as time goes by
This week—actually today, on August 1st—four years ago, I started out on my freelance journey.
So much has changed since then, I couldn’t have predicted that this is how my life would be like. My big take-away from it all is this: as a freelancer or small business owner, you must use all the talents you have, and hone them. Which means you must be very self-aware: of what your talents are, what they aren’t, and what you must improve to further your business. Here’s my list of talents.
// my talents //
When I set out, I knew I was good at being precise and playing with language, which is a skill much-needed in editing, proof-reading and translation. However, this skill is not so much needed when it comes to teaching a language, as those being taught cannot yet appreciate much word play or the beauty of language. They are struggling to even understand basic vocabulary, and couldn’t care less, for instance that “somnambulism” is a fancy and beautiful word for sleepwalking.
In general, I don’t like people. At the outset, I thought this would be a big impediment to being the face and CEO of one’s own company. But it hasn’t, really, quite the opposite actually. I choose my clients wisely and do not spend my spare time at networking events that reap any benefits unless I’m genuinely interested in the cause. I think that’s also a part of what makes me liked as a freelancer: clients appreciate my genuineness (or maybe not, but then again, this blog doesn’t have a comment function, so we’ll just leave it at that).
Throughout the course of my freelance career, I also came to find that I love to teach. I never would have thought this possible, seeing as I don’t like people much, or kids especially (yeah, sorry to all of my millennial friends cranking out the babies and plastering social media full with their photos—I really don’t care!). How does this go together? I have no idea. I guess I don’t like the general idea of humanity and people as a conglomerate, but when you look at each individual, everyone has something to offer. I love sparking the thirst for knowledge in students—or satisfying it, if it was already there. What I do not appreciate, on the other hand, is disciplining students. Which is why I came to find my place in adult education, teaching those who are intrinsically motivated and driven, rather than children who have no motivation, are forced to sit in school, and need extrinsic motivation like grades, discipline, and computer games/nights out/what have you.
I have known this about myself for very long: I am a feminist. I never thought I could create a corporate culture where I can live out my feminism, but lo and behold, here I am, a successful, childless, cat-owning woman in her mid-thirties who does not depend on anyone other than herself to make her living. Scary, huh?
The best part about this is that I actually get to make the world a better place for other women through language, if the client lets me. If not, I have at least educated the client on sexist language issues.
When I first set out as a freelancer, I had no idea what kind of clients I would be working for. What I did know is that I no longer wanted to support a system that didn’t care about the consumers as much as the producers or bosses behind the products. Yes, I work for big companies too, but I am proud to say the main bulk of my client base is focused on people: customers, guests, CEOs, and readers.
Alongside that, my client base in teaching in adult education includes socially marginalized groups. Being face to face with people who are at a social disadvantage on a daily basis has opened my heart even more to tolerance, respect for others, fairness, and fighting for the underdog.
Yes, this is one of my talents. It’s like stage fright: having it means you are humble, performing means something to you, it’s important what your audience thinks. I still get nervous before teaching a new course or workshop. It’s very important to me what my ‘audience’—students, workshop participants, clients—think of the work I do.
I struggled with this fact when I started out, but have come to accept that doubting my work, listening to my inner critic, keeps me on my toes. (In healthy doses, of course. Too much self-doubt is poisonous.) It’s kind of like having a boss who is interested in seeing you succeed and looks over your work to ensure its quality.
I am an artist
In 2015, I started hand lettering on a semi-professional level and will finally (!) launch my more-than-semi-professional website for my lettering brand this year (www.letterissima.com). Yes, it took me three years to come to terms with art as a professional aspect of my freelance life. For one, bringing my love for detail together with the freedom of artistic expression proved difficult. However, the longer I draw letters, the more I come to understand the meaning of the word artist, at least for me. It’s true that I am in no way as good at designing letters as a graphic designer, and I’m no illustrator, that’s for sure. But still: I love arranging letters, combining letterforms, thinking of fun quotes or words to letter, practicing the craft of the brush, and trying out new things. And that is what I am good at. But more importantly: it doesn’t matter if I’m good at it or not. What matters is that I do it regularly, because I enjoy it, and to hone my skills. That is what makes me an artist.
here’s to the next four
In Austria, being a freelancer or small business owner is not a very attractive set-up. You do not reap any of the benefits that employees do: there are no unions, no sick days, no vacation days. If a client doesn’t show up or financing for a project falls through, you simply don’t earn any money that day. Plus, you have to take care of everything yourself: from taxes to insurance to office rent etc.
And yet there are so many benefits to being an employee, from choosing your own clients to choosing which other freelancers or small business you want to collaborate with; from choosing your own job type and load to choosing your preferred working time. But anyone who has talked to the self-employed knows all that.
The biggest advantage for me is the freedom to (constantly) reflect on my talents and to decide in which direction to take my business next. I’m on a multi-dimensional corporate ladder that not only rises, but also zig zags, swoops, and dips, taking me places I wouldn’t have imagined before. That is truly gratifying and I wouldn’t ever trade it—not for job security, benefits, or less responsibility. So here’s to the next four—let’s see where they take me.