The Born Freelancer on casting aside doubt

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.

This month I celebrate my first anniversary writing for you as The Born Freelancer. My thanks to all of you who have read my posts, to those of you who have responded to them, and to those of you who meant to respond but obviously had better things to do! Additional thanks go to those remarkable individuals behind the scene who facilitate my work and make it such a pleasure for me to pursue.

And so, on this my first anniversary, time out for a little bit of reflection and contemplation.

Recently I was at the funeral service for the sister of a good friend. My friend’s son, the deceased’s nephew, made an inspired speech honouring his aunt. It was eloquent and moving. Afterwards he confessed to me how nervous he had been while preparing it. He is a novice writer and broadcaster-in-training but had nothing to compare it to in his previous learning experience. His confidence in his excellent writing abilities had recently suffered a great deal thanks to a malicious teacher, and he frankly wasn’t sure he was up to the task of honouring his aunt. He wasn’t so positive any more that he was even meant to be a writer. How and when, he wanted to know, did I ever really feel that I was meant to be a writer?

I don’t think I’d ever been asked this specific question before — about the rock-bottom belief in yourself doing what you are meant to be doing. Only a fellow writer would think to ask it! So often you are buffeted about by rejection and disappointment in this business. You begin to wonder if you are meant to be doing what you find yourself doing. “Our doubts are traitors,” wrote Shakespeare, a phrase I’ve long taken to heart. I immediately understood his need to find that conviction within himself to help overcome all the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

I also think this is a much more profound question than the one I usually get asked, namely: how did I ever choose to become a writer? That one I’ve been dodging forever. Honestly, for years I never even questioned it. I never really considered that I had any other choice. I was writing (or more accurately, printing in those days) little plays and puppet shows by the time I was in Grade 1. It seemed there were any number of kids willing to get up on stage and make a noise, but it occurred to me that the real power and meaning within any such performance would ultimately derive from what was first thought out ahead of time and written down. Well, of course I didn’t think of it then in those exact terms. What I thought was (more or less along the lines of) if I write it, everything else happens… and I guess I still think that way today. I suppose that either displays a lifelong consistency of character or some kind of a genetic fault. (Is there any difference?) Today I like to think I just found my calling early. But I wasn’t always so sure. I guess that’s why I always remember what it was like starting out when I write these posts. I try to share experiences I might like to have heard myself when still a newbie.

My friend’s son also asked me if I had ever regretted freelancing. Although I have never been rich (for very long) nor famous (for more than a fleeting moment here and there) I had to say honestly, no. Of course there were times I was tempted by a staff job (indeed once producing at the Mothercorp itself). But freelancing has given me — indeed, it has forced me — into adopting a wider set of skills, accepting a broader range of jobs, and living a wider, broader spectrum of life experiences than I could have ever imagined doing so as a more secure 9-to-5er. Despite its often very high cost I would never willingly go back to change a thing.

Early relevant career milestones now seem to rush by me in retrospect like an ever-turning kaleidoscope — including my first words in print, my first summer job at a local paper, my first jobs in radio and TV, my first overseas work, and my first gig at The Mother Corp. (All freelance of course!) As a lifelong listener to CBC Radio, that was a kind of momentous day for me — a day I really felt like a professional. I had somehow magically stepped through “the looking glass.” And yet I also knew that it was just another working day.

But all of this is still a different kind of self-knowledge than targeted by the original question: when did I truly feel like I was meant to be a writer? Now that I come to think about it in order to write this post I realize that it actually came much later in my career. Curiously it was also during a funeral service at which I had been asked to be a key speaker. An old college friend and colleague asked me twice on his deathbed to do it — so there was no shirking of the responsibility (which felt enormous). How do you sum up a life in a few mere words? You can’t, of course, but my experience had somehow given me the confidence to paint a compelling portrait in words that would provide comfort for his bereaved family as well as a sense of a life well lived for his assorted friends and colleagues. Though I too felt wholly inadequate for the job at the time, when I had looked around there was no one else to do it.

It was at that exact moment — long after I’d worked in the profession for years and years without ever really asking myself why — that I realized I was doing what I was absolutely, positively meant to be doing. That I was meant to be a writer.

My friend’s son made his funeral speech at a much younger age. But as I had done he too used his power of words to comfort and pay tribute and did so while overcoming personal demons and misgivings. He too had to circumnavigate the negative impact of teachers or peers who had subjected him to much unnecessary self-doubt. (Although as a future professional I assured him that his teacher was only the first of many petty, small-minded individuals for whom he will work.) However, in creating a loving, generously spirited tribute to his late aunt he had also inadvertently found his own voice and true calling very early in his professional life. Right then it was clear to me he was indeed meant to be a writer and I told him so. And I know from my own experience that that revelation will bring him a great deal of added necessary confidence to help him go far.

To know you are doing what you are meant to be doing in this profession I think comes in part by responding to and connecting with others in a meaningful way, using our skills and abilities often during life’s most stressful and trying moments. But, more importantly, knowing you are doing what you are meant to be doing is one of life’s greatest gifts and motivations to succeed. It helps cast away so much doubt and uncertainty. How we manage to succeed in making a life out of that commitment is a whole other matter — although I can think of no better way than being a freelancer. Of course, that all depends upon your definition of success. Mine is and has always been: doing what I love to do creatively, learning new things, meeting interesting people, travelling, making enough to carry on and be healthy, and having a few friends and loved ones with whom to share the good and the bad while hopefully putting back more than I take out. I don’t think it’s a bad definition. It’s certainly done well by me so far.

And so on this my first anniversary of sharing these free ranging thoughts — and I hope encouraging you on your own journey into freelancing — I wish for you the early realization that you too are indeed doing what you are meant to be doing. (Although in less traumatic circumstances than those described above.) Be ready for it when you least expect it or when you feel least likely to be looking for it. I posit that future professional success and personal happiness will flow a little more readily for you as a result.

Posted on May 25, 2012 at 8:17 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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