Self-Employed, Self-Aware

Being self-employed  = Living the dream.

That's completely true, as far as I'm concerned. But that doesn't mean it comes without it's share of both of the creative and professional challenges to be overcome.

We could have endless conversations about the particular brand of challenges that often come with being a self-employed creative professional. Going back and forth, trading stories of success and not-so-success, sharing experiences in an effort to do things better. And we totally should. I would love to have those conversations with you, preferably over plenty of coffee or cocktails. That sounds like a blast.

Right now, I want to address one challenge in particular. It's the challenge of playing to your strengths. Not creatively, but professionally. Let's not forget that our success is equally dependent upon our business acumen as much as our creative prowess. I'm referring specifically to the perpetual circus of proper time management, scheduling, and administrative work while still keeping your morale high enough to actually create anything. 

But here's the deal: You can't play to your strengths if you don't know what they are. And in order to know what they are, you have to have some degree of self-awareness.

Self awareness is an invaluable quality... especially among those of us who were silly and idealistic enough to employ ourselves.

You have GOT to know yourself.

Unlike traditional employment - where you are most likely given a schedule of tasks to complete and told when to complete them - self-employment has a tendency to be a bit more fluid. Sure, most jobs have a deadline and certain parameters, but all the internal workings are basically up to you. When you work on concepts, when you proof to a client, how you process feedback… not to mention all of the business you have to do in between. You know, the phone calls, the emailing, the scheduling, the invoicing, the press checks… all of those things that you have to do yourself, while still keeping the deliverables delivered. It's a ton to keep up with, no joke. And kudos to you for kicking ass and doing it all. 

You have to know how certain things effect your productivity and your mood, and play to that. Don't force things that simply don't work for you. This is one of those huge benefits of self-employment, after all! That you have the liberty to play to those strengths and do what you can to address those weaknesses.

Does taking a client's unscheduled phone call completely throw off your focus, taking you half an hour to get back into whatever project you were CRUSHING IT on before you took the call? Then don't take those calls. You can decide to only take calls / return calls at certain times of the day. That's completely up to you. 

For me, it's meetings. They drain me like nothing else. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE taking meetings. I love meeting with clients or potential clients, and talking at length about this project they're so passionate about, and figuring out ways to make it work. I love meeting with other creatives, discussing projects we're working on or what's inspiring us or our favorite episode of Parks and Rec. But even though I love these meetings, and even though I leave these meetings stoked on life or whatever project we were discussing, I am still completely drained when they're over. I realized it's because I am completely ON the whole time. Listening, contributing, pitching, trouble shooting, brainstorming, planning… all of it at once. And because I'm a complete type-A personality and have a tendency to gauge my self-worth based on how many items I checked off my list in a day, I would fill up the rest of my day after a meeting with brain-heavy work.

And then I would fail. Every time.

I would have an intense 2-hour meeting in the late morning, then try to buckle down and pump out creative work as soon as I got back to my office. This pretty much always resulted in me staring numbly at the screen, sort of just pushing elements around on an art board for a few hours, before I eventually gave up. I'd go home late, feeling completely defeated. 

But I can't just take a 10am meeting and then call it a day at noon, right? I mean, I totally can. And sometimes I do. Let's be honest. Sometimes you just need to call it a day and go to Disneyland. That's fine. But most of the time, I can't call it a day at noon. So then what? 

In my case, it means I do everything in my power to only schedule meetings in the latter part of the day, leaving myself about 30 minutes afterwards to unpack my brain and jot down essential followups from the meeting. Or, if I'm feeling particularly invincible and have the flexibility to do so, I'll have a marathon meetings back to back all day long. I completely crash at the end of that day, but that crash feels so well deserved that I don't mind.

The point here is that you have the flexibility to play to your strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of this whole self-employed thing is (ideally) doing more of the work you love, the way you love doing it. You call the shots, you make your schedule.  The more you know about yourself and how things effect you, the less time you'll waste; the less time you'll spend feeling defeated. Figure out the things that dampen your productivity or your creativity, and simply schedule yourself appropriately.

St. Vincent Poster

The Birth of the Bear