When You’re Busy, But Not Succeeding

Who wants to start off this week with a deep thought?

I spent a mighty long time being busy but not succeeding. And by “mighty” I mean “most of my career to date”. And when I say “most”, I mean “Everything before last Thanksgiving”.

How do I know this? How can I say this? Because I’m looking at my bank accounts after paying all the people I need to pay and there’s still money in it. Which, if you have known me in the last three to five years, wasn’t always the case. Money came and went, but it was never steady, and I just accepted this as a condition of the type of job I do – that sort of nomadic existence moving from client oasis to client oasis in a vast desert of it’s-hard-to-make-a-living.

So, being a reasonably smart guy, I saw the connection between money and work. If I had more clients, I’d make more money…so what I need is a lot more clients. I filled up my schedule and took on a lot of clients. This sounds great, right?

The Freelancer’s Dream
It would be, if all the clients required the same type of work, paid the same amount of money (and on time) and all took me the same amount of time to do that work.

Note – the above sentence is often called “The Freelancer’s Dream”.

What I had though was not the Dream. I didn’t have the Nightmare, but I did have a lot of clients and jobs and things that paid erratically, inconsistently and didn’t actually make me feel like I was succeeding. Sure, clients got stuff they wanted (websites, sales copy, etc), and I got a check….but it wasn’t success.

And it wasn’t success for a few reasons:

1. I didn’t think I deserved the job, so I way cut down my rate. Like ridiculously. Like 40+ hours of work for a single $200 check that I took up front. This, I thought gave the impression that I was easy to work with, but it in fact turned me into a doormat. What I learned: If some people can’t afford me, (and not everyone is going to, and no I can’t go out and help EVERYONE, despite urges to do so), there will be people out there who can afford me, and I shouldn’t lowball myself, ever. ((Still working on that believing in myself part))

2. It wasn’t very challenging work. I got paid to do things I’m good at. I know, that sounds wonderful, and it’s sort of the point of a job, but if you look at the work I’m doing now and compare it to the work I did then, there’s a HUGE change in both the quality of my work and my happiness. What I learned: I do better with a challenge. I’m more satisfied by a challenge, and more satisfied by the reward of saying and knowing that “Wow, I had a hand in making XYZ a great product.”

3. I took the work for the wrong reasons. This revelation didn’t occur to me until a month or two ago, when I was saying yes to more work and more opportunities and really “putting myself out there”. I used to take work because someone suggested I go help that person out, or because I felt guilty because this person knew that person and somehow it reflected poorly on me if I didn’t do the job. What I learned: The best reasons for taking a job is knowing that I can make a difference for someone and that I will enjoy doing it. Yes, there are going to be jobs I like more than others, just as there are companies and people I prefer working with over others, but the best reason for work isn’t wealth accumulation – wealth is a byproduct of happiness and success.

John’s Formula
I’d prefer not making this section grossly metaphysical, mystical or new age-y. I just want to share with you my view on how I judge my wealth and my success and how busyness doesn’t factor in.

Wealth = 
Happiness + Success + 
Future Doors Opening + 
The Best/Right People Around Me

The order doesn’t matter, but for me, I say wealth isn’t just a fat bank account, wealth is the sum total of all I got, all I get to do and all I will get later, combined with people around me who want not to take their slice of the pie or claim credit (because it’s not about percentages or proof, it’s about just having it) who make the experience all the more satisfying because there’s a celebration rather than a finger-pointing hootnanny or a pat-me-on-the-back-too shindig.

Do I have the best people around me? I do now. I didn’t always before. And occasionally I let other people tell me who were and weren’t the right people or what was or wasn’t the right job, even though this is my life, my career and my path to tread.

For those who want me to break down the above formula here you go.

Wealth (Life wealth, not financial) = Being Happy + Being Successful (seeing the fruits of efforts, tangibly, financially and personally) + Having Opportunities to Repeat This Happiness & Success Later (like being brought on to do more work, or one job turning into multiples or meeting great new people with the promise of meeting more great new people) + Having Fun, Intelligent, Practical, Rockstar Princes, Princesses, Hooligans, Geniuses and Lunatics Around Me.

Note – if you think I mean actual insane people, I don’t. I mean the crazy-like-a-fox people.

The End Result
I used to be busy, and wasted SO MUCH time running around from underpaying task to underpaying task to relationship where I wasn’t invested to activity I couldn’t give a shit about.

Now I’m working on what I want, at a pace I dictate, doing the jobs I’ve always wanted to do, and am so very invested in so many parts of my life (that I didn’t even realize were previously there).

I encourage everyone reading this to take time to really sit down and ferret out the reasons they’re working as hard as they are, and if they still feel “stuck”, and look at what they wish they could do, and how they can make time for it. You can do the things you want to do, whatever they are, even if you just start doing them a little at a time.

Make yourself happy, success comes from happy.

Rock on.

0 thoughts on “When You’re Busy, But Not Succeeding

  1. Congratulations John. Good advice. I use to laugh when people would say things like “its the journey, not the destination” but in reality that's what it's all about. We all grow in different ways and at different times in our life. Sort of like developing a character throughout a novel. We eventually get to where we need to go and all the little life lessons we learn become part of who we are.
    -Andy

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