Death By Pixels, PHP and 13 point Georgia

Posted: October 19th, 2010

Photo by Tim Barton (Flickr)

Photo by Tim Barton (Flickr)

RSS readers watch out. The Freelance Rant is back from a raging vacation. Alright, I mean I have time to write now.

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague and good friend of mine after a while of not seeing each other due to our busy schedules. Typically, our conversations are about the usual… work. I vomit up leftovers of programming drivel and he burps up the latest of the 24 column 960 pixel standard layout standard.

Not that we mean to bore each other or that we are sick of each other. We work a lot. We work hard.

We just may be a little too drunk in our work for our own good though.

It therefore surprised me that my friend didn’t as much mention CSS, pixels or anything related to the digitized world for that matter.

He couldn’t stop talking about his new hobby, Legos.

I was actually quite fascinated by this. I remember having a huge Lego collection as a kid and pondered why I didn’t have any today. They are obviously still around and there is no shame in mature adults toying around with them.

Or in more appropriate words, as my friend put it, “I needed to escape from the pixels.”

After picturing these giant, scary pixel monsters chasing my friend around and having a laugh, reality set in. They chase me around, too, along with the PHP and CSS ghosts. Those bastards! No wonder how some of my precious sleep has been lost to dreaming about work at night.

Hell, I’m not going to cave in to them like Scrooge. I’m making a beeline to the other side, also known as getting my ass up from my desk and doing something else that doesn’t involve rearranging zeros and ones.

Checked the Wikipedia and looks like the word hobby isn’t extinct yet. Strike one against those monsters.

Backtracking a bit, in my own work, I usually find myself enduring periods of what I like to refer as “manic depressive.” In one month, everything clicks, a lot of works get done and I manage to grow my business some. Then in another month, I go through the motions and get the work done caring less about what I do.

You can call it cycles of motivation with burnout here but there seems to be one common element in all this: the computer and the fact I rarely leave it to do anything else.

Hey, I’m passionate about my work but, if ghosts are chasing me around in my sleep, then that can’t be healthy for me. I’m pretty sure, though, that I’m not the only one being chased by the ghosts of web dev hell (or writing hell, graphic design hell… you get the picture).

So see you later. Off to the store now for my own set of Legos.

Mental Toughness and Freelancing

Posted: April 14th, 2009

Pretty much this past week, I’ve been in New Year’s resolution mode concerning my freelance business. In particular, thinking about ways to eventually bring myself up to the top tier level of freelancers. You know, the ones that make $100+ an hour and everything is so simple for them. OK, maybe not so simple but you get the point here.

After stewing on this a while, it dawned on me that it probably isn’t the skill level I’m at that is keeping me from that top rung. After all, I’ve been freelancing as a programmer for 5+ years. Instead it is the mental toughness needed at that level which I am lacking. This sort of hit me in the face after watching the following Nike commercial:

Particularly, the line by the late Earl Woods, Tiger Wood’s father, really hit home: “I said ‘Tiger, I promise you, you’ll never meet a person as mentally tough as you in your entire life. And he hasn’t. And he never will.'”  Keep in mind, this quote was from before Tiger’s victory in the U.S. open last year when he played with a torn ACL in his knee and two stress fractures in his tibia, both in the same left leg. I think it is safe to say Tiger sets the bar for mental toughness.

Is it too far fetched to say that if your own mental toughness were similar to that of Tiger’s, you would be the best freelancer in the land just like he is the best golfer in the world? Freelancers need to have mental toughness in order to, not just survive, but to grow in their careers. Sure, there are times when you may not be earning what you would like to, you make mistakes that are costly, you have no work to do… hell, this list can go on forever.

Usually these are enough to make a beginner quit forever. Ask any freelance veteran if they’ve had bad times, however, and you are sure to get some sit-down tales of horror. These same freelancers accept adversity, learn from it and move on with their freelancing career.

To get to that ultra-mecca of freelance stardom, however, requires another level of mental toughness in order to achieve that level. These are the ones that have it set in their minds that they want to be the best (aka Tiger) and will stop at nothing in order to achieve this. That means continual improvement of their skills and business to which a key component is staying out of that comfort zone of perceived success.

My friends, that is what separates the good from the best. Many successful freelancers are settled enough in their careers and routines where improvement doesn’t happen as much as they would like, if at all. It takes effort and a bit more mental toughness to get out of that comfort zone in order to improve upon success and try and be the best at what you do.

I’ll admit, I’m somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as mental toughness goes. I’ve been rather slow to enact improvements in my business but least the first step into improvement is recognizing this. Maybe several months from now, I’ll give a first-hand account of how the best of the best freelancers does his thing. Just you wait.

My apologies for promoting Nike here, too. Hopefully you understand that wasn’t the point.

The Philosophy of Freelancing

Posted: February 17th, 2009

On the internet you can find countless articles and resources on how to be successful in freelancing. Despite this, countless people will fail while others will find success, even without the advice from experienced freelancers. Whether you succeed or fail does not depend on following advice. It simply boils down to a lower denomination of preparation. That is, mentally preparing yourself to do it.

I rant into an interesting page not too long ago, the The Ten Rules For Being Human” by Cherie Carter Scott, which could arguably summarize your proper mental outlook when taking up a freelance career. Her rules apply to any aspect of life in general but it has a great significance in our careers, especially when we are working for ourselves.

Here are a few rules to dwell on:

Rule Three – There are no mistakes, only lessons.
Growth is a process of experimentation, a series of trials, errors and occasional victories. The failed experiments are as much as a part of the process as the experiments that work.

Rule Four – The lesson is repeated until learned.
Lessons will be repeated to you in various forms until you have learned them. When you have learned them, you can go on to the next lesson.

Rule Five – Learning does not end.
There is no part of life that does not contain lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

Yes, freelancing is filled with trial and error as we experiment on what does  and does not work for our business. That’s the point of freelancing, though, to learn and grow on our own terms in our career. We do this by making mistakes. Of course the bottom line is to earn a decent income but we’ll never get there without learning the lessons of our trade which doesn’t always put money in your pocket.

The lessons will humble but make you grow faster than you imagine, too. It doesn’t stop there either. Once you as a freelancer there will be other, more advanced lessons to approach. By then, you can be assured you will have an excellent  grasp on how to face them as they come.

These other two rules should also be your mental approach  as a freelancer:

Rule Eight – What you make of your life is up to you.
You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you.

Here’s where all those articles and resources come into play, so use them. This also refers to your own mind here. Unlike a regular day job where most of the time someone higher makes decisions for you, you have to use those instincts of yours that you may never have had to use before. Many freelancers don’t realize they have this capacity or are too scared to use it. Failure is often the result.

Rule Nine – Your answers lie inside of you.
All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

I can’t emphasize enough how much you need to rely on your instincts and gut decisions as a freelancers, though it is very difficult to explain how. The reason is that they are acquired and come with experience and time… and making A LOT of mistakes. Again, you will make mistakes but they should be welcomed and not be seen as a roadblock to your success.

Finally, there is Rule 10: You will forget all [these rules] at birth. This is very true but its never too late to learn them all again.