• Advice

The beauty of being a perfectly imperfect freelancer

I recently had an intense conversation with a client—the kind that lingers long after you’ve hung up the phone. He is an entrepreneur, and we were discussing his recent book project and how it didn’t quite turn out the way he planned. It wasn’t as perfect of a process as he envisioned it would be.

Great expectations

He expected blockbuster sales, great reviews, and a jump to the top of someone’s bestseller list. Because these things did not happen within an allocated time period, he rationalized that book writing wasn’t in his wheelhouse and that he would probably retire his newly-inked pen.

The next morning, I thought about my client and I started reflecting upon one of my father’s favorite expressions: “Slow and steady wins the race.” I posted it on my Instagram page and I shared how, as a child, I had a tendency to start/stop many projects or activities if they either took too long or the results were not immediately satisfactory.

Patience pays off

My dad would often warn me that I was developing a poor life habit and that I needed to be patient and to focus more on the long-term results. Although he didn’t know it, he was preparing me for life as a freelancer and as a small business owner. Through his constant repetition of the phrase and his using it as a springboard for a series of cautionary tales, he was instilling in me the importance of both longevity and sustainability. He was also helping me to redefine what it means to win.

Those lessons are even more important today because many of us are primed to think that success is an outgrowth of simply trying. If you work hard enough you will succeed. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. If person A could do it then so can you. I literally cringe when I see these sayings and memes come through my newsfeed. Why?

Go your own way

Because there is a meta-narrative that emerges that can be hurtful and detrimental to aspiring freelancers and entrepreneurs: Success (however defined) should be immediate and if you are not successful then something must be wrong with you.

The reality is that staying the course and pushing through the rough patches and difficult aspects of being self-employed or freelancing are just as important as being able to tout having 1000 customers, high-value clients, or six-figure earnings.

Sure, these may be earmarks of success, but how often do we ask: For every client that you now have, how many did you start with? For every $10,000 contract that you have signed, how many $100 contracts did you acquire along the way? For every well executed plan that you created, how many re-dos or do-overs came before it?

Strategies for success

There is a strong possibility that if you ask people how they were able to excel or become the best in their fields, they will probably tell you that their outputs were often the results of depersonalizing, processing, being patient and having a laser-sharp focus. Their success was not the result of being perfect.

We need to be honest with ourselves about this. Are there outliers and people who do experience immediate success and tremendous growth, all while executing something perfectly the first time? I am sure someone is out there, but this is probably just as rare as a unicorn in someone’s backyard in suburban America.

Permission to be imperfect

In other words, in a world that makes being perfect the end goal, we need to give ourselves permission to be imperfect. Imperfect is not interchangeable with irresponsible, sloppy, imprudent, reckless, or even undependable; it simply means that there will be times throughout this journey that you will mess up; you will need a second chance; and you will need to start over.

And that is perfectly ok. In fact, it’s beautiful. It is often in the trenches and in the weeds that we truly understand how things work and what we need to do to improve our craft and enhance our process.

Like my client, other freelancers, mentees, and friends who are on the cusp of quitting something, or second guessing it, I leave you with the words of artist Erin Hanson:

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask 'What if I fall?'
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”

Tyra Seldon Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.