’s do some math.
2 weeks is 2.1% of 96 weeks.
Significantly more evidence (97.9%) points to an upward trend than to a catastrophic end to Wunderbar. I’m tempted to give more credence to the 2.1%. We humans have many quirks.
I’m tempted to spin a new story about my business prospects, my future, my confidence, and my competence. I’m tempted to start believing certain things that aren’t true.
Call it fight-or-flight. Call it the “lizard brain” a la Seth Godin. Regardless, this part of our programming spouts nonsense like this:
“Run like your hair is on fire. Your entire business is coming down around you! This wouldn’t be happening if you hadn’t screwed up big.“
When klaxon horns are blaring and the accuser is trying to use your own recent experience to indict you of stupidity and gross negligence, you bet your saddlebags that freelancing is hard!
Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise either has very little experience or is trying to sell you a silver bullet, one that will ricochet and hit you between the eyes.
Freelancing is hard because many variables must align, like planets and moons, in order for all parties to get what they want.
As I have gained experience, I have watched that alignment happen more and more often. That is the upward trend I mentioned.
Immediate setbacks don’t cancel out all those prior wins and lessons learned.
Using recent circumstances to reinterpret a much more significant body of “data” would be an error — like using one day’s weather to extrapolate climate change.
Despite the past several weeks and much-atrophied emergency fund, Wunderbar has grown steadily over the past two years. The belly of this recent dip in revenue is higher than the head of many of my best months from years past.
And you can find surprising comfort in the truth that freelancing is a school of hard knocks. Adversity is normal.
No matter how adept you are at turning lemons into lemonade, you will have bad days.
Just because something went wrong doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong.
I’m telling you today because I may need you to remind me in the future. Deal?