5 things I wish I'd known when I started freelancing

Nov 7, 2014

Recently, I was cleaning out my overcrowded closet, when a notebook careened off an upper shelf. I picked it up and dusted it off, only to find a journal I kept in my senior year of college.

Reader, if you ever wish to take yourself less seriously: re-read an old journal.

I rolled my eyes many times as I re-read it, but it reminded me keenly of that period just before I graduated college, when I didn’t know what to expect or how I would fare in that indistinctly-imagined “real world.”

It got me thinking; what advice would I give to myself now? What do I wish I had known when I was about to graduate?

If I could go back in time, I’d pat my younger self on the arm, buy her a beer, and tell her to forget about that idiot from Philosophy class. Then I’d give her 5 pointers that I wish I’d known. It would have made everything a bit easier in that first year out.

You don’t know everything

You will have a degree soon. That’s wonderful. Congratulations on all your hard work!

You still don’t know everything. People have been working in your field for years, decades, lifetimes. Bring your new ideas and perspective into every environment – don’t be shy – but also be sure to keep learning.

You don’t have to know everything

The good news is that you don’t have to feel ashamed of not knowing.

In my first year out, I wish I had felt more open to listening, to asking questions, to admitting my ignorance. I would have felt a lot less self-imposed pressure – and probably learned more than I did.

You will make mistakes

You’ll get jobs that turn out to be duds. You’ll screw up – at work, at home. You will do regrettable things. You’ll fall on your face.

Before I graduated, I was terrified of failing – on both the small and large scale. What I found out is that some level of failure is inevitable; that you’ll always run into unexpected speedbumps and snafus.

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You’re more resilient than you think

The interesting thing about most of those mistakes? They taught me a lot – perhaps even more than my successes. Sometimes those lessons were along the lines of “okay, let’s never do that again”, but even those screw-ups helped me define what I definitively did and did not want.

When I was still in school, I thought that if I ever made Professional Mistake X, I would curl up into a little ball and die… but funnily enough, that never happened. What DID happen when I made Professional Mistake X is that I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and lived to struggle another day.

It’s never what you expected – but it’s an adventure

I never would have anticipated becoming a blogger – for that matter, I had no idea of becoming a freelance writer. It just sort of… happened.

Hardly anyone shoots straight down the career path they imagine. Most of us operate in starts and stops, wandering off into side trails, and occasionally falling into the ditch. If I had known that before I graduated, I would have saved myself a lot of needless fretting – and maybe even enjoyed the stroll.

What about you, freelancers? What advice would you give your younger selves?

Kate Hamill is a freelance writer, playwright, and actor. She lives in New York City and consumes a truly frightening amount of Sriracha daily. Follow her on Twitter at @katerone.