Only a few short months ago, I felt like I was a failure.
I felt as if most of my 20’s had been a waste and a long string of personal and professional disasters.
But then, last May, I decided to return to freelancing full-time as a copywriter and content marketing writer. I haven’t looked back since.
What started as a simple, handwritten list of goals and aspirations (pictured above) blossomed in only three short months into a full-fledged business that does more than pay the bills. I’m now making more money than I ever have before, and this time I’m my own boss.
Let’s back up a bit. Why did I think I was a failure?
My Attempt to Work for Others
For years, I was upset that I was much better at writing than I was at anything else. Why couldn’t I be well-rounded? How could I possibly make a living just from writing?
Diagnosed with ADHD, I struggled in school, hating every second I was forced to learn things that I didn’t find interesting or practical. While I excelled in history and English, I did very poorly in nearly all of the other subjects. I was taught very little about what practical things I could do with my skill set.
I reassured myself that my time to shine would come after I finished school. Of course, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, but I figured that somehow, I’d find a career path that would put all of my creativity, ideas, and restless energy to good use.
But after high school and college, things still didn’t improve. The same people who received amazing grades and went to top schools seemed to be rocking it in the professional world as well. More and more of my friends began to live the “yuppie” lifestyle, not only achieving financial independence, but great jobs with fun office cultures and benefits, nice apartments, vacations, and cars to boot. Engagements and marriages were soon to follow.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t seem to find anything steady. I started freelance copywriting shortly after learning what copywriting was at 24 years-old. But eventually, I caved for a copywriting position at an agency, which didn’t last long.
At the time, I thought that I had to do what everyone else did and find a 9-5/6. It seemed like the reasonable thing to do. Working for yourself was only something you could do once you were “good enough,” I thought. Everyone has to start out working for others, right? Plus, it was an excuse to move away from home.
After losing that job after only a few months, I had a few other short-lived positions that included working at an ecommerce site, a bit of freelance writing here and there, and managing a restaurant.
Looking back at my job history, something becomes crystal clear. In some cases, I was let go. In others, I quit. But in all, I was miserable and I had a different vision from that of my bosses, which occasionally led to clashes.
How I Turned Things Around
The importance of developing self-awareness cannot be overstated.
It took me until recently to reach the conclusion that being particularly strong in one area was actually a plus. The days of the “Renaissance person” are history. To specialize and find your niche is to succeed in today’s world.
As a society, we focus a lot of time and energy on working on our weaknesses. In schools across the United States, we crush the spirits and dreams of kids who might be our next innovators and visionaries by forcing them to spend more time on the subjects with which they struggle. We rob them from being able to spend more time honing in on what they’re good at. We create a culture of good workers and bureaucrats, but not of fearless freelancers, founders, and entrepreneurs.
While I have gifted friends who are good at almost everything they put their mind to, many of them lack focus and direction, because they can’t stick with any one thing. I also know many brilliant people who can do fantastic work, but only if someone else tells them what to do.
My problem for the past few years was not that I wasn’t talented enough. It was that I didn’t believe in myself. I spent so much time wondering what was ‘wrong’ with me, trying to cram myself into the mold everyone else seemed to fit so easily.
As soon as I started playing to my strengths and doing things my own way rather instead of trying to do it everybody else’s way, I began to see positive results. Once I started playing the game on my own terms, I set myself up to win.
I now see that even some of the things I was taught to believe were weaknesses can actually be strengths in the right context. Some examples include, stubbornness, a healthy lack of respect for authority, formality, protocol, and hierarchy, and a lack of patience for romanticizing the status quo at the expense of progress.
There’s no victory or prize for being “normal” or average. Not everyone is meant to get good grades, go through years and years of schooling, and land a comfortable job with set hours. This is not a routine we should be taught is for everyone nor should it be held up as the golden “ideal.”
Some of us can only thrive when we create something on our own. Going into business for oneself does indeed mean longer hours and more work, but if the business is centered around a passion, it won’t feel like a pain. Working almost non-stop is a pleasure when there’s no boundary between what you do and what you enjoy. This lifestyle does not fit the vast majority of people, but for some, it’s the only way. For me, there is no other option and I’ve decided that I’m OK with that.
I only began to succeed once I stopped running from destiny and embraced who I am. There’s nothing wrong with only being able to work for oneself. As Seth Godin says, being a freelancer means you get to pick your clients. You also get to pick your projects. Eventually, I hope to transition to entrepreneurship and start a digital marketing company, but for now, I’m enjoying the life of a freelancer. It’s hectic and busy, but I make my own schedule and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Embrace Your One Thing
If you have a passion for something – even if you’re not sure how to monetize it right now, I urge you to embrace it. Find your thing and go all in on it. Don’t be afraid of failure. Natural talent matters, but it isn’t everything. Whatever it is you’re good at and passionate about, you will still have to work very hard at mastering. In fact, it’s precisely those things for which you show a natural aptitude, that you should work on doubly hard.
What might start out as a side-hobby can evolve into a full-time career. Depending on what it is you’re interested in doing, turning your passion into a business might be much more of a realistic possibility than you realize. Until a few months ago, I thought I had a long way to go before I could write marketing content full-time. Five clients and several leads later, things are progressing rapidly and I’m continuing to experience momentum.
A little push from some friends and mentors (the company you keep is at least as important as the company you start) enabled me to take a chance on myself. Over the past few years, I had truly learned a lot about myself, the business world, and my craft thanks to combination of experience, online courses, videos, articles, and books.
So, don’t try to be like everybody else. Be you! Find what it is you’re passionate about and what you’re good at. Find that one thing you love and start thinking of ways to capitalize on it. You probably have an idea of what that thing is already. I always knew my skill was writing, but I “wrote” it off. Don’t make the same mistake. Don’t say you can’t make money from your one thing, because with the explosion of social media and other forms of online content platforms, you can probably find a way.
Do some soul searching. Get creative. If you feel that you lack sufficient self-awareness to do this, ask your family and friends who know you best for insight.
You may be much closer to success than you think.