I feel like I’m a product of the time I was brought up in. My dad worked at a golf course and had his own business, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom — an artist who did flower arranging and Chinese brush painting.
As a kid, I was never happy in school and ended up dropping out when I was 15. I went to a local community college at 16 to study video and filmmaking.
When I was 14, I got a TRS-80 computer, which was the first you could buy with 16K of memory. And because my dad was a golf pro, he bought a camcorder when it first came out to videotape people for golf lessons. So as a kid I had access to a personal computer and a camcorder from a young age, which pretty much sums up everything I’ve done since then.
At 17 and in the mid-eighties, I studied philosophy for a year and also read a lot of political stuff. And when I moved to California at the age of 18 and someone asked me “Well, what do you want to do?” I didn’t know exactly. At that time I knew enough about computers and video to get in trouble, but not enough to get hired. Finally when pressed, I’d blurt out “I want to be one of those people you see on TV talking about politics.” “Well, to do that”, they’d say, “you’ve got to go to school.”
I was a bit depressed because I knew I didn’t want to do the school route anymore. But toward the eighties, things started to look up. I bought an Omega computer which allowed me use multimedia; when all other computers were black and white, this one had color and graphics. Then, the Video Toaster came out, which was the first affordable desktop video product, and I finally started putting the two together ─ my knowledge of both videos and computers. And suddenly, because I knew both, I was very hirable. I ended up getting gigs and doing training classes. I did a day of consulting on Jurassic Park, for instance, because they were trying to figure all this technical stuff out and I seemed to be a twenty-something who knew how to handle it. Even though I didn’t have formal training or background in the field and was just literally making it up, for me it was important to spread my knowledge by teaching people. Teaching happened to be lucrative, and I was able to make money doing that. Now, I’ve done enough of it in my life — I’ve traveled around the country six or seven times doing training tours ─ but I’d literally pack up the van with my family and equipment in the early days and drive city to city to train people. It was fun for the kids! Today, I mainly do it online.
The reason I mention my life when I was 14 is that my life has been really a continuation of what I was doing then. In 1980, I was trying out music, graphics and writing. This year, I’ve been working on a documentary. I shoot all the interviews, I light, I edit, I do all the graphics and audio. The tools today are a zillion times better, but it’s the same process and I like the process of keeping up with the tools and seeing what you can do with them. I’ve worked freelance most of the time and been very lucky that way.
Fear, Productivity & Balance in Life as a Freelancer
I am pretty happy with my life, but there still is a lot I’d like to accomplish. There’s no doubt there. For example, one of the things I have in mind to do is write my own biography, which is much harder than it sounds. When I’m stuck, I feel like a loser. Then I go to my résumé and take a closer look at it and say, “This guy looks interesting.” And that’s me! I know I’m not a loser but it takes constant reminders: “Well, guess I don’t suck completely after all.”
A great writer writes whenever and wherever he can. I’ve been taking it to heart. My iPad is helping me with this a lot. For example, if I am on a bus, I will start typing on my iPad and write three paragraphs. There you go, three more paragraphs that I didn’t have when I took the bus! Technology makes it easier, but you have to start using it before it uses you. You have to be able to control your focus and attention, otherwise technology becomes your worst enemy.
The other important thing for me is to know the “endgame.” I’m working on a book on how to finish things, and to finish it I need clear information on what happens at each step of the process, including how to publish it on the Kindle. Knowing the endgame is important for me before I can finish what’s at hand. I have my good days and my bad days, which I try to convert into productive ones. Do I succeed all the time? Heck, no! But do I try each time? Absolutely.
Getting Smart about Time
I read a really good book recently called Time Warrior by Steven Chandler. It’s a book on time management but he really urges you not to manage your time, but to de-stress about the whole concept of time. One of the biggest time wasters is to work yourself into a panic about how you’re not managing your time well. You’ve just got to cut through that stuff and put things out. So I am in that process of saying, “You know what? I’m okay. I’m doing all right.”
Chandler talks about how a lot of people beat up themselves for procrastinating. After reading his book, I realize I’m someone who likes pressure and likes doing things at the last minute because that’s how I roll, that’s how I play the game of life. I like gathering a lot of information and then, almost as a game with myself, seeing if I can do it in the last two hours or so. I could call myself a procrastinator and think about what a jerk I am. Or I could say that’s the way I work. I like doing it that way.
Sometimes, your favorite projects are the things that you put off long enough until you realize that you don’t need to do the project. I procrastinate for so long that when I eventually get back to it, I realize there’s no real reason to get it done. Everyone is imperfect in some ways.
Taking the Plunge
Someone once said to me, “I want to un-school my kids because they’re getting bullied, but I’m working part-time and my coaching business isn’t bringing in enough money.” I said to her, “I have a friend who never likes to tell people to quit their job. But I’m not him. I always tell people to quit their job because where you are right now, you’re waiting for a miracle to happen. It didn’t happen today, when you suddenly got more clients. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. You just have to quit your job and then (believe me) your innate desire to eat will keep you growing. You won’t get a pay check next week so guess what? You’ll get more coaching clients!”
To do what you want to do in life, you first have to pay your dues. To coach people to make big changes in their lives, you must first take a big leap of faith yourself. You cannot pitch them and say, “Hi, I’m a coach and I help people to take the plunge during major life transitions, but personally I’m still working on my part-time job and haven’t taken the plunge yet.” That won’t cut it.
The best job I ever had, I worked as a graphic artist at Access Hollywood. I was making good money, but in Southern California when you’re the sole household earner, that’s still not enough. After a point, I knew it wouldn’t get any better until I changed something because I couldn’t even pay the bills keeping that job. I had three small kids and a wife to feed, so I knew I had to take some measures. I quit my job and had some money aside and we just upped and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to live in a hotel for a while, which a lot of people thought was either crazy or stupid at the time. But to me, even though it seemed dramatic, it was a healthy decision because being “homeless” technically was easier to recover from, because I knew I would be able to get out of it. That with my ability and desire to survive and keep my family well-fed, I wouldn’t stay in the homelessness rut for long.
But the problem with a job is, if you’re really stuck in one, is that you get trapped. You think “But what will happen to me if I don’t have this any longer? What can I do to keep the money? I’m used to people giving me a piece of paper every Friday that I then trade in for food and rent. What will I do without that check?” And you fall into a mindset that doesn’t allow you to easily think you can do it on your own. It took me six months of hotel living to figure out how to get back into the freelance mindset and how to use the tools available to me to make something happen. And now the tools are ten times better, more reliable, and more accessible than they were years ago when I first started.
When I started my job at NBC eight years ago, there was no YouTube, no Kindle, for instance. In contrast, if I lost all my possessions today, I could still go to the library; I could still make money and be back on my feet in a couple of weeks. I really do feel that way. Like it wouldn’t take more than a few weeks to get my life back together because there are so many tools, many opportunities, and things available now for free to market, promote, sell. As long as you have the basics and a PayPal account, many more marketing tools out there are free. So when you are out of that mindset of feeling trapped, and when you really think outside of the box, you will see so many people making a great income using the Internet and tools that technology provides us today. They don’t have to stick to a 9-to-5 job. And the largest difference is that they see opportunity in life. They know there comes a point when staying in your cocoon is more painful than breaking out of it.
During my stay in New Mexico, there were days when I didn’t know where my next paycheck was coming from, and that time, we lived paycheck to paycheck. There were moments when I had to drive myself to earn a daily income because I couldn’t afford telling my wife that I don’t have money to feed the kids, and I couldn’t tell her we may have to sleep in the car because we no longer had any money. Those were the scariest moments for me and I just couldn’t let them happen because I could lose the things I loved most in my life, my closest relationships, so that knowledge kept me going. If I were to look on the brighter side though, I knew I’d break out of my cocoon soon and that we were all together. And the day you put in your notice, you’ll know you need to do something to get money coming in the door and that you’re on your own. And that could, and will, totally scare you, until you realize that it may just be one of the most beautiful journeys of life you could actually go on.
My friend once said to me when I moved, “When you move to New Mexico, it takes six months for your body to acclimate to the height, and your blood changes.” I liked hearing that and it’s what life in general is about, I think, when you go from a more structured “I have a job” lifestyle to a freelance lifestyle. Your blood doesn’t change into freelancer blood immediately. And it can’t change, say, living in NYC either. You have to move to Albuquerque to experience that. In other words, you have to take the plunge.
About: Lee Stranahan is an American writer, filmmaker, journalist, and multimedia artist/teacher. He blogs at BigJournalism and BigGovernment. To learn more about Lee, visit his website here.