Becoming a freelancer is one of the coolest things I've ever done.
I guess you could say that before this I really hadn't had much success professionally, at least not in the typical way. I went to college for economics and I liked it, but I didn't want to be an economist or go into finance. My plan was always to go to graduate school to become a city planner.
A few months before I graduated, Lehman Brothers collapsed, and so with it a lot of American life... so with it a lot of young dreams. This is not a unique story - countless others who graduated in the spring of 2009 were thrust out into the world wondering "where are all the jobs" and no one could give us AN answer.
This is also not a story of "woe is me". I moved myself down to Austin, Texas where I started my master's degree. I learned about shaping cities, designing communities, construction, real estate finance, public participation, and a little bit of law. And I was happily protected in a city that seemed completely out of reach of whatever financial destruction might be taking place back up north.
Growth in Austin has been unstoppable, and while I was there it never particularly occurred to me that it had come to shrieking halt back in the suburbs of Manhattan - my home - where I was to eventually relocate after I finished my masters.
As my degree neared completion I felt a hesitance about leaving the comfortable confines of academia, and while I wasn't ready for a PhD, I wanted to maintain the sense of community, camaraderie, encouragement, and activity of school. I applied for Americorps NCCC - a ten month program where I would go around with a group of like minded, eager individuals, boots on the ground (in the most literal sense), and help make improvements in people's communities. This was my plan, and I didn't really have a backup one. I got accepted into the program but they accepted more people than they could take. My name never got called, and before I knew it I had graduated, had no job, and had nowhere to go. So I went home.
When all was said and done, I had applied to over 60 entry level planning positions in the months that followed my graduation. Of the ones that responded, all of them indicated that I met the minimum requirements for the position, but there were too many applicants and they would be moving forward with someone else. I was selected for two interviews, both of which went really well, but neither of which I was hired for. Eventually I took a different position with Americorps, working as a communications coordinator for Habitat for Humanity. It was close, right?
Several things happened in the years after Americorps. I spent some time working on farms, which - while probably the most enjoyable thing I've ever done - pays next to nothing, with no benefits. I got more experience in communications and marketing that built off the design education I received in my masters program. I taught myself to sew and started an Etsy business.
I really liked branding and design and growing an online brand from nothing was really exciting. I went on to take a part-time marketing and social media position where I got to flex my graphic design muscles and helped revitalize a brand for the company I worked for. I was broke, and knew that I was constantly on the verge of losing everything.
Eventually I was hired as a marketing manager at an organic grocery chain and they said "let's fix our website" and then suddenly I was the de facto web developer, because I had a book on HTML and CSS. I loved web development, but I hated my job. Turns out working full time in a traditional corporate setting really sucks.
I also hated that it had taken me so long to get a "real job", and that once I got there I was miserable. I was frustrated that as educated as I was, I was struggling so much professionally. I looked back and it seemed like every choice I had made was the wrong one. If I had only studied something else, if I had only tried harder, if I had only stayed in Austin.
The "if only's" started to kill me. Something had to give. So I decided to quit my job and start my own business as a freelancer and a web developer. I had the skills, that much I knew. What I had been able to teach myself in just a couple of months was impressive. I'd fallen into development, almost accidentally, but before I knew it I had an actual, marketable skill that came so easy to me and so quickly that it would have been a waste not to use it. But there is still so much to learn.
I learn every day. Mostly from my mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes. I went into this blind, googling my way through tough situations with clients, staying up late at night learning things I'd told clients I could do. I said no to nothing and tried to do everything and eventually things started to get easier, my path more clear.
The lessons I have learned in the last six months, since I started, are innumerable. And if you consider where I was a year ago in comparison to where I am now, my life is barely recognizable in the best of ways. I'm nowhere near close to having "made it" but I take a step each day. My goals are bigger now, and my standard for achievement is higher. What I'm really interested in doing is helping other people realize their own goals, and doing my part to liberate those who are interested from the unrewarding corporate cage.
I turned all that knowledge I gained into a free email course for new and aspiring freelancers in a similar position. The course is called 3K in 30 Days and it lays out how to navigate the early stages of freelancing and rapidly grow your operation into a strong and sustainable business. Register here...why not? It's free! >>
What I'm doing doesn't make sense to a lot of people, and I get a lot of questions like "But... when are you going to start looking for a job?" Maybe that's why I'm writing this. Because this is my job now. And even though it's different, and even though sometimes I'm not even sure that it's working, I know that ultimately this direction is where my success lies. Check back with me in another year.. I guarantee the story will be even brighter.