When Selling Out Isn’t Selling Out
When you work for yourself, life is a series of existential crises.
Some days, it seems like everything you touch turns to gold and you have an influx of client work. Other days, you wonder if you’ll be able to pay rent while searching “Why am I a masochist?” on Google.
It’s no secret that most people approach freelancing as a means to an end. Either they find themselves unemployed and looking for a way to stay afloat, or they want a tiny taste of freedom while working from a local coffee shop.
As someone who started freelancing in college and has been full-time since 2011, I can tell you that creating a sustainable career is an entirely different beast altogether.
Since diving headfirst into full-time freelancing after I graduated, I thought that was it for me. In my naive, twentysomething mind, I was convinced I would make it work or die trying.
Almost a decade and countless battle scars later, I have finally come to one conclusion:
There is more than one way to create your own path.
I’ve made a living by illustrating posters, building brands, laying out websites, designing apps, writing articles, throwing summer camps, launching companies and pretty much everything else in-between. I’ve even been paid to make weird sounds with my mouth while five other guys sing.
Throughout this time, I’ve collected a mashup of experiences that have created my (less than conventional) path:
- Majored in Visual Communications (Graphic Design) and minored in business.
- Co-founded an a cappella music organization for young students.
- Focused on designing brand identities for traditional clients (restaurant owners, fitness gyms, etc.).
- Transitioned into designing interfaces for client mobile apps.
- Began learning User Experience (UX) principles.
- Positioned myself as a design partner for startups and entrepreneurs (branding/identity, rapid prototyping, UX/UI design, and pitch materials).
- Scratched my own itch by creating an app that connects people with shared ideas and complementary skills.
- Started writing online (almost) every day over three years ago.
- Met a development partner and started a web/mobile app consultancy.
If there was one common thread throughout all of this, it was the need to constantly hunt and gather, always looking for opportunity.
I’ll be honest — I’m tired. I’m tired of living in survival mode.
Some might say if you do your job right as a freelancer, you should always have work coming in. Sure, in a perfect world, this is 100% true.
However, we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in this one. We live amongst instability, chaos, and late payments.
My obsession has always been to create my path while helping others do the same.
After a lot of reflection, I’ve realized I can still create my own path while working a nine-to-five. In fact, this work experience might give me even more insight into a group of people I want to help.
So, after a few months of conversations and interviews, I am adding the latest to my list of experiences:
User Experience Strategist at Slalom Consulting.
What made this opportunity so much different than all of the others?
I’ve met a wide array of people through my “productive fumbling” and I can confidently say Slalom has one of the most diverse groups of people in St. Louis. They work with consultants from all kinds of backgrounds, including other consulting firms, corporations, startups, freelancing, MBAs, self-taught go-getters, and everyone in between. Even though I’m fairly ambitious, I’m also externally motivated which means I thrive when I work around other highly-motivated people.
During my series of conversations, I learned that Slalom really does care about creating the best possible consultants. This company puts its money where its collective mouth is by compensating consultants for learning new skills, both inside and outside of their disciplines. Now, I won’t have to feel guilty for spending time on personal development when I should be looking for more client work.
I’d be lying if I said stability didn’t play a part in my decision. As someone who has never been motivated by money, I’m starting to see it for what it really is: a tool. A tool that, when used correctly, can give you something much more valuable — time. Sure, I’ll be trading more of my time throughout the day in order to give value to this company and its clients, but in return, I will finally have the chance to be more intentional with the time I have left. This intention will ideally allow me and my relationships to thrive even more.
For the past several months, I’ve been working by myself from an office in a co-working center. For the days when I need to focus, this is the perfect setup. However, I’ve started to feel even more isolated than when I worked from home for a year and a half. From changing my environment to working with new clients, I’m looking forward to adding more variety into each day.
As you can probably guess, I’ve thought long and hard about this opportunity. After all, I am ending one chapter of my life and starting another — one filled with new people, new goals, and most importantly, new chances to push myself.