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Go Forth and Conquer

[Title stolen from TechCrunch.]

One of the things I do on Sunday afternoons is read stuff that makes me think. Not always directly-work-related stuff, but interesting stuff that might kick my mental butt into taking a new direction, or make me think about myself and my work in new ways.

I have a couple of regular go-to places, like Live Science and Arts and Letters Daily. I also collect interesting links during the work week from the people I follow on Twitter and some of my Facebook friends. Not directly-work-related links—those I read during normal online time—but odd stuff that catches my eye but doesn’t fit with the topics I’m researching for work.

Today, the headline that grabbed my attention and got a deathgrip on one of my otherwise-unoccupied neurons, was a TechCrunch guest post by Aaron Levie, the founder and CEO of

Now, I’ve been a fan of as a collaboration tool since shortly after its beta opened, but online storage isn’t a topic I consider especially inspiring. It was the title in the Twitter link that intrigued me; “Go Forth and Conquer” sounded like something that might improve my outlook on this gloomy, grey, cold October afternoon.

It did.

Levie points out three strategies that can keep a software company from drowning during the startup years. They look to me like good advice for freelance web designers and tech writers, too.

  1. “Make sure you’re constantly doing something that wasn’t possible 3 years ago.”

    The speed of change is increasing. We may not be inventing a whole new technology ourselves, but we freelancers can seize the opportunity to apply someone else’s less-than-3yr-old technology to a familiar task to serve our clients’ needs. Whether it’s using cloud storage to transfer working files among members of a project team, implementing new instructional design techniques, or taking advantage of new features in the latest version of WordPress to streamline our workflow to meet tighter deadlines, doing new things (or old things in new ways) can mean the difference between success and bare survival in a sagging economy.

  2. “Do something you’re extremely passionate about.”

    Sometimes, we let necessity drive us to do work we dislike in order to pay the mortgage or put food on the table. I’ve done this several times. It doesn’t work for very long. Really.
    Oh, it’s fine when everything goes well—when there are no unusual on-the-job stresses, and when health and family life are progressing normally—but, eventually, something will go wrong and it all goes to hell. If I’m not working on something I really care about, something I feel is truly important and involves skills that make me feel useful and valuable, something that I really and truly enjoy, I start getting crabby. Nobody likes me when I’m a crabby person. It irritates my husband, and doesn’t thrill clients, either.
    If I’m not passionate about my work, and about working for this client, then it gets harder and harder for me to concentrate on the things I need to pay attention to, and to produce the quality of work that will make me proud to add this project to my portfolio. This is deadly for anyone, but especially for a freelancer. Without a killer piece or three in my portfolio that I can describe with passionate enthusiasm, it’s hard to convince prospects to trust me with their projects. And without work that I absolutely love, dealing with health setbacks and family emergencies would leave me chronically anxious and depressed.

  3. “Keep looking up (and never look down).”

    The worst times of my life, professionally, were the times I forgot to keep my mind focused on what I wanted to accomplish and, instead, spent way too much time dwelling on what my competition was doing and second-guessing my old decisions.
    Ack! Ptui! Don’t do that.
    Don’t give up your dream too soon. Don’t let discouraging comments from others make you doubt your ability to succeed. Of course, we need to consider feedback that will help us improve, but there is no reason to accept uncritically every mean-spirited thing someone says about you and your talent. If things don’t work out the way you expect, review the decisions that got you there once to see if there is anything you can learn from the experience, then lock ’em away and go on to the next thing.

Lessons learned on this October Sunday afternoon:

  • I need to keep learning new stuff, and using what I learn.
  • I need to be self-analytical and realistic without losing the passion and drive that got me started in the first place.

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