There are dozens of articles and lists that declare boldly "30 Things You Should Do Before You're 30" or "10 Things You Must Have in Your Apartment When You're 30." Pick an age beyond 29 and random activities or things that are commonly thought of as associated with young people, and you'll get a list of mindless nonsense that is more than stupid, it's disheartening.
Today isn't directly about freelancers and their work, but these types of articles are often found on freelance career sites. The authors associate risk taking and making mistakes are expected (and encouraged) to be done before you hit the big 3-0. Because no one over the age of 30 has ever made a mistake or taken a risk. (pause for sarcasm)
Here's your daily truth bomb: your age has nothing to do with anything. Now you might be thinking, there are lots of things that I cannot do because of my age. Really? I challenge you to name one thing that is completely out of bounds, that you actually really want to do, but you can't because you're too old. Not an activity that you used to do but you don't now because you have no interest in it, or it doesn't exist anymore, or something that is often for kids only because they're small enough to fit (like kid roller coasters). Eating ice cream for breakfast? Reading a kid's book? Playing with toys? You're an adult, you can do those things if you want to. It's the stigma associated with it that stops people from doing things they enjoy. I'll be the first to admit that I've bought toys as an adult. I still buy little trinkets that make me smile and decorate my desk with them.
The biggest problem I have with these lists is they assume you're a failure if you don't meet their "by 30" requirements. That your life choices just weren't good enough and it's too late now to improve as an adult. But why? Why does this random blogger get to make the rules and this list of requirements? Why the hell do they get to judge you? Another truth bomb: they don't.
If you didn't check off everything on their list before 30, and there are things you really want to do, then do them after 30. There is nothing stopping you.
There is no expiration date for passion.
There is no age defining your abilities.
There is no number that will limit your choices.
There is only your enthusiasm and ability to not care what others think while you're having fun.
I know I wasn't focused enough to see the big picture in my 20's. I made mistakes, missed opportunities, and did a lot of stupid self-centered things. Now in my 30's, I understand and appreciate what I did do even if it wasn't the complete list. I also appreciate my mistakes as I've had time to learn from them. All the bad relationships, the crappy jobs, the all-nighters in college, all the things that got me where I am now. Not some blogger's definition of me.
If we can take anything from these lists, it's inspiration. There are activities that I still have on my own to-do list but I'm not limiting it to all get done before I'm 40. There's a whole world of adventures to be had and I'm going to do them at my own pace. Sorry blogger, but you don't get to decide for me. Respect your elders.
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Freelancers are the adrenaline junkies of the working world. They constantly have to put themselves out into the eye of their potential clients, pitch what they do in a memorable and efficient way, and then hope someone will hire them. It's the same jump each time but no promise the parachute will open before they hit the bottom. The big difference is, the risk of death isn't present for the freelancer when they jump. Regardless of that fact, everything freelancers do carries a huge risk.
Every project you work on, every character and image on your Twitter or Facebook account, everything you do both online and offline will be judged. Some days, it's very difficult to hold back bad-mouthing a client that drove you up a wall. But you have to watch your step everywhere. Once you post it online, it's there forever. Even if you delete it, it's on a server somewhere. Google can find it, trust me. Everything you do carries a risk. And that's a lot of pressure to put on someone who now wears all the hats of their career. It is both terrifying and exciting at the same time.
I recently completed several small projects this past month. With those clients, I have the possibility of additional work later down the line, but I can't rely on that currently. I need to put myself out there and look for more work. What does that entail? Cold calls, or in the current era cold emails. Sending an unsolicited email can seem just as invasive as walking into someone's place of business and pitching your services like an old fashioned door-to-door sales rep. The big mystery is who ends up reading your email. If you send a message through a company's website, it could be read by the office intern or even the CEO, depending on the size of the company. It might never get to whom it needs to be sent to. The entire process is a huge risk and you might never get a response. But nothing will happen if you fail to try in the first place.
Another route for cold emails is doing some research and trying to target your email to a specific person. For my line of work, I target an Art Director or a Creative Director. Some companies have multiple directors, so there's a risk my email is going to the lowest one on the power totem pole. Which might not be a bad thing. They may see my work and forward my message to the person whom makes the big decisions. But if they are busy or simply forget, then I hit another dead end. It's not a fun way to go but emails are free, unlike other options.
I've never been a fan of junk mail. Like actual post office style mail. But if you want to get your name out there, it might be a good way to go. Granted, it's a more expensive route but you can make a longer lasting impression. Several years ago, I made a short story book and sent out limited copies of it in hand made paper boxes. The story was about my socks and as an added feature, I included a single sock with the book. I only yielded two emails from the list of twenty or so recipients, and even those didn't lead to any new work. It was costly and a labor of love, and in the end didn't get me anything. The process made me much wiser though. Eventually, I forgot about it.
A few years later after I sent out my mailer, I was hanging out with a college friend at a new dive bar. There was a gentleman sitting next the wall near us who had probably had one too many. He decided to join the conversation, which we were cool with. He and I started chatting and I told him I was a designer. One thing I loved to do was tell stories and I told him about my sock story. His eyes lit up and he said that HE was one of the people I sent my mailer to. He happened to be the, soon to be ex, executive creative director of a huge agency in town. He told me that he would bring MY book into creative meetings and brainstorming sessions as an example of how to engage your audience. It was a glorious moment for me that I almost started crying. I was able to keep my composure, thankfully, and we exchanged business cards. Even though he still hasn't responded to my emails I sent just one week after our chance encounter, that evening gave me hope.
The wise words of Yoda ring true for freelancers. If you don't put forth the effort to be known for your craft, no one will know you exist. That involves putting your neck out there, repeatedly, and hoping someone will hire you for what you love to do. The courage, or insanity, to keep doing it is the real challenge. Much like putting your head into the guillotine willingly and hoping your words resonate with someone in the audience that you're worth it. And even if you lose your head, there's always tomorrow to put your neck out and try again. It's all about risks.
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