Keeping the Self in "Self-Employed"

Keeping in the Self in “Self-Employed” presentation by Barbra Rodriguez as part of the “Skill Taco” speaker series at Createscape Coworking on May 15, 2019.


So my day job is being a writer and an editor and I switched to freelancing a couple of years ago after working for universities doing PR for over a decade. But my side passion, one of them, is martial arts. And I've been training in a martial art for 25 years and I've been teaching college students for the last 10 or so and it's spiritually-based martial arts. And I'm also just very passionate about self-development. So when I switched to running my own business, a real important factor for me was how to make sure that I did things that I wanted to do. Because it can be very tough when you're freelancing and you're trying to build a business to stay focused on what you think is important because you're so busy trying to get your clients happy, particularly when you're starting out.

So what I'm going to be talking about today is some of the tools that I've been using to try to keep myself in the picture so that I don't get burned out. And I wanted to share those with you.

So if we look at the traditional paradigm of know like and trust if you stay to client focused what you're ultimately doing is staying in the very first part of that equation because that's all about the client defining who your audience is and reaching them in the best tools possible so that they know you exist. But when you get into the “like” and the “trust factor,” who you are comes more into the equation. So the first part about “like” is being relevant: so providing them with a relevant product or service. But it's also about their connection to you. They want to feel that you are genuinely interested in what you're doing and that they value the product that you have. And that's going to be easier to do if you connect with the work that you're doing and its values.

In addition, when you get to the trust factor, having consistency in your messaging and an equality of your product and all of that, it's easier to do if you really value what you're doing. So taking Createscape as an example, I know that Keller has told me that he started out as being not the only person that began this organization but my suspicion is -- and it pretty much shows in this place -- is that he really connects to creating a space that freelancers can be successful in and that can help them succeed. And so that's why every little detail he pays attention to and it shows an equality of what he does. That he's connected to what he's doing.

So one of the concepts in martial arts that's really important to think about is your stance. So different martial arts -- one martial art might have a T-stance and that's how they get ready for an attack. Another martial art might have a very wide stance. In the martial art that I do they have a natural stance with your knees a little bit bent and your your weight basically even over your feet. Each of them has a way, if you will, of grounding themselves to handle whatever comes at them. And by taking your values and infusing those into what you do, that in a sense is grounding yourself in your work so that you can come into whatever situation with a client and be your best self. And so it has the potential to increase your ability to interact well with your clients, in part, because if you define your values then you create a structure and you can create boundaries on what you’re willing to accept and what you're not willing to accept. And having clear boundaries makes relationships with others easier. And in the long term, if you feel more connected because you value what you're doing, chances are your business is going to last longer.

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So here are a couple of different ways that you can identify what your values are. My favorite is to take a piece of paper and just off the top of your head list 20 things that you like to do, and it can be anything. It can be bicycle racing. Remember, this is your personal values. So forget about your job for a minute. Forget about what you do and just list. It can include -- I like bubble baths. That's perfectly acceptable. I like to take naps. That's perfectly fine because what you're going to do once you come up with a list of 12 to 20 -- whatever works for you, things that you like to do -- is you can then take those values or those activities and look at what connects them and where they differ. So you can look at things like, does this activity require money, does this activity involve lots of people or not? So, you know, whether or not you value a certain amount of privacy, does this activity if you're like me, does it impact body, mind, and soul? And how many of them impact body, mind, and soul? And this can help you in a variety of ways. For example, if you find out that a lot of the things on your list don't have to do with having money then maybe you can take more risks with your business and you'll be okay because you don't need a big pot to work off of. But if you find that that's not the case, then that might change your perspective and also how you approach your business.

Another way to do this is to just take values-related personality test -- and I've included a link to one that I've done before. That will give you like a 40-page spread on how your values relate to how you approach work. So you can use someone else and their little test to help define this. You can also look at a list of values and then see what resonates with you, or ask your friends. You know, here's a list of values. Which ones do you think relate to me because it can be hard to figure out for yourself. And I've listed a book called The Sacred Six, which is where -- which has informed a lot of my thinking. And it's available digitally through the Austin Public Library and he lists 417 to 17 different values that you can consider. But here, you can just go on the web and here's an example of a list from a leadership oriented organization that I've found. So things like happiness, authority, balance, harmony, knowledge, and the recommendation by Glossinger is to get down to six to 10 values that really matter to you and then work from there.

And the ultimate goal in this, in terms of defining your values, is that so often we tend to think about our business in terms of our competition. You know, hey, there's thousands of content marketers. Maybe there's X -- about 1,000 in Austin or whatever -- and we tend to think about, “How can I be unique? What can I bring to the picture that's different from them?” And that can be helpful in some ways but if you look at it from a values perspective, you can start to focus instead on how to compete with your best self and use that as a way to drive your business because ultimately, this is a quote from an old self-development book, your own values. Your own standards are the only basis on which you can design a life that will truly satisfy you.

So let's move on to defining a personal mission statement. Here's a couple of different ways you can do that: One is to do another open-ended exercise where you say, “Who am I?” And then you just let yourself free right or talk in to...I was going say a tape recorder but maybe your cell phone these days. Or draw or paint. Whatever works for you. And figure out how are you viewing yourself right now. And then look afterwards, analyze that and see how many of those roles you play or roles that other people are expecting of you, and how many of those do you truly connect to. And try to separate out those two.

In addition, you can follow the Joseph Campbell approach of finding your bliss. So what were three different points in your life where you did something and you really felt engaged and going with the flow and you forgot about time?

For me, I loved feature writing. Once I get into it, I hate the pre-part, I hate right before I start because I know it's going to take a lot of work, but once I get into it I'm just hooked. I really enjoyed that a lot. So find those. Identify who you're with when you're doing them. So again, is this something that you like to do by yourself or with others? what are the things that you're doing and what are the emotions in that thing that really appeal to you? What did you like about yourself and how you felt while doing those? Another thing you can do is the “invite three people to dinner” approach. You know, invite Benjamin Franklin and so on. Think about people that you admire and what is it that you admire about them? But dig really deep into analyzing ‘how did they get to where they are?’ What is it that you really like about their life and about their behavior? And maybe use that to develop your mission statement from or to start to develop from.

If you want more suggestions on this people probably know Stephen Covey. His son, Sean Covey, actually has a much better book in some ways that a colleague of mine at the Eight Gates (is her organization) recommends, which is called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, and it's just very straightforward. Then it provides different...other approaches for developing your personal mission statement.

So here are some examples of mission statements, and they can vary a lot as you can see. So using this, the first one focuses on her characteristics. Using my intelligence, charisma, and optimism to help women increase their self-worth and net worth. Walt Disney, of course everyone knows Disney, to make people happy. So it can be very simple in that sense. But if you have ever been to someplace like Disney World -- and actually, a friend of mine is a music director at a school district and they call it “Mouse-witz”. They call it that because if you're a high school band, then you go and perform at Disney World, they expect you to perform very specific songs and you have say one minute, 15 seconds that you perform it in. So even though the mission statement is very broad, once you get into the reality of how that business is run it gets very specific.

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But you can use something like a general mission statement or part of your mission statement. When your day is really crazy and just say, “You know what? I can't do anything else but try to smile and then everyone I meet today and that's all I can do because my plate is just way too full to think beyond that.” So it's okay to use part of your values or your mission statement as a guide, depending on the moment.

So here are my six values that I came up with for myself and then using that I was able to tailor a very specific mission statement. I used my grounded nature and creativity to help myself and others in nature heal while pursuing adventures that add to my connection basically. So giving this talk is a part of fulfilling my personal mission statement, but it's not what's on my job description or for my job. But it is a part of making me feel connected. And you can also add it in yours once you define your personal values and all that. You can use it to change up how you present your business.

So the tagline that I have on my business card right now sucks. It sucks because it's a fear-based list of things that I can do because I just want to be hired. So the version that from just looking at my values and all that -- the version that I've come up with for my tagline that I'll use moving forward is fostering connection through empowering edits and engaging storytelling. So it has an emotional aspect to it that the previous tagline completely lacked and it connects to my values. So it matters more to me but of course, you know, coming up with a great tagline is not going to make your day work better.

So now I'm going to talk about specific things that you can do to build into your workday that can help. And there's a great quote from Alice Walker about looking closely at the present you're constructing because you want it to be like the world that you want to create and that's what this is all about. One of the ways to do this, I mend this signing up for the newsletter at courage and clarity, calm. Just because you get this free 15-minute planner approach from her, but I'll quickly talk to you about what it is. And I don't think she developed it but I love -- I've been using it since February and I really like it. What you do is it's basically a way to make room in your schedule for the things that matter to you, whether or not that's building your business. For example, through taking courses that you want to take and so on. Or it's personal things that matter to you. What often tends to happen is we take care of the big stuff in our business and then we do all the maintenance tasks. And what we really want to get to falls down to the very bottom of the list. So what she recommends doing is list everything you want to get done in a week, and then the dates of the week on another side of the piece of paper, and put maintenance tasks. So for example, if you have not filed -- if you have an LLC, today is the last day to file your no-franchise tax report. So keep that in mind and that might want to you might want to have that on your maintenance list. But tweeting, getting a couple of tweets out, might be on your maintenance list. Cleaning up your desktop computer or physical. And so on. And then once you have your list done, Project X, I need to give a PowerPoint presentation on Friday. Project: why I need to do background research for this client. Then you go to the days of the week section, write down the events that need to happen. So you have a meeting with a client here for Project Y and you have that presentation that you're giving on Friday for Project X, fill in all the have-to-do things and then the next step is to look at the things that you want to get done and put maybe on Wednesday I'm going to update my LinkedIn profile and I'm going to make sure that I consider the Mediabistro course that I want to take next. That kind of thing. And then you just do the maintenance stuff. Just fill that in throughout the day wherever it can fit in.

OK, so you don't get lost to the things that matter to you, the thing that I would add on to this is to take -- what I use is a red pen -- the things that connect to your values I put red under so I know that I for sure at least hit one or two of those during the week.

So that's one approach to doing this. Another thing is if you have a job that allows you to select your clients, come up with a ranking list for each project, particularly if you have two options for future projects. Because if you're like me, I will jump at whatever comes at me. And this forces me to think about, “Is this really helping me out?” So on this list I'll have, “Is it writing work?” Which is harder for me to get, but I value in some ways more, so I want to be sure that's on that. That's on there. Am i interested in the topic? Is this repeat business likely? Do I like the client? If you don't know something like, do I like the client, because it's a new possibility, you can either cross that one out and subtract three points from the whole list or you can give things that you don't know a two and just give them a middle ranking. But it's a way of forcing yourself to consider what matters to you most before you take on a client. And I think ultimately the goal of all of this is to really look at the big picture of what you're doing and what matters to you.

Freelancing allows you to create structure in a way that most positions don't. And even if you're here and you work for a company, hopefully you have a little bit of freedom in what you're doing. And you can then define your world the way that you want to a little bit more through tasks like this. There was a science communications workshop recently that I went to and the keynote speaker had a great quote. During it he was saying this about science writing, but I think it applies to freelancing in general, that it's a tough way to make a living but it can be a wonderful way to build a life.

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Presentation by Barbra Rodriguez

Transcript Edited for Clarity

Edited by Riki Markowitz