Fighting Complacency: The Major Investment Freelancers Must Make To Succeed In The Long-Run
As Seth Godin might put it, “If you’re not drowning, you’re a lifeguard.” The inverse of that is: if you’re drowning, you can’t possibly be a lifeguard because you suck at swimming.
This is the major problem with the Millennial workforce is transitioning to more of a gig, anti-9-to-5, always-on model. So many people will be drowning in their own self-employment work and income that they won’t have time for the things that matter. The skill level of our people on a macro scale will start to drop off and we’ll see a new race to the bottom.
Today, Millennials (myself included) are quitting their jobs for what “gigs” exist today, failing to understand that those gigs may not exist tomorrow. They are chasing a laptop lifestyle instead of fulfilling, sustainable careers.
News flash: there may be no need for blog writers in ten years. And if that’s the only skill you develop in the next decade; you very well may become obsolete.
Ironically, this is the same kind of corporate complacency that we freelancers are often trying to escape. Now, drowning in our own egos, we are the ones creating it.
To succeed in self-employment, you have to find a way to defend against this complacency. At their best, good companies help their employees do this. They provide a pathway for them to achieve their goals. They provide real-world and incubated learning experiences that help employees build the skills, knowledge base, and relationships they’ll need to succeed.
No matter who you work for, even if it’s for yourself, you must vow to do the same. You must invest in yourself the way a great company might.
Picture your future self as The Boss and your current self as The Employee. What would The Boss tell, you, The Employee to do today to get closer to hitting the mark and becoming The Boss?
That’s what you need to do.
By definition, you can’t climb the corporate ladder. But you can build a different ladder and climb it.
You can structure an effective education program for yourself that will defend against your tendency to become complacent.
The people that are going to win in the long-term in the gig economy will be the ones that figure out how to hack their own continuing education by combining the host of tools, resources, and people at their disposal.
Want to be one of those people?
Here are a few ways to start thinking and acting in accordance with The Boss:
Find clients that can double as mentors.
This is one of my greatest hacks; I’m very proud of it. It’s how I started ghostwriting in the first place. I knew I wanted to learn more about psychology and self-improvement, so I sought out people in that space with experience, knowledge, and skill.
If you work in the “gig economy” or more properly on a contract basis, seek out clients that are way smarter than you are in an area that you’re interested in. Say, you’re a web developer, but your current passion is trying to understand the blockchain. Find clients that need web development that have more experience with the blockchain than you do. Add value to them via your skillset and then take the opportunity to ask questions when you have them.
*Double hack for overachievers: being a ghostwriter means that you have been hired to interview your client for the sake of creating article, newsletter, and book content for them. That means you get access to asking someone the questions that you‘d never get to ask otherwise. Just a thought.
At the very least, read. Read interesting articles (maybe be crazy enough to subscribe to Medium or Wired or some other awesome site). But also, read books. Read anything and everything that interests you. Instead of pulling out your phone in the dentist’s waiting room, carry a book and pull that out instead.
Every month I suggest a bunch of books and podcasts that people check out. The number one question I get is how I read so much. The truth is, I just make time for it. I carry a book wherever I go. I don’t have Instagram on my phone. I don’t buy WiFi on planes. That’s how you read more. You just do it.
Once you start reading, it’s important to identify what to read. As Haruki Murakami says, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
Trying to keep up with the daily news is a fulltime job. A job that’s called “reporter” or “journalist” or “correspondent” or “political analyst.” If you don’t have one of those titles, stop trying to be fully informed on a moment-by-moment basis. Instead, find a healthy balance of timely information coming in and try focusing more energy and attention on reading things that expand your mind and your vision for what’s possible.
[Full disclosure: I am a romantic when it comes to reading, and I realize not everyone learns best in this way, but I think that we all need this kind of long-form learning. As opposed to say watching a bunch of YouTube videos, a book is a structured curriculum on an idea, concept, or person. And plus, it trains your focus to just sit and read.]
If you are selling a skill in the marketplace, you need to keep improving at that skill. Day over day, month over month. We live in a world that’s changing rapidly and you will be left behind if you don’t continue improving. That’s a fact.
When you work in the “gig economy” especially as say a developer, writer, producer, or videographer, your schedule can become easily filled with client projects and commissioned work. This is great, on the one hand, because it means the bills are getting paid. But on the other hand, it means you don’t have time to think strategically or try out new things. You’re in “get it done quick” mode, which is the antithesis of deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is about intention and focus. You have to set aside time to do deep dives into the different verticals in your chosen craft.
For example, if you want to better understand how to write sentences, you may pull apart one of your favorite novels for an hour or two. Or if, for example, you want to learn how to edit in a crafty way like Casey Neistat, you have to set aside the time to pull apart his videos and try to recreate them.
This is the hard work that almost no one does.
Schedule learning goals.
As Brendon Burchard might ask, “If I looked at your schedule next month, is it readily apparent what activities and goals you’ve created to further develop yourself?”
There are quite literally one million things I want to learn about. The problem is that when that desire to learn is undisciplined. It’s like a grab bag in Barnes ‘N Noble (yes, I’m ancient and still go to books stores — you can read about why here). Or, I’m just one-click purchasing EVERYTHING on Amazon.
Going an inch deep in a few hundred areas in a year is totally useless. It’s cool to be a trivia guru, but that’s not all that helpful in the grand scheme of things. What’s better is having read twenty-seven books on behavioral economics and being able to pitch and catch with some of the experts and make an insightful talk on the subject.
When you have that kind of clear goal, there’s a purpose behind your learning. You see a way to activate it (a way that may make you money if that’s your thing).
In 2019, I’m going to schedule learning goals on a quarterly basis with measurable outcomes. I invite you to join me. I invite you to keep me accountable.
Do things other than your thing.
This doesn’t just mean go rock climbing on the weekends or hit a Crossfit gym on Monday mornings. It means to chase your curiosity, or as Joseph Campbell, might call it, “your bliss.” Don’t take life so seriously that you forget to enjoy it.
Some of the most successful and interesting entrepreneurs (cough, Kevin Kelly) are people with a range of interests that connect, intersect, and tangentially related to “their thing” but aren’t necessarily directly (or clearly) related.
For example, I love writing. But I’m most obsessed with the human mind. I want to learn everything I can about how to make this pound of gray matter work better. It doesn’t necessarily impact my writing or the commissioned work I do for clients, but in many ways it does. The more I understand about the mind, the better I communicate, the better I market, the better I negotiate.
Make use of NET time.
When I’m making my coffee, driving, stretching, or working out — I’m always listening to podcast interviews. From Tom Bilyeu to Tim Ferriss to Brian Koppelman to Dear Sugar to whatever else I can get my ears plugged into.
NET time is a term used by Tony Robbins that literally means “No Extra Time” Time. It’s finding a way to leverage the moments that are dead time to some extent.
*Quick note: I also think it’s important to use showers, walks, and other such “down time” to think without podcasts, sometimes even without music. Just be with the sounds around you. That’s important, too. Make use of those times for creative, long-term thinking.
Surround yourself with good people.
Not just from your chosen “gig” either, but from all walks of life. Yes, even people that work soul-crushing 9–5s. You can handle it, my friend.
Your job is to build a diverse set of friends, colleagues, and peers in all sorts of different industries that are interested in growing like you are. As they say, “up and comers know other up and comers” irrespective of industry.
One of the major benefits of going to an office every day is having a built-in community of collaborators and challengers. [Colleagues are also one of the things people complain about most.]
The cool thing about working for yourself is that you can build your own community or tribe — via social media, masterminds, group calls, etc.
The biggest mistake the newly self-employed make is getting fooled into thinking they can do it alone. Or that the work is so important that you can’t invest in the other people around you. It isn’t.
Surround yourself with good people is the key to your joy and to your success.
Treat yourself as a student.
As much as people pay you to be the expert, or to bring your particular skillset to the table, we live in a world that relentlessly hashes your expert status and grants you amateur status again. This is okay. In fact, it’s great. It means you have a reason to keep investing in your education.
Now, if as a college student you needed to dish out $200 for this semester’s books, you’d do it because you had to. If you needed to pay an extra “lab fee” to have the editing software that works, you’d have done it.
Part of staying in the student mindset is fighting the fear to purchase things that will give you an edge in the marketplace. Whether that’s an online course, a new microphone, or a conference ticket.
Just make sure you follow up each purchase with action. Use what you’ve learned, what you’ve bought. Don’t buy just for the sake of buying. Buy because it will bring you closer to becoming The Boss.
Remember, the more you learn and grow, the more value you bring to the people around you. Your friends, clients, family. Everyone.
And the more value you can add, the more you can charge.
The more you can charge, the less clients you need to keep the lights on.
When you aren’t worried about the lights, the more time you can spend learning.
And the more valuable you’ll be in the long-run.