Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Freelance Life: Time to Take Stock and Look Forward

I lost my job just over seven months ago. It was a blow, and a hard one. Not only did I lose the job I felt I was meant for, a job I loved, but it also meant my family would have to make do without the $35,000 I was bringing in annually.

I've mentioned before that, throughout all of this -- the depression, the transition, everything -- my wife has been my rock and anchor. She was the one who encouraged me, and made the suggestion that now was the time to strike out on my own, to do my own thing. To find my passion and move forward. And I did. With her blessing, I bought the equipment I'd need, bought a domain name and built a website, and signed up on the necessary freelance and job sites I'd need to start working as a fulltime freelance voice talent.

When I began, I had a simple goal: make a thousand bucks a month. It wasn't much, but I was supplementing with unemployment and part-time work with another radio station. It would be something to build on. Once I got there.

It took three months to make my first thousand. Not per month. Total. In three months, I'd managed to bring in a thousand bucks freelancing. It was a start. Month four was almost a bust. There was depression. Apprehension. Wondering if it would work. If I really could make it. I started sending resumes out with a little more desperation than I had before. But I kept at it. I altered my goal. Year one: $2000/month. Find an agent. Keep moving forward.

It's been seven months since I lost my job. Just under seven months since I started freelancing. I did the math today, and realized that this month, for the first time, I would not just hit my goal, but I would actually earn what I would have earned in my old job.

Now, I'm not an idiot. Certain things came together this month. A couple big contracts came in that, put simply, I can't count on next month or the month after. But what it does tell me is that it can be done. That I can actually do this, and make a living. That I can actually contribute to my family in a meaningful way financially.

So, in other words, what this gives me is momentum. Now that I've seen it can be done, the goal now is to keep doing it.

So, I have fleshed out new goals for 2017. I'm writing them here, publicly, to provide for myself some accountability. Because goals you keep inside aren't really goals, I've discovered, but some nice thoughts.

So, here they are. And I hope you'll be praying for me and keeping me to them as I go.

2017 Year End Goals:
By December 31, 2017 I will...
-Build on the reputation I have gained (and continue to gain) for quick, quality work and professional service.
-Update my website regularly with new work, demos, and blogs.
-Make contact with at least three potential clients (outside the freelancer websites) per week.
-Contact at least three active or recurrent clients per week.
-Actively audition for at least 30 jobs per month.
-Be in front of my microphone working at least once a day, 5 days a week.
-Invoice at least $3k/month on a regular basis, providing for my family the income lost with my old job.

These goals, particularly the last, are lofty, hefty, difficult... and achievable. This month has shown me it can be done. Now it's time to focus and prove it can be done regularly.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Freelancing And The Not-So-Lone Wolf

Now that I'm freelancing fulltime (which I love, by the way), I find that I still have days in which I'm sluggish and unmotivated. Depressed, even. While I easily chalk some of these feelings up to residual regret over losing my job, I have recently made a discovery that, I hope, will help me -- and perhaps others like me -- to push through and become as productive as I want to be.

It came to me as I continued to apply for job after job in the Christian radio market, even all the while knowing that moving was, at best, a remote possibility. With my kids in a great school system and my wife working an outstanding job in a career in which she excels, the practicality of relocating to serve at another station was, and is, simply well outside the realm of probability.

And in truth, I don't fully want to go back. I like working for myself. I like setting my own hours, pushing against deadlines, and knowing that I will rise and fall based on my ability to deliver quality. I love the freelance life!

So why was I pushing so hard to find another fulltime job, even knowing it would take me away from this new career path I enjoy so much?

One word: Loneliness.

See, when I worked for the Christian radio station, I had an office full of friends: people who would poke their heads in while I worked just to say hello or decompress from the day-to-day stress. And who I, likewise, could distract momentarily to work out my own daily restlessness. People I could talk to and pray with.

I enjoyed those times, and my coworkers, but the thought that I was fulfilling a personal need never really occurred to me. After all, Myers-Briggs swears I'm an Introvert. I hate parties. I enjoy time to myself -- a LOT of time to myself. Crowds of people exhaust me. Classic Introversion.

It turns out, I am what is known as an "outgoing Introvert." It's one of those personality types not really covered by good ol' Briggs and Myers. Extroverts think we're snobs, and Introverts find us either useful or exhausting, depending on their needs at the time.

Actually, being an outgoing Introvert is, I'm starting to believe, probably among the best personality types for what I do: I have no problem networking and putting myself out there to find work and contacts, and I'm perfectly happy working on my own.

BUT, the problem for us outgoing Introverts is that, though too much interaction is bothersome and exhausting, we do need to spend some time, occasionally, with other human beings.

Turns out, being locked up in your house with only your cats and Social Media during the entire work week, every week, month after month, isn't all it's cracked up to be.

So, I took the first step, and one that I recommend to anyone feeling the strain of day-to-day self-sufficiency: own it. Learn to understand what you need mentally and spiritually, and then start to do something about it.

My second step was trying to figure out what to do about it. In my case, I looked for organizations for people like me in the area: freelancers and entrepreneurs. They exist, mostly if you're willing to pay dues, and mostly with the stated purpose of networking and learning about business.

Personally, I don't want to pay dues. So, I got to steps three and four. If the group I needed didn't exist, I'd create one. I called a friend who is also a sole-proprietor and told him my idea, and he agreed it sounded like a good one.

So that's where I am now. In my spare time, I'm looking to communicate with others in the area facing the same daily challenges as I am to create a group. The purpose of this group -- the only purpose for now -- is simply to come together in solidarity, be there for one another, have the occasional cup of coffee, and hold each other accountable for our workday goals. No dues. No lectures. Just time spent with other people.

This works for me, because I'm in an area where I simply don't have a lot of friends outside my former job, whom I can call on when I need an ear. For you, maybe you have a friend or two who wants to just hang out. But whatever the case, if you're feeling lonely, if depression is setting in and hurting your productivity, I truly believe the cure is simply Hanging Out. Schedule something monthly that you can look forward to, or maybe a weekly cup of coffee during the less productive part of your day. Anything that gets you out of the home office and interacting with another human being who isn't a client.

And, hey, if you happen to be in NE Wisconsin, drop me a line! I'm always up for a cup of coffee. You know. If I'm not working.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Job Loss: The Adventure of Finding Purpose

It's been about five months since I felt as though my world was crashing down around my ears. When you work in ministry -- really, when you work in any sort of job you love and believe in -- it's so easy to wrap your life's meaning around the work you're doing.

When I accepted the role of morning host at The Family, I thought, this is where I'm meant to be; this is what I'm meant to be doing. I believed I had, finally, found my purpose in life.

The only thing wrong with that was, I already had a purpose in life. More than one. I have a God who loves me. An amazing wife. Four beautiful children. And as much as I gave this idea lip-service, I lived my life as though it was my job that gave me my purpose.

I have finally come to an understanding, and today I was able to put it into words: I am not my job. You are not your job. We weren't put here for a purpose, but for many.

But it took losing my job for me to understand it.

When you lose a job, it can feel as though you've lost your purpose. This is where depression comes from, I think. That hopeless feeling. That now-what-ness. But the truth, the reality, is that this is the beginning of a grand adventure: seeking new purpose -- and learning to recognize the roles you're already filling.

This was never a self-help blog, and Heaven help me if I ever turn it into one. If you're dealing with a major life change, such as job loss, I'm not going to tell you what to do. What I can do is tell you what I'm doing, and if it works for me, hey, maybe you can glean a little something for your own life.

So, for me, step one was recognizing that, indeed, I am on a journey. Step one was to recognize who God has placed in my life, and to ask the big question: why? Could it be that one of my purposes is to be the friend, husband, and father that each of them needs?

Now that I'm at home most of the day, I'm able to help my wife get the kids around for school. This reduces her stress in the morning and helps her get to work in a better state of mind. That's something right there -- and it's not a small thing! I'm able to get stuff done around the house, attempting to create a more pleasant environment for everyone (when I actually, you know, do stuff). I'm able to be here for my kids when they're out of school, and not be the exhausted zombie they used to come home to. I can ask them about their day and truly be able to listen to their answers.

This is Big Stuff. This isn't "passing the time while I wait for the next job" stuff, but truly important, life altering work.

Step Two: I can explore my passions. As a mediaphile, my job did afford me the equipment I needed to work on some of the projects I wanted to... but in order to do so, I had to take more time away from my family. When I lost my job, I discovered I'd gained something (actually my wife pointed it out on day one) that I didn't have before: time. Time is precious, and no matter how much money you have, you can't buy more of it. Equipment is another matter. Equipment was something I could buy.

So now, thanks to an encouraging and understanding spouse, I have both the time and equipment to explore those passions of mine. And I am, and as I do so, I discover more and more ways to use those passion to create purpose. Or, perhaps, to find it.

For a season -- four years, to be exact -- one of my purposes in life was to be an encouraging voice on the radio; to be the person who maybe said just the thing somebody needed to hear at the right time; to offer an ear to my callers and words of prayer when necessary.

That was my purpose -- or one of my purposes -- in life. And now, it isn't. Now, my purpose is to explore all the things God already had for me to do (like being the person my family needs), and to find out what's next.

It's an exciting journey, fraught with surprise and even a little risk. It's not a journey to take lightly, or to take for granted, but even though I haven't -- and may never -- reach a final destination, I can already tell you it's a journey well worth taking.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Murdered, She Was: Fondly Remembering Sunday Before Netflix Killed It

Netflix finds new ways to irritate me every single month by pulling away more programming and trading it out for new, less entertaining fare. Whether it's losing the BBC contract for Doctor Who or, in its latest showcase of brilliant negotiation, losing all programming from Food Network, DIY, HGTV, and The Travel Channel, they continue, by and large, to utterly fail in the promises they made when they first changed their business model to "encourage" all customers to move away from DVDs and to the streaming service.

Anyway, this is starting to get away from me. Though the exit of the Food Network is a big loss for us (my wife, kids, and I all truly enjoyed the programming), one of the most personal losses for my wife and myself is that of Murder, She Wrote.

For us, M,SW had become something of an unofficial Sunday afternoon tradition. We would send the kids upstairs for "Quiet Time" (getting our 9- and 12-year olds to agree to naps is a hill not worth dying upon), start the water boiling for tea, and turn on the next episode to see what Jessica Fletcher and all her friends in Cabot Cove have gotten themselves into.

And for the record, yes, I said "tea." Though my wife and I are resolute coffee drinkers, some things are simply right. When you play Halo, you drink Mt. Dew. When you watch football, you drink beer -- or the commercial swill that passes for beer. And when you watch Jessica Fletcher solve another murder, you drink tea.

For us, Jess, Doc Hazlitt, the Sheriffs, even McGraw and Hagarty, were old friends we invited into our homes every Sunday. We watched and laughed and sat, fingers to chins, trying to solve the murder along with our favorite mystery writer. We chuckled knowingly as she calmly fixed tea for her guest right before just as calmly accusing them of murder (my favorite part: she really was a gutsy old broad).

Eventually, if we wish to continue our tradition, I suppose I'll have to buy the series. Or hope Neflix eventually pulls their collective heads out. Probably, I'll have better luck with the DVD thing.

In the meantime, do you have a favorite mystery program or Sunday afternoon goody? Share it in the comments, and help the wife and me fill the deep hole left by Netflix's sucking.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Adventures in Unemployment: Forgiveness

For my beautiful, amazing daughter, who has more to offer the world than she realizes... 

We're all pretty familiar with those well-worn "stages of grief." You know the ones: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and, finally, Acceptance. If you've followed along with this blog, you've most likely seen me going through most of these steps since my loss of employment.

But the problem is, it doesn't really end with acceptance. Because when you're dealing with grief, you're dealing with people. In a situation like this one, you're dealing with other people. There's a sixth stage, one that, while it isn't as automatic as the other Five, is just as -- probably more -- important.

See, I ultimately did come accept my firing. To realize that, maybe, even if it wasn't ideal, I can make this work and possibly even turn it into something better.

What that handy 5-stage list doesn't tell you, though, is that even when acceptance happens, the anger is still there. It may be suppressed, but it exists. I talked about some of the anger back in October. I didn't go into everything then. Partially because, while I had by then started to work out my forgiveness of the organization over the firing itself, I still hadn't dealt with the human aspects of the situation.

The person who fired me was someone I considered a friend. My direct supervisor, who wasn't there when they let me go, was a friend. I had a lot of friends there. People I could talk to, and who could talk to me. People whose company I legitimately enjoyed.

When I was let go, some of my former co-workers reached out to me. I appreciated this more than I can say. Through calls, messages, letters, and even just popping by, these individuals let me know I meant something to them, that I was more than a coworker, and that I'd be missed. They still check in, and I'm grateful.

A few never reached out. Didn't respond when I did. That hurt. Possibly more than the firing, the silence of my friends stung.

Forgiveness took some time. But ultimately, I had to. Because, forgiveness isn't about the other person. It's about me. It's about you. Not the person who needs forgiveness, but the one who was hurt.

A pastor once explained it to me this way: refusing to forgive is drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. My grudge didn't hurt my former co-workers -- they didn't even know anything about it. But it did hurt me. It affected my ability to find closure. It damaged my ability to move on. It stuck in my mind like a thorn and infected my spirit.

But I am learning how to forgive. I don't know why I was fired. I don't know why my friends never reached out and contacted me. I may never know those things -- but it doesn't matter. Because it's about me. Not them. No, they didn't respond to my firing the way I would have if situations were reversed -- the way, in fact, I have responded under such circumstances. But they aren't me. The truth is, they were put in a hard (and awkward) situation. I don't know exactly what they thought or are thinking. But I'm choosing to forgive.

Maybe I'll be able to tell them so one day, and maybe not. It doesn't matter, because it's not about them. They had reasons for exiting my life, and it's up to them to decide whether they'd like to be a part of it again. But I've done what I can. Should the time come that they decide they want to reach out, I'm here, and I'm ready to accept them back into my life. And if not, I mourn the loss of those friendships.

It's easy to say. As a Christian, forgiveness is not only marginally easier, but is a requirement of faith. I am forgiven and so I forgive. It doesn't always come naturally, but it must come.

And if you're in my situation, the best advice I can give is that it must come for you, too. Because it's not about your former employer. They may or may not care whether you forgive them for firing you (and let's face it: they probably don't). It's about you.

And because it's about you, there's one more thing you need to do. One more thing I needed to do as well. And it has to happen before that whole "acceptance" thing can really happen: you have to forgive yourself, too. Even -- maybe especially -- if you don't know why.