It’s happened to the best of us: you get in your car, punch in a GPS location and wait for the prompts to tell you where and when to turn. Inevitably, from time to time, you’re guided to the wrong spot and left stranded, confused and feeling awfully silly. This same (completely avoidable) situation can also apply to your career.
Picture this: You go to school, have plans and dreams for your career post-graduation, and then you’re thrust into the real world. A few years into freelancing and you’ve gone from refreshing your inbox in the hopes of a prospective job to having to turn down jobs because you’re so busy. You’re coasting along comfortably; you’re maybe even becoming more and more financially successful. You’re made to feel like you’re on track to get to where you want to be by all odds, but before you know it, you’re old and never did the thing you wanted to do.
Being busy can easily pass as being successful. When you’re so focused on doing the job at hand, you can lose sight of the bigger picture.
Don’t get me wrong: getting to this place in your career is a feat to be proud of. If you’re able to freelance and be your own boss and your only issue is that you’re too busy, high five, for real. And if you’re happy, then don’t bother reading on, seriously. But sometimes when it gets to a place where it’s too easy and you can sit back and watch it happen in front of you with little action on your part, that’s a dangerous place to be.
If you’re in this purgatory I’ve described (drama added for effect), there are some things you can do to stay in control of your career:
Keep a list of dream clients and dream jobs
Get the visual of a scrap-booked vision-board out of your head and hear me out. Reminding yourself of where you want to be, who you want to work with and what you really want to be doing is vital to staying on track to getting there. If you aren’t aware of where the end of a maze is, you’ll think you’re making progress with each corner you turn and wall you bump into, but without knowing where the end is, you’re just spinning your wheels. Check in with yourself every once in a while and stay conscious of your goals.
Always Be Pitching
The problem with getting pitched to rather than being the pitcher is that control belongs to whomever is pitching to you rather than to yourself. Just like a GPS, you’re no longer the driver but the minion listening to and obeying commands. The chase, so to speak, keeps you objective and uncomfortable, and that’s an important place to put yourself every once in a while.
As mentioned in this Fast Company article on the importance of constantly pitching:
Unexpected opportunities are great, but it’s unlikely that whatever comes over the transom is perfectly matched with your long-term goals. Whereas if you think it up, it probably is.
You know those dream clients of yours you should be keeping track of? Connect with them, email them, ask to meet with them and place yourself in their sight lines.
Don’t go off-course or turn around for a job.
Along the path of heading towards the career you want, you will get offered jobs. And this can be a great thing! But it’s important to decipher whether saying yes to the project will simply slow you down a bit (which is okay), or fully turn you around (not okay).
If taking a certain job will just be a metaphorical pit-stop along the way to where you want to be, and can add fuel to your tank (money, valid and wanted experience), then go for it. But if the job would take you in the wrong direction completely, then it’s okay and probably a good idea to say no (for example: if you’re offered to design a website when you don’t want to be a web designer).
Saying yes to jobs that aren’t in-line with where you want to be in your career will not only slow you down, but can take the place of jobs that have the potential to propel you forward. It’s not only okay to say no, but sometimes very important to if you want to get to where you want to be anytime soon.
Don’t fear a dry-spell. Embrace it.
Every freelancer I know shares the same fear: not getting work, which means not getting money, which can also mean letting down yourself, your peers and your grandma. It doesn’t seem like a good thing, but dry spells can be a blessing in disguise (notice how many disguises there are in this post? If I had a nickel…)
Take this time to update your website, do some reading and writing, and reflect on your past jobs; what one’s did you love? What ones did you hate? Why? Is there anything you can do to help yourself get more of the type of jobs you love?
Oh, and relax. If you’re a typical freelancer, you likely work some months non-stop, weekends, evenings, the whole nine. So when you enter a slow patch, try to chill out and enjoy it and come out of it with more clarity on what direction you should take or continue sailing smoothly. There will be more jobs.
So, where are you at in your adventure?
Driving with the cruise control on at the mercy of Siri? Getting job after job, saying yes after yes? Hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it can be the best thing in the world, depending on your goals and the type of jobs you’re accepting. But have a moment of honesty with yourself: Make sure you’re not sacrificing your bigger goals and dreams for a thousand mediocre tasks that won’t add up to anything. All those small things pile up to make up years and years and life’s too short. Remember; always be pitching, don’t get too side-tracked and be productive in your down-time.