When I began freelancing nearly nine years ago, I loved the freedom, but I had never felt so alone. Sure, I got feedback from clients on specific projects, but suddenly I lacked the sense of my professional self that my day-to-day encounters in the office used to provide. I found my emotions boomeranging from elation to despair depending on the last comment I’d heard from a client.
I had a good friend in the same industry who’d taken the plunge to go solo a few years before I did. Quickly, we found ourselves on the phone a couple of times a week, kvetching or celebrating about our most recent experiences. Knowing that somebody as smart as Sarah faced criticisms and revisions of her work, the same way I did, helped straighten out my head. Jokingly, we called our little association Freelancers Anonymous. Which turned out to be pretty close to the truth.
If you work solo, I’d recommend starting your own chapter of FA. For Sarah and me, the services FA provides have mushroomed over the years. We read and critique each other’s proposals and projects; I can’t tell you how many times Sarah has zeroed in on an aspect of the job I’ve neglected or suggested a new approach to win a piece of business. I hope I’ve done the same for her. We meet once a year at a Boston hotel (midway between Maine, where she lives and my Hudson Valley home) to present our strategic plans. Yes, strategic plans. We write out goals for the coming year: new clients and new types of business we want to attract (and how we plan to land it), how to deal with various issues in our industry like declining pay for the same work, and even personal projects like the novel I vowed to write two years ago (yes, I actually did it). I am quite sure I would never create a list of goals if it were not for FA. Not only do we analyze and critique each other’s goals, we make each other accountable for sticking to them with quarterly updates.
Bassam Tarazi, founder of Colipera (Collective Inspiration + Personal Accountability), disovered the power of groups when he took a screenwriting class. “I was doing everything about writing – thinking about it, planning for it — except writing. The group meet once a week and I wrote 24 sketches over eight weeks. Why did this happen? Why was I so disciplined? Ninety-percent of the reason were the six other people who showed up with me and looked me in the eye. We want to be respected by our peers. If I didn’t show up with sketches, I’d be letting the group down.”
Of course, the success of a career support group depends on finding someone (or a few someones) who understands what you do. It has to be somebody you trust enough to fully level with even about those fears that bloom in the middle of the night and respect enough to listen to their advice even when it hurts. Tarazi says “you are who you surround yourself with.” The people in your group “have to understand your struggle and your plight. They need to be at the same stage.”
If you’re job hunting, you need support even more. If you live in New Jersey, you may be able to take advantage of a fledgling support group that’s growing strong. Neighbors Helping Neighbors brings together job seekers who meet weekly at a local library to share experiences, job leads and networking opportunities. It was launched in River Edge, New Jersey by John Fugazzie, in January 2011. He was unemployed and searching for some support. He didn’t want a pity party so he created a group that would be positive and productive. Over the past two years, it has mushroomed to 25 regular meetings in eight New Jersey counties and is catching fire in other places like Boston. “A hundred and ninety one people have gotten jobs with help from our groups,” Fugazzie says. “The groups are free. I built this with zero funding. Libraries donate the space. Career coaches help us pro bono.” Join an existing group or get inspired to form one by the inspiring stories on the Facebook page.
Going solo may be fine for Charles Lindbergh. But I’m betting even Lucky Lindy enjoyed having a copilot from time to time.
Susan Crandell, a former editor-in-chief of More magazine, is the author of Thinking About Tomorrow: Reinventing Yourself at Midlife.