May we begin with a story?
Great, thank you.
The other day I had the following exchange with my younger son:
Him: "Do you still go to an office?"
Me: "If someone asks me to come in for a meeting I do."
Him: "Like you used to do though, like its work?"
Me: "I think so, sort of?"
Him: "Are they clients?"
Me: "Yes they are, exactly."
Him: "So it is work?"
Him: "Good, you seem happier."
And I am.
It's been just over six months since I went out on my own, partially by choice, and a lot not by choice, not really, which means that in terms of the laws of personal branding, entreprenuership and self-promotion, it's time to reflect on what I've learned, how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking as I look to the future.
(1) Working at home, which was not a completely foreign concept to me is great. I really enjoy the energy and flow of the day, but... when you work at home, people like to think since you're at home you can take care of things that need to be taken care of that have nothing to do with work, because you know you're at... home. Which is not to say I don't like the freedom of folding laundry during a conference call or running to the supermarket during a break, but it also suggests that there is a reasonable argument for finding office space of some kind.
(2) I can just as easily lose myself in hours of work as I did during my days working to 9-5, but disruptions feel really disruptive now. It may be that was true when I worked in an office as well, but I don't remember it that way. Being home it's so much easier to drift from a personal call or other distraction to the couch, kitchen or the internet, briefly losing myself in reading news feeds as opposed to getting back to work. This is very much about flow, and it now requires more attention, and maintenance, to achieve it. This applies as well when I take a day off, or travel for a gig, the rhythm of the day and the regular flow of my work is wholly disrupted and it now takes that much more time to find it again.
(3) Speaking of the day, there almost never feels like there is a natural stopping point or a reason not to work every day of the week. Or late into the night. Sometimes I stop because there's no choice, I fall asleep, there are plans, and nothing else will get done, but these days, it always feels like a trade-off. Why not put in another hour or get-up early on Sunday? I did it for years when the kids were little so I could write, so why not do the same as I try to build a business? Why not indeed? That said, I also find that when I do stop, or decide not to re-start late at night, the work still gets done. This shouldn't surprise me, I've always gotten the work done, and that hasn't changed, and so maybe its okay to just say enough, today, for now, and maybe I need to trust in that more.
(4) Still, Mondays are still Mondays. There remains a sense of feeling overwhelmed as the week takes off whether I work every day or not and I'm in an office or not. And yet, Sundays are no longer Sundays. Over the years whether I worked on Sunday or not, a kind of dread would build throughout the day, a pre-sense of being overwhelmed about what was to come. But not any more. I flow from day to day now, and yes Mondays suck for a minute, but that's because everyone else is getting started and I have to ride their wave of energy and not mine.
(5) My relationship to Mondays isn't the only thing that's changed, my relationship to money has as well. And not just the ever more conscious pursuit of it, which is certainly a thing, or getting it when someone owes it to me, but the actual ebb and flow, that word again, of it into and out of our house, and how and when things get paid for. I had stopped thinking about this, that movement. I lived with someone who cared, and I got lazy. But now I can't be, or don't want to be. I need to know when invoices go out because I worry about when the bills, and payments, are coming in, how they compliment eachother in term of timing, and how it all works day to day and month to month. It's inspiring, more like coming to know the parts of a machine, or an organism, living and breathing, and I'm feeding it. I always cared, but it was in an abstract way. No more.
(6) Even that isn't the most profound change I've encountered though. When I started being at home most of the time, I found myself struggling to follow what was being said and asked of me. I live with people who talk fast, sometimes as they're walking away and down the hall and on to the next thing, but it immediately felt like a concern. And it was. As I initially sought, and failed at, the more full-time work opportunities I pursued prior to all of this, I had some struggles following directions, and making sense, of things. It was confusing to me. That had never really happened before, and while I believe there are myriad reasons for some of that, once home, it became obvious that there was an actual problem. That problem is my hearing. And so, if I haven't seen you recently, or you haven't noticed my hearing aids, know that this has been going on for some time, and I especially have problems with high pitched tones, particularly the voices of women and children. Jokes aside, I've been missing a lot of conversations for some time now, though I have no idea how long, and if you think I didn't do something you asked me to do during the last year or so, it's possible I didn't hear you, but was nodding because I was confused and embarrassed as to why I wasn't following the conversation. To be honest, I didn't know I was doing it, but I do now, and I'm doing a lot less of it. I'm also happy to talk further about if you are so inclined.
(7) Related to this in a way, but not exactly, is that I have spent a lifetime using self-deprecating jokes to deflect things that embarrassed me, to manage-up, to not try and sound like a know-it-all or even just be funny. I like being funny. However, as opposed to my now long-time and now long lost job, self-deprecation didn't seem to work as well at the newer jobs I tried, and then one day during the last six months, a client told me to drop it. He said it made me look less confident, and that I lacked swagger. And he wanted swagger. So, I'm working on dropping it in work situations. Maybe you've noticed, and if so, I'd love to hear what you think. I'm not sure I'm sold on this as a necessity, but there is something liberating about it. Own your confidence, and don't be a dick, but don't be embarrassed about your ideas either. I never thought I was, and I've always been vocal, but it's worth thinking about this as I move from place to place and opportunity to opportunity. I'm no longer quite as static, and maybe concentrating on swagger is a necessity.
(8) It's also ever more clear to me that if one is out in the world and selling themselves, they are the product, and like any product, one needs to be able to package it, provide a framework, let people know what they can expect, when and how they will receive it and what it will cost them. I'm working on this now as well, thinking it through and trying to define what I've been doing and what I want to do. All of that is coming. There are frameworks that are emerging organically and I'm going to formalize them, offer them to the world and call it a business.
More on that soon.
(9) I will say this now though, the best, unexpected part of being out on my own has been opportunities to coach, both authors wanting to create, or restructure their books, as well as small businesses and career changers wanting to talk about branding and language and organizing their thoughts. It's been wonderful and I'm really good at it. I also recognize now that I always wanted to do this kind of thing, that I wanted to help people get unstuck and tell their stories, be strategic, and an ideas guy, taking so much of what I did well in partnerships and office situations over the years, but was somehow embarrassed to say that out loud.
Not any more. I'm giving it a name, it's coaching and I'm digging it.
And now for a call back, or a book-end to all of this, another story ayway before I go... for now.
When I first went out on my own, I was at a networking event and I had the following conversation with some guy:
Him: "So you're out on your own, huh?"
Me: "Yes, I guess so."
Him: "Things weren't going well for you were they?"
Me: "I guess not, but why do you say that?"
Him: "Because people don't go out on their own when things are going well."
I never thought about it that way, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. Things not going well are a big part of my story recently, but that doesn't mean I can't tell a different story, or at least change the narrative. That's the plan anyway, and I'm in it, now, and as my son pointed out, I'm happier.
So, as I said, more soon, and if you want to talk about any of this, let me know, I would be thrilled to do so.