As children, it's perfectly normal for us to hero-worship a little bit. Whether it's a famous ball player, a leader of the people, or an expert scientist, children don't have any qualms about imitating the kind of people they hope to one day become. But, when we do grow up, we often lose our sense of hero-worship. Maybe our pride stops us or maybe we get too busy and preoccupied. And yet, more often than not, there are those that have blazed the way before us and it's worth following in their footsteps, learning from their mistakes, and letting their lives inspire us to greater heights.
From personal experience, I can tell you that having a few freelance heroes can help light the way in dark times. Here are a few tips for finding your freelance hero - capes optional:
1. Look back
One nice thing about history? It’s full of workers, artists, and intellectuals who might justifiably be called freelancers – since the salaried “standard” is a relatively new invention.
When I’m feeling particularly irritable and uninspired, I think about the many many polymaths who have reshaped history. These were people who didn’t particularly fit any mold – who bounced around from interest to interest – and as a result, revolutionized their fields of study.
In our modern world, there’s a lot of pressure to specialize; there is also an undeserved stigma around changing (or blending) careers.
Next time some close-minded stranger looks askance when you explain that you’re a graphic designer/poet/freelance editor, you just think about Leonardo DaVinci. Would that artist/scientist/engineer/mathematician have cared what Joe Shmoe thought? Or would he have laughed in his face and kept on painting/designing/theorizing?
2. Look forward
So you are not quiiiiite where you want to be in your career, at the moment. That’s okay!
Look at people you really, really admire – whether inside or outside of your industry. Start probing around their life stories. Read a couple of biographies. But do so with a particular focus; search for the setbacks.
Look for when they stumbled. Look for when they failed. Look at the obstacles they had to overcome. Imagine how people must have looked at your heroes, when they explained their aspirations. Think about how easy it would have been for them to have been discouraged, too.
So many of the MOST inspirational people have overcome significant barriers to become successful (that’s why they’re inspirational). When you’re looking for a freelance hero, imagine how biographers may tell YOUR story; with the hindsight of history, even your biggest obstacles may someday look like tiny speed bumps on your path to success.
Don’t abandon faith. Look at Oprah, for Pete’s sake; she came from almost nothing and now look at her. LOOK AT OPRAH!
3. Look around
All around you, freelancers are making a living.
Yes, many of them grapple with self-doubt and uncertainty from time to time. Many of them struggled, at first. Many of them had to juggle a few jobs when just starting out. Many of them that may seem “successful” to you are constantly working to become better, to land bigger clients, to expand their network – and would laugh if you complimented their “success.”
Trust me, if they can make a living freelancing, YOU CAN PROBABLY DO IT, TOO. Most freelancers are not uniquely lucky (although some luck helps). They’ve just worked very, very hard. They’ve moved past some mistakes… and they’ve probably gotten some good advice on the way.
If you’re looking for freelance heroes, start looking at your peers. If you see somebody land an enviable gig, congratulate them… and ask them how they did it! Offer to take them out for coffee, and pick their brain. Heck, Freelancers Union is chock-full of successful, consistently-working freelancers; poke around and find a few mentors!
*Find your freelance hero *
Celebrate others’ successes (they’ve proved that it can be done!) and learn from their struggles. Take bits and pieces of advice from all sorts of people – past, present, and future – and use their words as the fuel you need to keep going forward.
Your freelance heroes need not wear capes; indeed, they needn’t even be freelancers! If someone inspires you, take their lessons to heart – and you’ll soon inspire others, yourself.
Kate Shea 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.