Safety Noose

Nothing feels right until I write. Whenever I am trying to figure things out, typing or doodling is always part of the solution. I also really enjoy listening to and learning from other people. Crazy as this may sound, I have a very short list of folks that I pay attention to online. I sincerely hope a few of them read this.

Re: B2W

My recent “Gun For Hire” posts are heavily inspired by Back to Work, a podcast on the mighty 5by5 network. Since they have a lot more figured out than I do, this post is a response to B2W #120, where Merlin Mann once again challenged everything I know about what I’m doing right now. (All of the following quotes are from him.)

In a grossly-truncated nutshell: I am working through the challenges of being a self-employed web developer, frustrated writer, and aspiring podcaster; classic starving artist material. I have a loving family, good friends, and a heavy grounding in the Bible to keep things in line. I wrote a long, soul-bearing post last year about work, life, and otherwise. That and “Infidel” should catch you up to speed if you would like to do some additional reading.

This week, Merlin posed an interesting question:

“How much of a safety net would it take before you felt like you could do what you really wanted?”

Last year, I worked on a big web project that brought more income than several previous years combined. This was my first foray into projects of that scale, and it gave me a glimpse of what was possible with my 12+ years of web experience. It was hard work, but very worth it.

“What did you do when, for more than a month, you felt like you were situated for life?”

While I was only working a three-month project, my hourly wage was definitely how I wanted to continue in the future. The issue is that I definitely did not plan sustainably. I can honestly say that I did not squander my money, but being aware of “the Elvis problem” and paying down vs investing anew are things I now understand very well.

It wasn’t a loss, though; I got a chance to “rehearse” how that level of pay could work. In retrospect it is probably good that I only had a three-month contract. Having a “safety net” that went above basic financial needs showed what I could have if working at a competitive rate. Lessons learned.

Tangled

“Maybe you are making things that you like, but you don’t have the safety to do more of it yet…”

Establishing patterns is a hard thing to do while under fire. My previous articles speak to various struggles and considerations, but right now, today, I’m working to take the tiny steps that will inch me toward the bigger goals. Every day, I try to focus on the basics; working on a client project, writing or podcasting something, and doing some research for the future of my craft and family life.

“…after you have that, will you be doing more of what you have done well before?”

I would love to take some of the smaller things I do (writing articles, podcasting, etc.) to the next level. The “prime directive” for me right now is acquiring something more sustainable than my current pace of self-employed web development. I will be an entrepreneur until the day that I die, but when you work in a town (“professional community”) where there are zero creative meetups, the constant rush to hunt/gather client work is paralyzing other efforts, and your friends have no idea what you do…there aren’t a lot of sunny days when it comes to work.

Why work online, you might ask? Why not get a job elsewhere, something that brings you closer to more people, something that you can leave “at the office” each night?

Building Better Nets

Earlier this year, I started applying for offline jobs, collaborating with a local web company, and working to whip my home office into shape. My goal is building a future that is sustainable. While I don’t claim to know everything at 27, there are some pretty basic goals I would like to achieve:

All of those have orthogonal angles. Each of them require multi-disciplinary skillsets, which I already have or am currently developing. For me, it is less about having the cushion to do whatever I want, and more about the expectations that drive me to that point.

“What do you really want to do that would not require changing who you are?”

How do you accomplish intangible goals without the means to meet tangible standards? Dan Benjamin counsels people to QUIT! their “corporate stooge” gigs if they have the ability to do so, but what if you are in the reverse situation? I know, just go get any ol’ job, right? Tempting. I don’t have some pie-in-the-sky view of a full-time position, where all my bills are paid and I can do artsy stuff all day, but I do recognize the potential that a “safety net” can bring. That’s hard to do when you feel that your “trade” is the Way of the Future™ for your and your family.

Walking The Highwire

What about goals that go beyond the tangible needs, the ones that provide passion for the pursuits, patience for the pestilence? In my case, I recognize that these clouded days are part of the goal; the journey is part of the destination, especially for a storyteller.

But…

“What if you did what you wanted and made a little money from it? If you had a small safety net, could you make something cool?”

That was the straw that ruined the whole bushel of mixed metaphors. In the midst of “gut churn” there must be patterns for right behavior/action. These should cast shadows of what the future will be like. I’m a 10,000-hour kind of guy; no lotteries, rainbows, or shortcuts. I know it takes time, and I get that these harder days are part of the story, but I’m not sure how to crank out more examples of future work until I have some firm ground under my feet.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, baby.

The Plunge

I hope to keep talking to cool people, working my tail off, and looking for the next piece that might slip into place as I move forward. Actually, I not-so-secretly would like to develop more than just casual non-professional connections to some of the folks mentioned here. More on that later.

Despite all of this whining, there are a few traces of daylight; my best friend is likely going to take back his paper route, I may have additional work opportunities soon (waiting on news, again), and my father has given me a lot to think about for making things happen through his own example. God is good, in spite of the storms. Now to get creative…