Goals can be related to all sorts of things:
-Time or vacation
When you hear the phrase “business is slow” what do you think? Or, more to the point, if your own business is slow, how do you feel? Whether you’re a small business owner or you have a more traditional position, knowing that things are slow can cause a cascade of emotions.
As a small business owner, the idea of a slow time used to bring me a feeling of panic, but these days, the emotions that surround a slow down are more complicated. For one thing, I no longer imagine that no one will ever hire me again (that is reserved for breaking up for any reason with a long-time client), or that I’ll end up homeless because I can’t pay the mortgage.
For another, when things are busy, it’s hard to find the brain power to think deeply about the direction of my business, or if I’m actually enjoying my work. I love writing, and for the last decade the fact I’ve been able to make a living stringing words together into sentences has been the fulfillment of a dream. It really hasn’t ever mattered much to me what I’m writing about, as long as I’m getting to write for a living.
Over the course of the last year, that has started to change but I didn’t realize it at all until things slowed down a bit. Until mid-April or so, my calendar was full, then things started tapering down. No one has specifically said why, and I have reason to believe it’s largely due to the general economic atmosphere. People have been talking about a recession for a year or more now, and that seems to have affected how businesses are planning and budgeting.
I still have several great anchor clients, and feel certain that I could undertake a marketing campaign and find new work relatively quickly. However, for the last two months, I’ve taken a different path, and that is to let things simmer as they are and try to figure out if what I’ve been doing is ideal, or if there might be ways to make my work life better.
Reaching a goal feels really good. When it happens, though, you have to make some decisions. You can choose to stay at whatever level you’ve reached, you can set a new goal, you can decide the whole situation isn’t what you thought it would be.
The shape of the goal matters
Among freelancers, income is a fairly simple, and often necessary, measuring stick for goals. It’s also easy to get stuck in that groove, striving for a higher and higher income. In the earliest years, income is an excellent driver. Some people start out making a great living in the first year, but I wasn’t one of them. It took about five years before I could pay my bills, and then a few more before I could say I was earning a comfortable living. After a few years of being comfortable, income stopped being a motivator to work more hours.
Because that’s the tradeoff: eventually, most people have to work more hours in order to earn more money. It didn’t take very long for me to realize I value time to do other things as much as I value money. Tracking my work hours forced me to acknowledge that realization, and once I did, my work life was more comfortable in some indefinable way. I stopped feeling “overworked” and started appreciating that I enjoy both work and time off.
Being able to do things like help my family — watching children, going to doctor’s appointments, running errands, whatever — take care of household tasks without feeling pressed or rushed, go to the gym for classes I enjoy, or any of about a million other things, is as important as earning more money (as long as there’s enough money to pay the bills, of course). So, after income, having more time and flexibility is a key goal.
An acquaintance in the freelance community, the wonderful Jennifer Gregory Goforth, wrote a post titled Why 2022 Was My Most Successful Year as a Freelance Content Marketing Writer last December. In it she discusses how she was able to very quickly ramp up her work hours and also reduce her working hours when needed. She discusses taking time off in January for a family trip, then working plenty of hours through late winter but enjoying a slow summer. For her, that flexibility equaled success.
Another type of goal is professional development. As I mentioned earlier, for a long time, writing for pay was enough. Professional development was mostly focused around learning how to set up efficient systems, negotiate, market, and all of the business-related parts of being a freelancer. Now, I’m feeling a need to expand my skill set. Conferences, boot camps, courses, new types of projects, and new industries or topics all offer opportunities to learn and grow.
One of the reasons I love running Smiling Tree Writing is that I get to learn new things all of the time. The research part of writing is fun, and talking to subject matter experts is one of my favorite things. It all appeals to the part of me that loved school. It makes sense that adding to my own skills and knowledge in order to expand my services and offerings would be an important goal.
How do you set work-related goals? Have you noticed them changing as your career progresses?