4. Desire

I wish I could tell you that freelancing is all a big bed of roses. It isn’t. Oh, it might be if you just didn’t need to sleep, and you could avoid all the costly mistakes, and you could make exactly the right decisions at precisely the right moment. But that’s not reality. Successful freelancers find a way to make it all work in spite of the problems, in spite of setbacks and in spite of themselves.

Freelancing is the purest form of capitalism and the best way of getting paid what you are truly worth. You can’t fake a successful freelance career. You can’t coast for weeks and weeks and have other people cover for you. Your mistakes are cheerfully “deducted from your pay.” It’s real easy to be in this business when everything is going okay. But what keeps you in it when the chips are down? What keeps you going when you come to the conclusion that every client you have is the WRONG client? What gets you up and dressed and ready for an 8 a.m. presentation meeting when you’ve had a grand total of nine hours sleep in four days?

There are lots of short, intermediate answers: Sex, Money, Golf, Power, Debt…the usual. These are known as “external” motivators; they will get you in the game, but none of them are strong enough to keep you there.

Long-term success in freelancing is fueled by desire, and desire is completely internal.

The cliché is, “Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” The truth is, a successful freelance career requires long hours, discipline, and focus. Desire is the magic ingredient that allows you to find joy in the process. Desire is what gives you the inner strength to make your work better than it has to be, and desire is the only thing that will keep you going when your accountant, your spouse and your family are telling you to “give it up” (should that ever happen).

Desire is fairly bulletproof except when it comes to long-term stress. Be careful with this. Stress kills creativity. And I don’t mean the “good” stress, i.e.: “yippity doo dah, I landed a new account and roughs are due on Wednesday!” I’m referring to the “bad” stress: Ongoing financial pressure, divorce, health problems, chemical dependency problems, looming self-doubt and destructive behavior. I have heard it said that if you must continue to be creative during times of high stress, you may as well arm yourself with plenty of tracing paper and a stack of CA magazines because YOU, my friend, are out of the loop, creatively speaking.

Desire keeps you focused so that the time you spend working is productive instead of wasted motion. This allows you to have a complete, balanced life instead of a limited “design” life. You can eat right, exercise, party, enjoy your hobbies, take vacations, spend time with your family and generally experience the world — which in turn makes you a better designer.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do everything alone…

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