You can be a freelancer if you are a bungee jumping mythological Hindu demon king with ten heads and twenty hands. And if you read on you will understand why that makes sense and why I am totally not making it up.
Quick note : there is no mention of bungee jumping in the Ramayana. I am just using some imagery. So don’t sue me, purists.
I went into freelancing because I didn’t like computer engineering when I was in college.
Like everyone else when I got out of engineering college I was confused with life goals. My case was even more complicated than others because my grades sucked. So I could not participate in India’s booming IT sector, the default career for any engineering graduate.
For a time, that looked like the end of the road. Doom, gloom,why-didn’t-I-study-harder, despair-my emotions could have easily beaten a category 5 hurricane’s turbulence.
But something good came out of these abysmal grades.I had always loved writing and I went on to join India largest personal technology magazine.Working there was fun.
I then switched over to information security consulting and got a peek of the work culture behind big and mature companies. Suffice to say, it was not as enjoyable as before.
After a volunteering stint with a NGO I slowly began to get my priorities straight. Maybe it was the fresh Himalayan air or maybe it was watching people who gave up their plush corporate jobs to follow their dreams. I now knew what was low on my priority list. Boy, did that clear up the air.
I realized that I didn’t want to to base my life upon money and conventional status symbols. I also decided that if something was worth doing ( also not illegal or harmful to others) I would go ahead and do it, regardless of whether I was called a hero or an idiot.
Don’t get me wrong: cash is important and I won’t work for free.I also refuse to work for cheap.I am aware that money solves a lot of problems and enables you to live comfortably. I am also fine with the concept of owning things and aspiring to higher standards of living.
What I am not fine with is with stuff owning me.I got out of one job because I was not comfortable working only for money. I sure as hell didn’t want to fall into the same trap in my freelancing career.
Before jumping in I started reading all I could about freelancing. I soon came to know of people who dared to break out of the routine, think radically different and became famous and successful. They did all that while overcoming tremendous challenges and setting some ‘impossible’ goals.
I read about Johnny B. Truant (again, not his real name) who sells goal setting,life choices and marketing advice (some paid, some free) and is now rolling in cash (he would disagree with that, I suspect) after digging himself out of severe financial hardship brought about by the real estate market crash.
I read about Chris Guillibeau and his awesome The Art of Non-Conformity project, based on the theory that things like travel,helping others and being successful can be achieved through unorthodox and seemingly contrarian methods. His goal is also to travel to every country before 35, something which I resonate with.
I read about Jon Morrow, associate editor at Copyblogger who was given months to live by doctors when he was a baby because he suffered from muscular dystrophy. Even after 16 potentially fatal pneumonia infections and an inability to move from neck downwards Jon’s at the top of his game and is an authority on blogging.
(You really need to read Jon. His post is so inspiring that I am constantly measuring myself against him and finding myself falling short. Every time I slack I think about him, give myself a kick in the arse and get back to work)
Doing remarkable work
These are only a few of the people that I have followed closely.They have all unique business models, styles of engagement and personalities. But there is one quality that is common to all these achievers, which is an almost obsessive need to stand out from the crowd,do something remarkable and make people go “wow”.
And that is the secret to success.
In freelancing, more than any in other field, you can be successful if you provide something that no body can. The moment you lose your unique proposition you become a commodity and clients will go to another freelancer who is maybe cheaper or more experienced or lives nearer to him.
You don’t want that to happen to you.
So why do I want to freelance, and what do I want to get out of it?
To me, freelancing is a life choice. It is a choice to live and work on my own terms, without a boss. It offers me freedom to work on stuff that I am passionate about and with people who appreciate what I do.
Essential requirements for freelancing
However, rosy as it sounds I know that the road to freelancing success is not easy. As these biographies have shown, to be really successful not only you have to work harder than normal people but you need to be borderline crazy and take enormous amounts of risk. You need to multi task and work like you have 10 heads and 20 arms; a modern day Ravana, if you will (please don’t add kidnapping and war mongering to your repertoire.)
Philosopher, warrior, musician-this guy is a poster boy for freelancing
You need to be passionate about what you do. So passionate that it becomes as contagious as a cold infection or a belly laugh. You have to be a master psychologist, beat your inner demons and understand what motivates potential clients and their customers.
Freelancing is like leaping from a tall mountain with a slender cord tied around your ankles, no safety net,free falling as you pray that the cord holds and you don’t hit the hard ground and look like a cake which fell down from the counter, icing first.
Freelancing is being almost idiotically persistent, not giving up even after repeated failures and learning something new from every setback.
Freelancing is having both a bird’s eye as well as a worm’s eye view.
As a freelancer you need to have a tunnel vision with a laser like focus while having a world vision at the same time
Animals, blademasters and elite archers
When you freelance you have to be as alert as a wild animal, with twitching ears,swiveling eyes and a constantly sniffing nose, intensely aware of your surroundings and immediately reactive to opportunities and threats.
And on top on that, you need to be proactive too, creating opportunities that you can exploit to your advantage.
You need to play up your strengths and position yourself so that your weaknesses doesn’t hamper you.
Like Rand al’ Thor and other blademasters in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time,you have to enter the void where every color is sharper,every creak of the saddles and the buzzing of flies ten feet away can be heard.
Like Arjuna in the battle of Mahabharata you need to be able to shoot an arrow so precisely aimed that it exactly hits the target through the jostling men, entangled chariots and deadlocked elephants on the battlefield.
Seems unachievable? Actually it’s just short of, otherwise everyone would be freelancing.
So here’s a toast to that brave, intrepid tribe spread all over the world, challenging the status quo and daring to swim against the tide.
I leave you with some points to ponder on as I conclude this post. This is for me as well as all other freelancers
What are you doing everyday to distinguish yourself from the competition?
How rapidly are you adopting to new challenges that the market presents?
How quickly are you taking advantages of opportunities to grow your brand and your business?
Do you treat your clients like an interested friend or is the relationship over after the final check has been signed and deposited in the bank?
Are you putting on a human face when presenting yourself to the world?