Gun For Hire: Unsustainable

This will not be the last post in my Gun For Hire series, but I do hope that it marks the start of a new chapter. It’s time to step up and deal with the elephant in the room: sustainability.


Last week, I finished an article called “Infidel” that covered the last 3+ years of my freelance business. It was a raw look at the ups and downs of what I call my job, the “moderate success” of the business as a whole, and the struggle to define exactly what, if anything, I could count on for the future. That was the most forthright I have been as regards business and its effects on everyday life as a “Gun For Hire.”

Unsustainable is a word that describes the nature of my work on all fronts. Potential employers can be certain that I will not have the same load on my shoulders while working for them; I’m cutting things back like crazy right now. I have found Dan Benjamin‘s position on working a full-time job and building a side business definitely causes one (or both) to suffer, and I’m tired of that struggle. I wrote to him a while back and asked if I should “quit” my freelance business, which I’m not going to do, but it will be taking a different shape in the months ahead.

The issue here is not a lack of income, but a surplus of commitments. There are too many things pulling at this one-man-army’s attention, which means I’m letting a lot of people down. I’m really tired of letting people down.

One of the hardest things for a knowledge worker is letting go of the product or service itself and focusing on the intangibles. Yes, you are hired to create (your thing here), but what does it take to produce that result?

  • — Listening to the pain-points, assessing possible solutions.
  • — Understanding attempts made to solve this problem before.
  • — Proposing a carefully-crafted answer for the desired outcome.
  • — Following through with that work unto project completion.

Sounds simple, right? Yet I believe that the toughest part of creative work is learning to come to the table “fresh” each time. Knowing how to do something isn’t the entire answer; being able to propose a reliable solution to their issues, ensuring them of their future sustainability…that’s the ticket.

Again: I will always be involved in some form of entrepreneurial endeavors. It’s in my blood. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to grow up in a family where that mindset were not present, to not have decades of example successes and failures. I’m grateful for each and every moment.

Merlin Mann likes to talk about the inability to do great things if you spend your time on the stuff that doesn’t matter. Being mindful of that balance is really tough, especially when your back is against the wall, but it can be life or death in the creative trade. Not being able to work on things that matter to you isn’t just a setback, it’s running in the opposite direction from where you want to be.

And that, dear reader, is unsustainable.