(Photo: PDXing, taken by Courtney M. McSwain)
When people ask me how to know if it’s time to quit their 9-5 jobs and follow their dreams, I tell them the criteria I set for myself: What’s the worst that could happen? Two years ago, as I weighed my decision to leave my job and start a writing business, I considered the worst: Running out of my savings, not being able to afford rent, and having to pack up my stuff and drive back home to my parents’ house. As worst-case scenarios go, I could think of more tragic things. Thus, I was oddly at peace when I set out to work on my own. “If the worst were to happen,” I thought, “It still wouldn’t be so bad.”
Six weeks ago as I boarded a plane for Portland on my way to a conference for independent entrepreneurs, my worst-case rationale was no longer comforting—it was disturbingly close to becoming reality. Several months prior, I decided to attend this conference as a way to think about the direction and strategy for my writing business. I was greatly looking forward to getting outside of my normal bubble and meeting creative and small business owners from across the country. Unfortunately, in the weeks leading up to the trip, my excitement waned and was replaced by the dark clouds of inevitability…that I might not actually have a business.
The truth was, I felt less like a person in business and more like a hobbyist who got paid occasionally. My client bench wasn’t as deep as I had hoped it would be, and one contract relationship was coming to a close. “This is probably a huge exercise in futility,” I thought. I had seriously considered cancelling the trip and recouping at least some of the money I had invested. But a friend reminded me that the trip was probably exactly what I needed.
So to Portland I went.
As I walked into the conference welcome reception, I tried to muscle the courage, energy, conviction to speak about myself in the present tense: “I am a freelance writer,” instead of, “I was, for a brief moment, a writer.” As it turned out, the more I found the courage to talk about my business as if it actually existed, the more I began to believe it did. I spent three days hearing from other small, independent business owners with shared experiences of fear and imposter syndrome (which I learned is a thing). And, at some point, walking around in the Portland rain, the sense of defeat I carried with me got washed away. I no longer felt like I was the only person who struggled with time, energy, focus, inspiration or belief.
A trip I didn’t think I deserved became the trip that brought me back to life.
I also walked away with a clear definition of the community I wanted to work for: Artists and changemakers. Creative people—those who create art or social change—have always inspired me. It is this community that keeps me going, and, as a creative myself, I understand that artists and changemakers need support. They need to know that they are not alone and that the walls they hit are not insurmountable. This blog is one way for me to offer support and love to my community. With monthly themes addressing issues like fear, failure, money, joy, and faith, I hope this blog offers value to artists and changemakers as they go about the business of creating. In May, the blog will focus on building community. In my next post, I’ll talk about the steps I’ve taken recently to cultivate community in my own life.
I hope you’ll find something of value here. Mostly, I hope you’ll be comforted and encouraged to keep going.