I asked the boy beneath the pines.
He said, “The master’s gone alone herb picking,
somewhere on the mount,
(Chin Tao, 777-841)
For centuries ancient traditions have looked to their elders for advice, counsel, and wisdom. The role of an elder was not something a person sought. Instead the community would identify those it wanted in that role. And so it was an honor to be chosen as an elder and it was a role that those chosen took on with humbleness, reverence and seriousness of purpose.
A few weeks ago, Andrew Norcross invited me to play the elder role on Untemplater. My first reaction was denial (“Am I really old enough to be an elder?”) and then doubt (“What could I possibly add to the great content that is already on Untemplater? ). Andrew’s response was, how about something along the lines of “the more things change, the more they stay the same? So much of the freelance world is based on technology that it would be good to read about things that matter outside of that. It would be good to hear from someone who has been doing the freelance thing for a long time.” Given that I have been trying to “shatter the template lifestyle” for longer than some of the founders have been alive, and I’ve been a self-employed for almost twenty years, I will try to offer a few observations on what it takes to sustain the Untemplater lifestyle for, well, a lifetime.
Do It Your Way…
The Untemplater mantra of “work where you want, live how you want, and be who you want to be” is all about the choices each person makes, and not about following the choices of others. I started working for myself in October 1991. On a regular basis, I will get calls from people who were leaving their corporate jobs. They would often say, “I want to do what you do – what advice can you give me”? I would answer with a question: “What do YOU want to do?” Copying what someone else does is just trading one template for another.
Decide What You are NOT Going to Do
I think it is critically important to be able to succinctly tell potential clients what you do for a living. I say, “I help people remember what they learned in kindergarten – how to work and play well with others”. And the conversation continues from there. However, it is also equally important to rule out what you are NOT going to do or don’t want to do. One of the mistakes that I see freelance people make – particularly when first starting out – is to be afraid to say “NO!” to work that is outside of their area of expertise or that they really don’t want to take on. What is interesting is that it is actually easier for many to rule out what they DON”T want to do rather than decide on what they DO want to do.
It is All About Relationships…
I started working for myself long before the advent of the social media marketing tools that are so commonplace today. In the almost twenty years I have been on my own, the vast majority of my work has come from either repeat business or referrals from my existing clients. Sustaining the Untemplater lifestyle requires those connections.
Follow the Clues…and Be Open to Surprises…
The author Jim Harrison says that when you are tracking a bear in the wilderness you need to pay attention, because the bear is! Following the Untemplater lifestyle for the long haul requires that same sort of vigilance. It is about continuing to learn from unlikely sources – I’ve been studying with a traditional astrologer for about twelve years. It is about building self-awareness as our styles and competencies develop. And it is about paying attention to the clues that life presents as we continue to write our own script in each act of the play that is called our life. And of course, be open to those surprises.
Hopefully these observations are helpful to each of you on your journey. I look forward to your comments and the opportunity to continue this dialogue as we shatter those templates together.