Bumps on the Freelance Road

I’m not one to sulk, and I do my best to not be one to complain. I pride myself on pushing things forward, and convince myself, regularly, that my situation is ideal. There are a lot of mind tricks one must master in order to have success in self-employment, and I’ve employed plenty of them over the course of my career.

I first started getting paid regularly to design graphic tees for bands in 2002. This year marks a decade of doing this sort of work. Early on, I ran off the sheer excitement of what I was creating, and the quest to be able to create better and better work. Around every corner, there was excitement, and my eyes were continually opened to work that other designers were doing, that completely blew me away. I couldn’t get enough, and my bag of tricks was teeming with ideas that I had that I hadn’t yet worked into a project.

In 2005, my band stopped touring year-round, and I would be left on my own, to continue creating art for bands. This time, with no distraction. No shows to play, no bouncing van, no hotel rooms. Just me, in my bedroom on a Powerbook. I hustled my butt off, and took on every project that was asked of me. The years prior gave me a taste of steady freelance work, but here I was, lucky enough to have a flood of work, and the excitement of actually having the time to do it.

I consider 2005 my first year of being a full-time graphic designer. The only switch was a  month in the summer when my band did a headlining tour. I convinced myself, that year, that I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I could make a great income off of freelance work. Lucky dude.

So with my new found confidence and steady income, I asked the love of my life, my girlfriend since 1999, to marry me. She said yes. We got married in March of 2006, moved to Columbus, and it was time for me to step up and show that I could support a family with freelance. I could, I did, and I am.

So this high was still fueling me. My excitement for band tees grew and grew, and I set out to be the best I could possibly be at this one little thing – band tees. I bought a house, renovated every square inch of it, and still kept the freelance operation afloat.

We’ve been married for over 6 years now, and we’ve been in this house for 5 years. Life has stayed about the same for the past 5 years, so it’s been easy to compare each separate year of freelance. I can remember each of the past 5 years pretty well, mainly because they all happened right here in my 10’ by 12’ office in the upstairs of my house.

I remember having an entire wall full of project cards. I remember doing 20-30 designs a day. I remember waking up with an unimaginable amount of energy excitement for the projects of the day. I remember how many times I’ve been “in the zone,” with music blasting, sketches and xerox copies every where, doing whatever I could to create what I had in my head. I remember being a well-oiled design machine, no one bothering me, just me doing what I loved to do.

But I also remember a few panic attacks. I remember hitting into brick walls. I remember doing whatever necessary to just get out of my office, because I never wanted to be in there ever again. I remember days of staring out the window in silence, worried of why such intense passion didn’t show up on that particular day. I remember the countless times that I was convinced that I lost my knack. I remember feeling like somewhere along the way, I had completely lost my identity as a designer. I remember crashing. I remember giving up.

All this to say that I still believe I have an impressive freelance operation, and I still believe this can sustain me for a long time, a lifetime, even, if I play my cards right.

The reality of being a freelance work-from-home designer, and an entrepreneur in general, is that you are ditching convention to follow your heart. Convention provides you with plenty of comfort, but very little excitement. Convention makes it quite difficult to remember your identity. Now, this freelance operation – you’ll get passion, excitement, admiration, the ability to carry out your ideas — but that comfort is a tad more elusive.

You are choosing your own path with freelance, a path that is quite bumpy and undefined. You have a general idea of point B, but there is no clear line that connects you to it. You are figuring it all out on a daily basis. But the conventional route is paved and easy, but I don’t think there is much of a point B on that route. The conventional route is more about being on a path than it is about where it’ll lead you.

So in taking the freelance route, know that the bumps are the essence of the journey. Take comfort in knowing that you have chosen your own path, and that you can handle a few of the barriers that will be placed in front of you. All the while, you’ll have a better idea of who you are, and what you are doing, and what you want to do in the future. There is so much more possibility on the freelance route – it can take you anywhere.

The path is long, but there are moments of such extraordinary scenery, that it makes every bump well worth it. Keep pushing.

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