It was 6 a.m. I’ve been trying to break my bad habit of checking my phone upon waking up, but as soon as I opened my eyes to shut off my alarm, I noticed that I already had a notification.
One of my clients had already messaged me on Slack — which they had instructed me to keep open all day — with some editing suggestions for a blog post. I sighed, responded and told them I would do a round of edits , and dragged myself out of bed to have my first cup of coffee for what would inevitably be a long day.
To any experienced freelancer, a client who hires you for a couple blog posts per week yet expects you be as responsive as a full time employee would be a red flag. Despite the fact that I still consider myself a newbie, it was a red flag for me, too — along with the blogging and formatting guidelines that changed from week to week without explanation, and the invoicing system that changed three times in one month.
When they initially hired me, they were just starting their blog. I’ve been in this scenario a few times, and I’ve found that it inevitably goes two different ways. The client either already has a solid vision for their content strategy and knows what kind of writers they need to bring on board in order to execute it, or they don’t know the first thing about blogging and get frustrated when the contributors can’t read their minds. I’m always ready with pitch ideas, and I’m happy to make some suggestions beyond that, but at the end of the day, I’m a freelance writer, not a consultant.
After a few weeks, I realized this client was falling into Camp B. I got along well with the content manager, and she was happy with my work. But the good feedback she gave me and the views on my articles didn’t matter — every week, the CEO would decide she wanted something different from the blogging team, and I was expected to put in more and more hours while my pay stayed the same.
Why would I put up with it? Well, there was the money, of course, but it was more than that. This client was a very well known company in the niche I’m trying to establish myself in, and I knew that working with them would give me a boost. And while there was a lot of confusion on a day to day basis, I genuinely enjoyed the blog posts I was writing.
But honestly? Even when I noticed that some of the other bloggers were getting cut, and I sensed that I was probably next, I wanted to prove myself. I would be the first to respond to every message, to follow every new super specific little guideline, to beat every deadline, to spend extra time making every article perfect.
I felt like I was sitting in front of the classroom, waving my hands around, desperately thinking, “Pick me! Pick me!”
Which felt just as pathetic as it sounds.
Seth Godin is famous for telling creatives, entrepreneurs, and, well, anyone with a dream to reject the idea that a gatekeeper needs to pick you. He says that our instinct is to wait for someone to choose us, to say that we’re worthy, that our work is good enough and deserves recognition.
But he urges us to get past that instinct. To recognize our own worth, to put ourselves out there, to get to work and start contributing something meaningful to the conversation. Whether or not anyone has noticed you yet.
“Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you–that Prince Charming has chosen another house–then you can actually get to work.”
— Seth Godin
When they eventually cut me from the team, I wasn’t surprised — which made me feel worse.
I knew it wasn’t a good fit.
I knew that when they started asking for more work without increasing my pay, it wasn’t worth my time.
And the work I was doing for them cut into the hours I could’ve spent pitching to better clients, writing for my own blog, and taking on extra assignments for clients I enjoy working with. If their name didn’t carry weight in that niche, I might have bounced earlier — but I stayed, and it cost me.
In other words, I wanted someone with more influence to pick me so badly that I stopped picking myself.
I was stuck in the mindset that I needed a big client to just pick me in order for me to get anywhere with my writing — and when I look back at all that time I could have invested in other, more fruitful efforts instead, I realize I made the wrong call.
So this week, I’m picking myself. I’ve got a list of pitches to send out. A few ideas for blog posts that I’m really excited about. Another little passion project to get started on that I’ve been thinking about for a while. And plenty of extra time to work on it all.
Oh, and I can turn off my Slack notifications. Ah, peace and quiet.