This weekend, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at one of my alma maters about becoming a communications consultant and entrepreneur and leaving a stable corporate job. When someone in the audience asked how to go about securing new business and focus your energy, I advised to focus on doing what you love because you’ll attract work you want to do. Following my answer, someone else in the audience said something to the effect that while the mantra of “doing what you love” is nice, she wanted to caution people that sometimes reality dictates the kind of work that comes your way.
What I heard is that doing what you love is bad career advice. I think she’s wrong.
To use another too-often used mantra: Life Is Short. So damn short. Why would we want to work on stuff we hate? Of course, we all have bills to pay and work we have to do that we don’t always love. I get that. And when I first began my business 12 years ago this month, I took on work for clients that I wondered whether we’d be a good fit. Some were, some weren’t. But every single one of those clients and editors taught me something – even if it was that I don’t love working on those types of projects and to steer away from them.
In the course of these twelve years, though, I also learned the kinds of clients and work I love doing and want to attract more – work that focuses on: art, architect and design (including landscape architecture and gardens and trees), environment and sustainability, food and food justice, health (especially mental health), travel and culture, and women’s and children’s rights. It’s a lot, right? I also really enjoy writing profiles and biographies, as well as features. I love interviewing people and learning their stories. I love telling their stories. I find research fun. This is why I love my work. I’ve written and/or worked on all of these topics in one way or another during the last 12 years.
Rather than take on work you don’t love, why not focus on attracting work you do love? And what better way to do that by doing what you love in the first place? Volunteer for organizations you feel strongly about and network within that space, attend conferences or read trade magazines in the topics you’re interested in, connect with people already working in companies that you might like to work with in the future and let them know you’re available if they need someone like you. The work may not come immediately and it could very well take years, but by constantly putting yourself out there and doing work you love, you’ll start to earn a reputation and that becomes your business card.
Recently, I was recently interviewed for Deliberate Freelancer, a new podcast by Melanie Padgett Powers on how to build a successful freelance business. During the podcast, Melanie asked me how I organize my day and stay on task. I’m a planner and I like to plan out my month in advance, then by week, then by day, then by hour and then by 15-minute increments.
Right now, I’m using an excel spreadsheet (you can view a template of it here) because I can drill down that deeply into my day. Similar to a Bullet Journal, what doesn’t get done on one day “migrates” to the next day (or gets saved for next month, depending on the project). The idea is that every project or work on this week-at-a-glance or specific day of the week has to work for its spot. Further, each day has a financial goal attached to it so that by week’s end, I’ll hit my financial goal. If I have a meeting out of the office that isn’t going to generate income (let’s say a networking event), that gets captured on one day but that means another day has to make up for this non-revenue-generating day.
I’m fascinated with how people plan their days and hit their revenue goals. This format works for me but I realize this can put some people over the edge because it’s so specific. They prefer to have more fluid schedules. That’s totally fine with me – but that approach doesn’t work for me. I’m deadline-driven and goal-oriented. If I don’t have a deadline, it won’t get done. If I don’t have a goal, it’s much harder to get motivated to complete something.
Embracing Creative Pursuits
Appreciating the need to give myself more space to be creative, I’ve been intentionally seeking and embracing more opportunities to welcome creativity and the arts into my life.
As the weather improves in Chicago (thank goodness, the rain this week notwithstanding), I’m so excited to get outdoors more. I’ve signed up for a bookbinding workshop at Bari Zaki (come join me!), booked ceramics classes through the Chicago Park District, and bought tickets to see a friend’s improv show with my girlfriends. My friend Katie inspired me to take up drawing (thanks, Katie!). I’ve visited a Chicago arts shop and bought some art supplies to try some new mixed media projects. I scheduled a baby goat yoga session (don’t judge - I’ve been wanting to do this for years!).
All this to say, I’m ready to play. I’m continuing my weekly Artist Dates, which have been truly a delight to plan and do every week. I’m seeing my friends in real life more regularly, which has been a joy. I’m experimenting with new work and clients, with some surprising results. I’m working out more regularly. It’s all good.