We all have pivotal moments in our lives. Ones that set you on a trajectory without intention, but force you (or at least encourage you) to take action. While it was a gradual process, it started in my early twenties. I was fresh out of University and employed at my first corporate job. I was a graphic designer at a marketing company in western Canada. I'll admit, I was hugely naive. Who isn't at 22? I still had a LOT to learn, but I was "good" at my job.
I cringe when I remember sitting in a lunchroom with my boss and co-workers. We were tossing around casual jokes and conversation. I don't even remember what the topic was, or what I said. Then it blindsided me. My boss, in a deadpan tone, called me stupid. Not once, but twice. This person was going through a rough time personally, so I'll give them that; but from that moment forward I vowed to never work in that type of environment again. The corporate world had revealed its true face and it wouldn't be the last time (because, that's reality).
I've endured far more devastating comments and events in my life. Being called stupid is rather petty. I get that. However, that comment from the mouth of a respected mentor/leader haunted me for years. It directed me on a course that has simply allowed me to "do good work, with good people" on my own for the past decade. For that, I am very grateful.
Not all workplaces are toxic. I have had hugely enriching experiences from being employed accross Canada; but if you've experienced one or a few of these environments, you've probably thought about going out on your own too. Thankfully, the definition of work has changed drastically and there are countless opportunities to define and create what work looks like. The majority of my daily interactions are with people who are living a solopreneur life, or making the leap and it's truly inspiring.
I'm no expert. Truthfully, I'm always learning and figuring things out. Aren't we all? Here are a few lessons I've learned (sometimes the hard way) from being a solopreneur. I'm sparing you with the logistics of making the transition. There are loads of articles and books out there to help you out. Plus, it really comes down to you, and how you design that transition. Gradual or quick, there's no right way.
Don't Take Shit
Life is short. It really is. Taking any type of shit from anyone is NOT worth your valuable time (more about time coming up). Shit pay, shit work, shit attitudes, shit offers, shit hours. If you smell shit, walk away. You are so much better than a pile of shit. That goes for anything in life. Phew! Got that one? I'm trying to be as clear as shit. I promise, I'm moving on to more enlightening and serious content.
Nurture Good Relationships
You will meet a plethora of wonderful people throughout your career. You were brought together for a reason. Nurture those relationships well beyond your given time together. It will serve you well. As a solopreneur, the majority of your work and inspiration will come through connections you make throughout your career (employed or solo). Thriving and respectful relationships will open you up to collaborating with talented and smart people, just like you. If a relationship feels shitty, refer to the tip above.
Be Kind. Be Grateful.
Kindness matters and goes a long way. It doesn't cost a thing to be kind. Don't take shit, but be kind even when it's hard. When good (and bad) things come your way, be grateful for them. See the value in experiences big and small and express gratitude. It helps the world make sense.
Don't Stop Creating
Don't stop creating. Whatever creating means to you, (writing, beer making, cooking, photography, painting, designing, etc.) just keep doing it. In your career, you'll go through a body of work and some of it will be shit, trust me. Keep working HARD. The more time you invest, the better you'll become and one day you'll find your way. You'll find yourself. You have talent. Don't give up. This quote by Ira Glass helped me through the creative process years ago. I still repeat it when I hit a rut, as you do. Grit and hustle really do go far.
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it's like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you're making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.
Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn't as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.
And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you're going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you're going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you're making will be as good as your ambitions.
I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes awhile. It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.
- Ira Glass
Guard Your Time
Time is your most valuable commodity. Guard it fiercely. You will always find ways to make money. After all, you're smart and full of ideas. You CAN'T get time back. Spend your time wisely. Personally and professionally. Edit, edit, edit.
Define Your Own Success
Success is a subjective and nuanced thing. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing. Just focus on what success means to YOU. You have an opportunity to create your OWN reality. Define what that means and take the steps to make it happen.
For me, success means doing good work, with good people. I do what I love with equal amounts of discipline and flexibility. I make time for my career/personal passions and for my family. I learn something new every day. Over time, that definition will change and I will continue to adapt. So will you. It's part of the process and life of a solopreneur, but worth every enriching moment.
That's all I got! Keep it real and work hard. If you're a solopreneur, does this resonate with you? What else have you got to tell me? I'd love to hear what you've learned.