It all sounds like the perfect situation, work for yourself and make a living by doing something you really love - no boss to answer to, choose your own hours, effectively do what you want when you want.
Now I'm not talking about the world of 'work from home and earn two million dollars a day" kind of spammy adverts that appear on everything from social media to toilet walls, I'm talking about the real world of professional freelancing - or running your own business. If done right you can make a great living from being a freelancer.
But I don't want to talk about the money or the hours, I want to talk about the psychological side of working on your own and in some cases the downside, the sense of isolation one can feel. This is often further perpetuated in those with a creative personality, the right brainers of the world. We often see things in black and white, as right and wrong, we often worry about things that will never happen and imagine the worse possible outcome for most scenarios. For us things are either 'amazing!' or 'terrible', 'game changing' or 'boring'. Seldom do we think in shades of grey and ironically enough you will not find many of us taking the via media.
Of course it is the very thing that powers our creativity that can also be the curse and we find ourselves in an isolating world.
Some do thrive creatively on their own, they are as Myers-Briggs suggests 'Introverts', not in the conventional sense of the word, Myers-Briggs suggests that Introverts get their energy from being on their own, whereas 'Extroverts' get their energy from having others around them.
Over the years I've come to understand that sometimes flying solo is not good for freelancers in a number of ways, here are a few:
Often creativity is enhanced when you can throw the idea around. For many freelancers we are often just staring at a computer screen and there's no one across the room we can shout 'hey what do you think of this idea.' Without this kind of immediate feedback we can sometimes spend hours, days and weeks on an idea that just gets worse or abandon an idea that was a moment of genius.
If you want to see isolation played out at its worst then this takes place in times of conflict and disagreement. Whenever I find myself being asked by someone for advice on a conflict situation they have with someone else the first thing I ask is are they flying solo, both professionally and personally. Inevitably in most situations the answer is that they are flying solo, in other words they don't have anyone to discuss things with and then fire off emails, letters or make phone calls without seeking the advice of someone who really knows them. I have my wife and a number of close colleagues and friends who I will often run difficult situations past On many occasions they will respond with 'leave it' or sometimes 'if you send that email you're a dickhead.' Some people don't have this kind of earthing point and so they keep finding themselves in arguments and conflict.
However it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the answer to a world of isolation - trusted friends and colleagues. If you work solo then take this advice.
- Find one person who you can use as your 'wise one', your Yoda. It helps if it is someone who understand our industry and so can advise you from a place of experience. They should be strong enough to be able to pull you back into shape or knock some of the stupidity out of you. Then ask them if you can meet with them a few times a year to chat about how things are going. Now you might be thinking this sounds like a boss giving me appraisals - it is. If you're mad at the world and want to kick back at everyone in authority then be prepared for a life of arrested development, but if you're smart enough to have someone in your life to offer support and correction then you'll grow and mature, there's also a greater chance of you succeeding through hard work. You often see people complaining about how they got no breaks and the world is against them, often you find because they lack the wisdom and guidance of a 'Yoda' it is in fact them that are against the world.
- Find a number of trusted friends who can be on the end of an email, web chat or phone call, I have around 10. We call one another and share our struggles with a client, a project, a song. We talk about ideas, money, health - all the things that can stop us from being the creatives we were made to be.
- Build a strong partnership - this may be in a long term relationship like marriage or a long term friendship - these are the people who know who you are when no one else is looking. My wife is one of my closest friends and she takes no crap from me. I remember one day we were driving and I had done something really stupid and I said to her 'I'm such a twat!" Without blinking she replied 'Yes honey but you're my twat." None of this "No you're not Russ, you are perfect." She knows too much about me to ever say something as stupid as that. If you surround yourself with fans then you'll never grow, in fact people who love you enough to be a critic can be the making of you. One small point these are not to be confused with self-appinted critics who see it as their god-given mission to spend their lives pointing out what's wrong with everyone, ironically these are another group who rarely have their own reality checks.
- Join an industry body like the MPG or AMPS where you can meet up with like minded professionals who can help with everything from mic placement to writing contracts and everything in between.
I recall a recent conversations with one such friend he emailed me and said "The brief for this job is far bigger than the client first said and now it's going to take a lot more work and money, what should I do?" My advice was to call the client and tell them. Immediately my friend said "wow of course, it's obvious why didn't I think about that?" For the very reasons I've already outlined in this article, working on your own can warp your perspective and completely screw up your rational thought, especially when you are under pressure to deliver. We don't want to appear incapable or incompetent, however what we often lack is confidence and having trusted advisors can help you work through the issues before you talk to the client.
The truth is that being your own boss is an illusion, you'll always work for someone be that the bank, the agency or the record company. The sooner we realise this the sooner we can enjoy the real freedom of working for one's self and not the cliche of 'being free!'
Self employment can be liberating but if you don't create support networks then you might find yourself in a prison of isolation which can be further perpetuated by a creative personality. If that's where you are then take my advice and take the steps to set yourself free and flourish.
I'll leave the final word to Ray LaMontagne.
"It's hard to believe it
Even as my eyes do see it
The very things that make you live are killing you
Listen when all of this around us'll fall over
I tell you what we're gonna do
You will shelter me my love
I will shelter you"
Shelter - Ray LaMontagne (C) 2004