• Advice

Don’t wait for work to come to you

Ah, the irony of writing about “making your own work” on a blog devoted to the needs of freelancers and entrepreneurs. Isn’t that what we DO, after all – we the self-motivated few, we the independent workers? Aren’t our entire livelihoods devoted to finding and growing our own work?

Well, kinda.

If you’re like a lot of freelancers, a fair amount of your time is devoted to finding new clients to work FOR, and building your relationship with them. In point of fact, you probably spend a lot of time finding (and doing) other people’s work.

Because freelancing itself is so amorphous – because you can, conceivably, succeed in any given path, and because you are your own guide – it can be easy to feel like you’re drifting from project to project, chasing down one gig after another.

That’s why having your own work is so important – work that you do purely for yourself, even if you create it collaboratively or display it publicly.

Your own work can shape your career’s through line – giving a spine to all of that frenetic gig-to-gig movement, and centering your ambitions. It can give you purpose during dry spells, and help you figure out your next move. Your own work can develop your skill set and build confidence. But most importantly, spending time and effort spent working purely for yourself is nourishing; it feeds your soul, and helps you determine what’s most important to you.

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For those of us working on the creative end of things, this concept is almost second nature. What freelance writer isn’t also working on a screenplay? What graphic designer doesn’t create art on the side? If you’re of this ilk, I encourage you to expand this concept and invest more heavily in your own work; commit to it just as seriously as you do the more obviously-remunerative business. It’ll pay off in increased self-fulfillment and happiness – and heck, with enough effort, it may just become your main occupation.

We all have to pay the bills, but don’t let that overshadow why you entered a creative field in the first place. Make the time to express yourself when not under a client’s wing, and if full-time artist status is your goal, chase it – don’t let even the most creative “day job” rob you of the chance to live your dreams.

If you’re not in a field related to your creative interests, finding your own work to do might be slightly challenging. If you’re in that position, I encourage you to passionately pursue interests you have, whether creative or non-creative – even if you’re not very good at say, pottery or woodworking or whathaveyou.

Even the simple act of identifying passions and attempting to master them and LEARNING will build your skills and resilience. It will keep you flexible, curious, and well-rounded. While it may also indeed improve your freelance work in some roundabout way – who knows what connections you may make in that crocheting class? – it will also give you a sense of identity and continuity outside of your gig-to-gig lifestyle. That’s important for freelancers, who can get all-too-consumed by the demands and tolls of an impermanent work structure. Whatever you choose to do, your casual “hobbies” can become your own work, the thing you pursue for yourself alone… and that’s invaluable.

Find your own work, and invest in it. If after plugging away at it, you feel deeply unfulfilled or uninspired, switch paths – but find something to commit to, just for yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s difficult, or unlikely to succeed, or unserious. It doesn’t matter how remunerative it is, or if you’re good at it. Find self-propelled work that feeds you, and give it your time and energy; it will sustain you when other plans go awry. It will make you grow, even when it’s uncomfortable or exhausting. It will make you strong. It will make you curious. It will help you shine.

Freelancers, how do you make your own work?

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.