Year 4: Lessons learned.

It is four years and two months weeks since I left ye olde office job for the freedoms and pressures of the freelance life. I usually post on the anniversary itself but on this particular September 1, I was traveling from Marrakesh, Morocco to Banyoles, Spain (planes, buses and automobiles). Forgive the delay.

What I've Learned & Am Still Learning

Work out all the time (aka, Take care of you)

Last summer I started doing Nerd Fitness, which has meant bodyweight training and some less intense other work. I have been working out about twice a week for over a year now.

(I feel so happy that I can say that. Good habits! Adulting!)

When I don't work out, I am sad and tired. When I do work out, I get something done by 10 am (and get all pumped full of endorphins). In the past when things got busy, I would cancel my workout, lose the habit and stop working out altogether. Now, when things get busy, I double-check my workout calendar and make sure I can fit it in. I look pretty much the same, but I feel So. Much. Better.

It's not anybody's fault but yours

When you're the beginning and end of your business, everything that goes wrong comes back to you. It may not be your fault, but the buck stops with you. It seems obvious, but I have learned a lot about what it really means.

When you make a mistake, it's on you to fix it. When a client is confused, it's on you to help them understand. When a client has higher standards than their budget allows, it's on you to set the record straight. When you're mad because you're working at 3 am, it's on you to set better boundaries. When someone comes to you for a project that doesn't fit your skill set, it's on you to clarify what it is you do. When someone treats you poorly, it's on you to say, "No, that's not okay."

It's easy to say: "People don't understand what I do" or "It's not fair that I have to fix this" or "That person is an asshole" or "I can't pay you because the City of Los Angeles has a Byzantine hellscape of a tax code." But it doesn't matter. The buck stops here. That's how it goes. You can't control everything, but you must find your own power and agency and act accordingly.

It's on you.

Sales matter

As an artist, it is SO easy to be like, "Eew, sales, nobody needs to do that unless their work is terrible." I believed money poisoned relationships. I believed (somewhere deep inside me) I wasn't supposed to charge my friends, and felt terrible every time I did.

I decided to learn about sales and what I've learned is still resonating in every part of my life, business and personal. It's a complicated story about how economics actually works, why trade is useful, how humans use commerce to build and sustain relationships, what brings value to a situation, why you must know yourself, and how services are priced. I learned about making phone calls, qualifying clients, finding the right clients, building and keeping relationships, knowing what I want, helping people, how money and debt came to be in human society. I've learned to see how every part of an interaction can bring value to the final product--from delicious mint tea and good service to the actual skill and materials used in making the product.

I've learned that it is, in a deep way, about knowing who you are and what you want.

That was an unexpected place to find myself after swallowing my pride and ordering some Zig Ziglar books. But after several months of practicing, getting ripped off, and, unexpectedly, going to my entrepreneurial grandmother's funeral, that's where I am.

MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY

I've talked about this before, and I may never stop. LEARN ABOUT MONEY. Engage with the way money flows in and out of your life. If you are in the performing arts in the Los Angeles area, I cannot recommend Miata Edoga's class Managing Cash Flow for Artists enough. Are you completely on top of your finances and need no help learning how to manage an inconsistent income stream? Do you never have financial emergencies? Are you ready for retirement? Do you know how much money you spend in a month, and where you spend it?

And above all the others, this lesson has had a huge impact on the next section...

Where I'm Going

...friends, I am ready for freelancing to be my side gig again.

I struggled for a few months about whether or not it was true, and I struggled for another few months with whether or not to share.

The more I learned about my financial situation, the more I realized I need to make more money. Over the past few years, I've been living a pretty standard freelance life. For four or five months, I'd make great money. But it wasn't enough to cover the inevitable rough patches ahead. When I fell short, there was some small reason for it, and I thought everything would even out soon.

Those blogs bragging about growth month after month? Good for them. It hasn't been my experience and though I feel deeply uncomfortable admitting that, I also feel deeply uncomfortable letting their sunshine and success stories dominate. It's not all sunshine and success, even when it's pretty good.

Once I knew how much money I need every month, I stressed out. I was asking way, way, WAY too much of myself and my partner. He was doing the emotional work of gluing me back together when a project went wrong, and the financial work of covering the bad months, and I couldn't ask that any more.

I thought I could keep working for myself full-time and get out of it, somehow, someway, and the thing is: I could. I still can. Solopreneur businesses are a fiction of the people in charge, in the best and worst ways. They are real exactly as long as you believe in them, just like the Velveteen Rabbit. I could have kept my faith in my business, but I realized I don't want to. I'm tired of learning sales. I'm tired of scrapping. I've put off technical classes I want to take because I needed sales more than I needed development chops, and that was depressing. I want to focus on the work, I want to develop a solid financial foundation, and I want to stop making sales calls.

I was starting to think: "I wish I had a day job so I could start all over again...so I wouldn't have to think about this anymore...so I could learn from people who are better than me at this...so I could turn down all these people who want me to do a lot of work for five dollars...so I could be picky about projects...so I can have more time for art making". (That last one was tough to swallow because I worked for myself to get more time for artistic projects.)

So one night I took a long drive down Sunset, all the way to the Pacific. I listened to my favorite music, and I wondered what a day job life might look like. I wondered how I could embrace the employee life as ardently as I've embraced the freelance life. I don't have all the answers yet but I'm excited to find them.

After four months of looking for the right job, I recently accepted an offer for a job I'm very, very excited about. It's still contract work (kind of), and it's in the entertainment industry so it's artist-adjacent (kind of). It turns out this four year anniversary isn't about working for myself, it's about switching industries and taking my career into my own hands. And so I may mark this anniversary forever, whether I work for myself or not.

(It feels almost cosmic that the job offer came in less than five minutes after I did a video interview for office admin temp work. It was an emotional journey to feel okay about applying for that kind of work; I felt like I was getting ready for a drag show when I got dressed--putting on that character I loathe, Chipper Office Worker Tara. It made me get my mind right on the subject of work and why we do it, and for that, I am grateful.)

Monday is my first day. I am scared, excited, happy, relieved, astonished, etc. More soon as I sort out the jumble of feelings.

Until year 5, yours in autonomy and self-determination,
Tara

Year 3 | Year 2 | Year 1

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