“You’re supposed to be the leading lady in your own life, for God’s sake!”
― Iris Simpkins, The Holiday (2006)
At the age of 21, when I first decided that I wanted to work in a creative field, I quit my 8-month-old corporate job as a quality tester. I then enrolled for a course in animation. This was destined to be a bad move, because I have never learned well in a classroom/group setting or if I didn’t have the leeway to work by trial and error.
I failed to gain much from that course, despite having wonderful instructors. During a subsequent break, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and ended up learning much more in six months than I had managed to grasp during the year-long course. I even made a decent demo reel–required to earn the course certificate–on my own.
After that long fiasco, I made the mistake of jumping headfirst into freelancing, because I was under the impression that I would get to be my own boss. That was a misconception. What I ended up with was a string of temporary bosses. Talk about disappointment.
Another wrong assumption I made was that as long as I could set my own rates and hours, I would be happy. I had not taken into account that by choosing to sell services (design, writing, illustration), I would only be a medium to implement the ideas of others. I hated negotiating rates, talking terms and conditions, and all that is part and parcel of a freelance endeavor. I also noticed that I always felt the urge to switch focus from one type of project to another. The idea-gathering stage of any project was my favorite. I thrived at it, but often lost steam after that.
For a handful of years I found myself dabbling in a bit of everything and not doing anything well. By the time I turned 28, I was a nervous wreck, low on confidence and always expecting to fail. To top it all, I had the mental pressure of being the only person among my friends and family without a “real” job. I had hit rock bottom.
What bothered me about my failures and disappointments was that every time they happened, they pushed me one step closer to doing my work out of fear.
What Makes You Tick?
Eventually I figured out that I was failing (and not in a good way) because my work and the way I was going about it were not in alignment with who I was as a person. I knew I needed a cure, and not a temporary Band-Aid, for my life. I needed to align my work with my individuality.
I took a close look at my life and choices, strengths and weaknesses, and likes and dislikes. I paid attention to everything I did, from the way I spent my free time to the way I interacted on social media, from how I reacted to criticism to how I communicated with the people around me. I did not leave out any activity as insignificant. I also spent time thinking about my past, recollecting my behavior surrounding some of the highlights of my life. I asked myself questions like:
- How did I react when I failed at something?
- Which activities made me lose track of time?
- Who or what encouraged me to keep going?
- Who or what discouraged me?
After this thorough observation, a clear picture emerged. I began to see common patterns in everything I did and said. Here are some of the things I made special note of. They can help you too:
How You Learn
Do you find yourself learning quicker and better though video tutorials or books? Are you one of those auditory learners who like to get their information through podcasts and such? Or do you prefer a hands-on learning approach?
Ideally you should be comfortable learning through any medium. But in a crunch, knowing what kind of learner you are can come in handy.
For example, if you need to pick up a new skill, it makes sense to stick to your usual learning style to save some valuable time.
I found that I learn best through books and experiments. Now, whenever I’m tempted to spend money on video training material or a workshop, I know that it will not be money well spent, so I desist. Instead, I begin to look for books / blog posts or jump right in and learn as I go.
How You Work
I work best when I have the freedom to execute my ideas as I see fit. I’m open to suggestions, but I insist on taking the final call.
This personality trait wasn’t suited for the corporate environment that I worked in. Thankfully, being an online solopreneur is all about taking charge and running your business as you see fit. That’s why I’ve found that it’s the right business model for me; creating products instead of selling services means I get to turn my ideas into reality. When you’re selling products online, you can bypass things like price negotiation, signing contracts, etc.–all of which I hated as a freelancer. Now, I can choose to create a product, upload it online using options like Gumroad, set a price, and move on to create something else.
During this observation exercise I also learned that I’m a scanner. I’m genetically built to be interested in several things at once. That knowledge has taken a great burden off my heart. I’m no longer desperate to find one career path and stick to it. I can use an umbrella, like writing or drawing, to explore my multiple interests and make a living.
How You Communicate
Knowing how you interact with people and which lines of communication you prefer can help build better relationships with the people around you–family members, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, all of them. You’ll be amazed to see that people are to ready to accept your quirks once they understand that you’re wired a certain way. This acceptance will in turn make you more accommodating of their quirks.
I prefer to communicate with people in person, through email, or through other simple online options. I hate phones, but I’ll gladly carry out long conversations in person or via email. I’m an introvert and need plenty of quiet time to myself. It took me a long time to realize that I would never get the space I needed unless I set boundaries in place. Once I learned to do that, I have been able to accept my introversion without guilt and make an attempt to understand the extroverted people in my life.
How You Respond To People And Situations
- Are you a people person?
- Do you find it easy to make friends?
- Are you comfortable interacting with people from across the globe?
- Do you panic easily?
- Are you assertive?
- Do you find it easy to pick up new languages and skills?
Knowing the answers to questions like these can help you narrow down your strengths and weakness, so that you can play on the former and improve on the latter.
For example, my curious and dreamy nature ensures that I live inside my head a lot of the time. I have to pay special attention to my surroundings because I could easily forget all about the physical dimension. As I work online, my lifestyle is sedentary. Being aware of these things helps ensure that I put in extra effort to exercise and stay healthy.
Benefit From My Analysis
Start looking at every minute aspect of your life and self. Once you’re aware of your predisposition for certain choices, it’s time to put this knowledge to work. The next time you’re making a major life decision or chasing a tight deadline, fall back on what you know about yourself.
Of course, this cycle of knowing and implementing cannot be wrapped up in a day, a month, or even a year. It’s a lifelong experiment.
Breaking Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Knowing what makes you tick and shaping your life accordingly is no excuse to let yourself stagnate and be predictable. You must try new things and cross new barriers. My only reasoning is that when you start with what you know, you gather enough successes to lay the foundation for a confident personality. You become well equipped to handle the uncertainties that go hand in hand with stepping out of your comfort zone.
If I had to give you, or my naive 21-year-old self, only one piece of advice, it would be this: know yourself.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in your 20s? Do share your story in the comments.