7 Career Lessons From a Freelance Writer
For the past few years, I’ve worked from home as a freelance writer. While being my own boss, so to speak, has its pros (goodbye three hour meetings and creepy water cooler guy, hello to having my work published in some well-established publications) and cons (human interaction? What human interaction?), I’m sure of one thing: I’ve obtained more career successes than I did when I worked at large advertising agencies and public relations firms.
Interestingly, though, my career success isn’t necessarily “success” as most people would typically define the phrase.
Read on to learn more about some of my non-traditional thoughts about moving forward in the workplace.
1. It’s Not Always About the Money
Whoa, wait. Isn’t career success synonymous with having a massive bank account and a fancy title on a business card?
You see, I’m of the mindset that career success is about being truly happy with what I do more than it is about landing a huge bonus or corner office. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve experienced those pleasantries and they’re wonderful, but they’re not everything.
I’ve also experienced knots in my stomach every day on the way to work. After once getting eight hours of sleep in one week (one week!) due to a work project, I’ve learned that mental and physical exhaustion doesn’t do anything for boosting workplace productivity or sanity. I’ve learned to say “no thanks” to unnecessarily long hours or consistently rude employees; success isn’t about jumping on the “it’s good money, after all” bandwagon.
2. I Chose to Stop Being an Office Mannequin
I once worked at a company that had an unspoken “rule” that staying late just for appearances sake was appropriate. In other words, it just wasn’t cool for the boss to walk down the hall at 8:30 PM and see empty offices.
I ultimately went on to work somewhere that truly stuck to set start times and succinct end-of-day schedules. In other words: productivity over presence. I worked, and worked hard. And guess what? Sometimes the boss called it a day at 4:30 because we spent more time actually busting our butts at work than we did sitting idly at a desk just because, well, it looked good. Tasks were completely finished and done on time. Calls were made. Answers were obtained.
So … work hard. Don’t be an office mannequin though. The success will follow.
3. I Stopped Trying to Figure Everyone Out
There will always be that one person (or three) who has it in for you from day one. You know the type: you arrived too late or too early, you’re too enthusiastic, not exuberant enough, and so on.
Well, rather than trying to take on every personality type known to mankind in an attempt to appeal to various employees’ expectations, it’s important to be true to yourself (good advice all around, not just in the work environment).
Once I stopped fretting over odd employee behaviors, guess what? A more productive, creative, and carefree me emerged, which showed in the work I created — and still does.
4. I Practice the Art of Gentle Persistence
When I worked in the public relations field, my boss was eager for one of our clients to be featured in a particular magazine. Now, magazines are being pitched stories constantly, so my calls weren’t their priority.
But I kept at it. I emailed. I left messages. I backed off, then emailed again. After a couple of months, the product was featured in the magazine.
I didn’t drive the editor crazy with incessant calls or “threats” to pitch it to another magazine; I simply remained persistent without being a pain. Not only was the product placed, but I received a letter filled with kind words from the editor who acknowledged — guess what? — my “gentle persistence.”
5. I’m Assertive, Not Aggressive — And There’s a Big Difference
Arianna Huffington tweeted one of my stories. It didn’t happen because I pestered her or her staff, though. Kind assertiveness — not obsessive aggression — is key.
Assertive is going for the gusto in a professional manner and with an air of confidence. On the other hand, I believe being aggressive is also about going for the gusto, but minus the professionalism part. Instead, it’s forging on with a relentless, borderline obnoxious demeanor.
I’ve seen plenty of aggressive people get ahead in the workforce, but their success often isn’t long-lasting.
But assertive people — those who make their goals clear and seek them out without resorting to screaming fits or back-stabbing behaviors are sure to make successful strides for the long haul. I’ve landed some pretty nice writing assignments not by complaining or throwing a tantrum if I’m asked to make some edits, but by professionally outlining my vision and kindly interacting with others.
Whenever I have a hunch that something in the workforce is haywire, I don’t ignore the feeling. I’ve observed smiling employees become people wearing furrowed brows and sad expressions. Translation: something’s up. I’ve noticed surges in folks calling out sick. Ditto.
Anytime something becomes unusually out-of-character, it’s typically a sign that changes are looming. Staying in tune to these changes has allowed me to ask deeper questions of other colleagues and remain more alert than normal. In turn, I’ve been able to anticipate (without dwelling on it) company changes and adjust accordingly.
7. I Often Wear my Detective Hat
Sure, change can be good. It can also be bad.
I was writing for one site for a couple of years when, seemingly overnight, the content drastically changed. Assigned headlines were a significant departure from previous ones and in-box messages explained that editorial shifts had been made. Cue the mysterious “something’s brewing” music.
Soon, writers were asked to draft articles in a way that wasn’t nearly as objective as in the past.
Changes are inevitable in life, but recognizing when they can get in the way of career success is essential. Should I stay because the money was fairly decent (nah… see # 1) or leave in an effort to stick to my personal writing standards? I moved on, and have faced nothing but rewarding writing opportunities as a result!
So, when trying to obtain career success, be sure to focus on your needs, not just your salary; it’s important for your good physical and emotional health. Additionally, trust your gut, be assertive, and please, please, never feel pressured to babysit an office just “because.”
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on July 14, 2016.