Summer is coming, the solopreneurs, and minding your garden

When I do the math, I realize that I have spent around half of my professional career as a freelancer, contractor, business owner or some other type of self-employed status.

A Marigold growing in a raised garden bed.
More than just a box of dirt

Just start writing. This is my best advice for anyone who is stuck with writing. Like I’ve been, recently. Just start typing on the keys and see what happens.

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone. It was a nice one. Low-key and nice weather. I even fired up the grill and drank a beer. Right now though, I am back at my desk, plugging back into work, and cleaning up my inbox. I’m doing well at one thing for sure, and that is keeping my inbox at bay. When I first started this job, I wrote up a post on my email strategy going in. I was concerned things would wind up the way they did at my last full-time job—an inbox with over 50K messages, many unread, many never read.

The good news is, my system is still working and right now I am staring at an empty inbox with a few messages filed away and flagged for follow up, but mostly, everything dealt with. It’s just sitting there, waiting for a new message to appear. It’s quiet—highly recommended.

Equally quiet is my calendar for the day. I had one meeting at 9am, but it was canceled, followed by another meeting moved to this afternoon, so my morning has freed up and allowed me some time to think. I spent a little time working on feedback for a candidate I interviewed last week. It’s caused me to reflect on how incredibly bad the hiring process at my previous job had been. It was the sort of thing where someone had obviously put a LOT of thought into creating an insanely convoluted and impossible system and then someone else had come along and built a giant gaping loophole on top of it all that meant anything was possible and everything was chaos. I don’t miss that. I really appreciate the systems we use, which are clearly needed at the scale at which we operate.

Reflection is a good thing. We all need to make time for reflection. It doesn’t have to be sad or spark a nostalgia induced deep-dive. It can just be a half hour of quiet thinking where you question a single point. Last week was pretty heavy. This year has been pretty heavy. A little reflection allows your mind to relax and find some kind of focus.

Despite all the heavy news, I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. Little bumps here and there, moments of stress and anxiety, but in general, good feelings, surrounded by minor accomplishments. This seems like a good formula for me—always chipping away vs. one giant, long winded build up. And hey, look at me, I’m back to writing!

One thing I’ve been reflecting on has been this blog-slash-newsletter. I’ve been wanting to get back to it, and have been thinking about what it should be and what it shouldn’t be. I don’t think I’ve settled on anything in particular so far, but I’ve revamped my About page to reflect a slightly new direction, and a more focused approach. They key thing, that the About page doesn’t really cover is that I’d like to aim for higher frequency—some cadence I can accomplish, with less of a focus on a single point or headline. In other words, I’m just going to write a lot of things and publish them more often.

Solopreneuring

When I do the math, I realize that I have spent around half of my professional career as a freelancer, contractor, business owner or some other type of self-employed status. In fact, I’ve only ever had three jobs where I was on salary and received a steady paycheck—current job included.

Even my first job at the University of Rochester’s Lab for Laser Energetics started out as a contract position while I was finishing up my undergraduate degree. Eventually, they hired me full-time. And then, after just three years, I left to pursue a new life as a freelance photojournalist. That became mixed with being a freelance software developer, writer, and eventually a student again before I landed a job at a museum. The museum job also began as a contract position, and it was almost two years before someone intervened, and helped me to get hired on as a staff member.

When I left the museum, I spent a little while applying for jobs but eventually gave up and decided to go back to doing my own thing as a freelancer, which sort of snowballed into running a small business. I don’t really know how I wound up doing all this freelancing. It felt good at times, but in the long term was highly stressful and risky.

For me, I think being a freelancer was a nice way to deal with being rejected. When you are your own boss, nobody can tell you you need to try harder, or that you screwed up—even when your clients get upset with you, it’s pretty easy to direct your attention elsewhere and continue to feel ok with things. Looking back, I often wonder if this sort of self-employed scenario was a way for me to to ultimately protect myself from the pain of failure. It worked for a really long time, and in a way I was successful at it, but not always.

To be clear though, I think being a freelancer, or owning your own small business can work really well for some people. Most successful companies were started by a single person or two who wanted to do things their own way. But, I’m talking about the idea of working for one’s self long term.

Personally, I realized that there were bigger picture things in my life that I wanted to focus my attention on. Being a freelancer doesn’t always fit well with having a family and enjoying time together. Even when I did my best to block off my time, I found myself thinking about work, wondering what would happen tomorrow, and dreaming up the next big play to make my business a success. This caused me to always feel distracted and cluttered. It took me some time to shed this feeling, even after I closed up shop and started my new nine to five. These kinds of things take lots of time to unwind and settle.

Back to today

Reflecting is a good thing. But it’s also important to look ahead. It’s heating up outside. Today will be 94! Summer is here for sure, and I need to invest in some new shorts a.s.a.p. I’m excited today about a number of things at work coming up this summer. I’m currently working on a project where I get to build out some new tooling for marketers that I hope will have a big impact on how they operate. I’m also working my way through our interviewing training program. It’s pretty self-paced, and although it started out as an obvious next step in my career here, I’ve so far found it super interesting and rewarding to be a part of.

At home, I’ve been tending to a plot at our community garden. It’s now officially more than just a box of dirt, and I’ve enjoyed watching our son get excited to see what’s gown since the previous visit. Every time I head over to the garden I feel a great sense of calm and focus. It’s simply a nice place to be. I can’t wait for the first harvest!

And, I’m writing again! I did it! 1200 words on the page today. Not too shabby! Let’s see if I can keep this going. See you next time.

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