Finding Your Excitement in Opportunity

In two and a half weeks, my daughter is off to kindergarten. And she’s bouncing off the walls with excitement.

She’s been modeling her school clothes for friends and relatives and wants to carry a pencil to bed. She’s been eyeballing teacher bios on the school website, wondering whether she’ll have one teacher or another. She’s been thinking about field trips and pleading with us to let her ride the school bus (which this school doesn’t have). She also suggested that, after copying her reading words onto a blank piece of notebook paper, that I hand deliver the list to the school so they can see her ‘homework.’

She’s making me smile, especially because I know she gets it from me.

I left my corporate job on April 27, 2012, and started work as an independent marketing consultant on April 30. I’ll always remember that day.

Honestly, I was giddy. It wasn’t just that I’d left a challenging and sometimes difficult corporate job. It was that I had been dreaming for years of becoming a solopreneur, starting my business, and growing my skills.

The world felt very different – new and fresh, with unlimited opportunity in front of me.

On my first day, I started work at 7 a.m. and looked up at 5:15 p.m., having forgotten to eat, go get coffee, or do any of the normal things I do during a workday. And I spent the entire week building my website, writing for a client, getting administrative tasks done, and building the foundations for my new life.

I wasn’t drained by work. I was excited – just like my daughter.

The past three months have been full of ups and downs. Underlying them all, I’ve had this ongoing sense of enthusiasm – fully aware that new, formative, challenging, and exciting experiences are right around the corner.

It’s certainly true that my life isn’t perfect, and it never will be. But I know, without doubt, that I’m delivering more value today than I did before. I know that I’ve inspired and motivated people, driven important marketing campaigns, and helped people I’d never reach in corporate life.

And here’s the secret I need you to embrace.

You can have it too.

No doubt, some of you already do. Perhaps you’re well ahead of me in the race to become a successful freelancer. You may have been doing this for years, happily helping clients, delivering value, becoming an outstanding writer or researcher or designer.

But maybe you aren’t there yet. You’ve been toying with the idea. Perhaps you’ve attended an event or purchased a course. Or you are on the edge, wondering whether you should jump or not.

Let me tell you – the opportunities are out there. Freelancers are becoming the face of the global workforce – the rate of growth for freelance work in the U.S doubled in the first quarter of 2012, according to U.S. News and World Report. At last count, according to FreshBooks, close to 30 percent of Americans are freelancers. And 88.9 percent of them report that they’re happier as freelancers.

I think there are a few reasons why.

One is having full control over opportunity.

In corporate life, I was a senior manager. Assuming I kept my nose clean, worked my tail off, and made sure everyone was happy, I could expect annual raises of 2 to 3 percent, with a pay grade bump of 10 percent every five to 10 years on the average.

In my short time as a freelancer, I’ve already seen that if I work hard, use my intelligence, and successfully market myself, financial opportunity is much less limited for me than it was in corporate life. I have met freelancers who are millionaires. I can see a clear path to making 150 to 200 percent of what I made in corporate life.

But some of us define opportunity in different ways. Perhaps money isn’t your goal. If you’re more comfortable making $50K to $60K a year part time, you can happily do that. You can avoid the pressure to take on unwanted work or spend long hours doing tasks you don’t enjoy. Or perhaps you want to take the opportunity to become a master communicator. The choice is yours.

Another reason is having flexible freedom to define your day.

Back in June, my wife and I decided that we wanted a summer of fun for our family. So, if I’m being honest with myself, I’ve loafed a little. We’ve taken weekdays and gone on trips. I’ve gone fly-fishing a few times. I’ve gone on long hikes in the woods. I’ve even … gasp … watched TV … during the day!

But I’ve made up for those mini-breaks. I’ve worked at 10 p.m. or on the weekends, from a plane, or during a training session. As I write this, I’m debating whether to take a break to mow the lawn, knowing that I’ll have to work late if I do.

From now on, I manage my work life to align with my goals – personal AND professional.

We Americans have been trained to see that as slothful. It’s not. As long as I’m achieving my goals and serving my clients well, why should someone care how I spend my day?

You can have that lifestyle if you choose. Perhaps you want to be a stay-at-home mother or spend a few hours a day volunteering. With the freelance life, you can do just that.

Finally, freelancers can find a deep sense of meaning from their work.

This role gives me a strong sense that I’m making a valued contribution. I get to write inspiring, motivating, energizing articles like this one. I help technology start-ups grow by assisting new customers. I build content that makes the economy grow. I get to create – not criticize.

I also have more time and energy for other things in life that I value. Family, of course, is one of those. Keeping my garden up comes to mind. Making microloans to small businesses in Third World countries is another thing I value. Before becoming a freelancer, I struggled to find time and energy to do those things. Now I have room to think, feel, and breathe.

You can have these things too.

I can tell you from experience, the wait to make the leap is much harder than the leap itself. Clearly, you want to prepare a transition from your old life to your new one. I don’t recommend jumping into the freelance life blindly. Build your skills, understand what you need, and craft a plan.

But you have to begin somewhere – and today is as good a starting point as any. All I want you to do is ask yourself the simple question that was my starting point:

What do you want, and can freelancing help you get it?

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Published: August 8, 2012

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