It’s been exactly one year since I quit my day job to pursue a full-time career as a freelance writer. Often that includes editing and marketing and other things so I’m not exactly writing 100% of the time, but I’m still living the dream in so many ways. Pursuing this career has taught me a number of things:
1. Everyone has to follow their own path. In my time in the corporate world, I learned that the 9 to 5 office job wasn’t for me. Some people, however, completely thrive in more structured jobs like that. When I was engaged in that world, I couldn’t see that. Since following my own path, though, I have discovered that we all have to find what makes us thrive. You can’t look to society or your parents or your friends to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. You have to live your life the way that works best for you. And that may mean trying things in an unconventional way
2. The ability to motivate yourself is important. When I had a boss, there was always motivation outside of myself. I had to show up to work, and I had to get things done or I wouldn’t get paid. Now, I am the only one who holds myself accountable. I also found, though, that now I get more work done and I do better work. Even if you are in a traditional job, you get a lot more accomplished if you find a way to motivate yourself as opposed to relying on external forces.
3. Criticism and rejection should be valued. As a freelancer and as a writer, I get rejected a lot. I have had to learn how to see rejection in a positive light. Now, I am able to learn from criticism and rejection in a way I was never able to before. I’ve realized that when I can take a step back and not be so emotionally tied up in rejection and criticism, it’s a lot easier to see the lesson that rejection can teach me.
4. Growth and knowledge are worth the investment. Sometimes I resist spending money on books or courses or software that might help me grow or do my work more efficiently, and when I look at my outstanding student loan balance, I start to wonder if it was all worth it. But then I think about everything my degrees taught me about writing and literature and life in general. I think about all of the experiences I had in college and grad school and how they caused me to grow so much as a person. And then it’s a little easier to write that repayment check.
5. Thinking outside the box can lead to opportunities. I was looking for writing or editing work one day, and the usual freelance writing boards were coming up short. I decided to look up a bunch of independent editing companies online and reach out to them, offering my services. Many of them never got back to me, but a few did, and a couple of them even gave me projects. When you are creative and think of unconventional ways to reach out to people or organizations you want to be a part of, sometimes it can lead to incredible opportunities.
6. Comparing yourself to others is never productive. There have been times when I was sitting beside my space heater in my little bohemian apartment and I would see a friend positing on Facebook about their promotion or their wedding or their new car or what-have-you. And I would think, “wow, they really have it together, and I clearly don’t.” I realized, though, that it’s never a good idea to compare yourself to others. Everyone has different goals and objectives. Everyone wants different things so it’s not fair to compare yourself to someone who’s on a totally different path than you are.
7. It’s essential to set boundaries. When you work an unconventional schedule, there can be a tendency to work late into the night or be available for your clients to call you any time on the weekends. I have learned, though, that I need to set boundaries for myself. I need to be willing to tell my clients when I am and when I am not available, and I need to be able to make space for myself. This is an important lesson for anyone, whatever stage of life you are in.
8. Success comes in many forms. Just as you can’t compare yourself to others, you should also be aware that there are many different definitions of success. It’s true that I don’t have as much money as other people my age, but I do have a lot of freedom. You may not graduate from college with honors or you may not use your degree. You may get married soon or you may be single for a bit. You may become a highly respected engineer or you may help people in your community at a small non-profit. The point is, you have to follow your own path, do whatever will help you to thrive, and evaluate success on your own terms.
Sara Crawford is a writer and musician from Atlanta, Georgia. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans, and her upcoming debut young adult novel is called WE OWN THE SKY. In addition to her writing blog, she maintains THE DAILY WRITER mailing list providing daily inspiration for writers.