One of my clients has a knack of saying the most extraordinary things in such an ordinary way, so that when he graces you with these small pieces of wisdom, they stick with you. Like — really stick with you. One time, we were walking from lunch back to their offices and generally just catching up, when he said four words that struck me like a lightening bolt:
Keep building your empire.
One year later, I still find myself repeating that mantra to myself. At the time, I had no idea what my empire even was — I was just doing what I love, and finding a way to make a living out of it. Today, I know that I’ve built something I’m pretty proud of. I will be the first to admit that it’s a work in progress, but I would hope for nothing less than just that.
I’ve built a freelance career around doing exactly what I love the most — traveling, photography and storytelling — and, although it’s taken some time to be able to get to this point: I am not a starving artist. I’ve found a way to tie my passions and talents together to making a living, as well as make a difference in the world. And I have even grander visions for the future.
So, where can YOU start? My golden rules for success are, as follows:
Work hard, be nice.
How many times has someone treated you badly and you’ve turned around and treated someone else just the same? Your mother taught you better than that. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Deliver high quality work and deliver it with an exceptional attitude. You’ll inspire others to follow suit.
Develop exceptionally good taste and with it, integrity.
If you have no idea what high quality work looks like, you will have no idea how to recognize and implement it into your own business model. Find out what (or, more importantly, what type of person) you love, and know exactly why you feel that way. Hold yourself to that standard. And then make recommendations and connections based off of that level of integrity, so much so that you develop a reputation for only collaborating with the best.
Repeat after me: I cannot do this alone. The people around you are who will hold you up when you fall, and believe me, you will fall. Whether in your professional or personal life, invest your time to build authentic relationships.
Prioritize your time. Take time off.
People ask me all the time: How do you get so much done? The fact of the matter is that I always have a never-ending to-do list. Developing the skill set to spend your time wisely is one of your biggest assets. Know how to strategize and prioritize a task list. Understand what your greatest talents are, and what only you can do — and delegate the rest.
The secret to productivity is developing the ability to dedicate 100% of your attention to the single most important task at any given time.
Remind yourself that it’s an endurance test, not a race. Develop a regular schedule, and teach yourself to switch out of work mode when you’re not working (and remind yourself not to work all the time!). Your career is nothing without your health and the relationships you nourish with friends and family.
Push yourself. Know that you are capable of progress. Practice.
The best decision I’ve made in my career is moving to New York City. It was also the hardest. I’ve been pushed to my limits, left on my own, broken down and cried in public, asked myself (more than I would like to admit) what the fuck I thought I was doing. But when I look back on what I’ve accomplished, it’s the challenges that have allowed me the most growth.
The fact of the matter is that you cannot progress if you remain stagnant. Find challenges that you can overcome, or better yet, ones that you can learn from. Remind yourself that your life, and your personality, do not have a set definition. You are what you make yourself, and you can reinvent that whenever you want.
Remind yourself that life is too short to drink bad wine.
I will never forget the time that my friend’s mom took my drink from me and dumped it out after I took a sip and made a face. Life is too short to drink bad wine, she said to me — and she said it so matter-of-factly. I sat, dumbstruck and then I realized — I couldn’t argue with her. There isn’t a point in doing something if you don’t love it. So whether it’s wine, or that client that causes you more unnecessary stress than what he’s worth, dump it. There are plenty more bottles to try.
Wake up every day willing to start over.
Understand that your path isn’t about succeeding every day, but rather, learning how to ride the waves. There are some days when you’ll have work rolling in and clients showering you with compliments, you’ll be on cloud nine and find yourself smiling for no reason other than the fact that you’re head over heels in love with your life. And then there’s the days when you’ll wake up feeling like shit. Remind yourself that on both days, you are the only one in control of your life — and you can have the courage and humility to face each day as if it is new.
Celebrate your victories.
I hosted an event at the UN this year. And right after I finished (and spent a weekend sleeping), I jumped right back into work mode. I need to catch up on every other project right now, I said. I just want to re-prioritize my life. I want to focus on traveling. I need to do all of these other things, and I don’t even know where to start. It wasn’t until recently when I was sorting through some of the photos when I stumbled upon the ones where I was speaking. In the UN. And I realized — I never stopped to congratulate myself. Like, really congratulate myself. So: In that spirit, here I am, making a public declaration to let you know that I’m proud of myself:
Know what you want, and know what you’re worth.
The first lesson you will learn when you start freelancing: It’s a lot of soul searching. You’re charting unknown territory, and that means you won’t always have the answer, or even a plan. But as time goes on, your dreams will turn into ideas, and your ideas into goals. Be relentless in your pursuit of your vision. And once you know exactly what you want, do not let anyone tell you that you are worth anything less. Know when to take a stand, and when to be assertive — and oh my goodness, know how to get paid what you are worth. Your voice may start small, but you will get there.
Do not let the fear of the unknown keep you from getting started.
You are bigger than that. Trust your gut, and try something. If it doesn’t work, tomorrow is a new day.
Ready to hustle? I love these books for getting started:
- The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams On Your Terms
- The Six-Figure Travel Writing Road Map: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pitching Your Way to Better Pay
- Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising
- Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs
Want to talk in-person? Find me at The Amazing Perspective’s next event where I’ll be speaking on travel, entrepreneurship and following your dreams.
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