How I Dropped the Freelance Ball, and What You Can Learn from It

Mar 17

I’m not very good…

…at toss–the-balls-up-in-the-air-and-catch-them juggling.

Ok, I’m worse than “not very good”;   I can’t do it.

Before you can-do-ologists jump in with encouragement, sure, I know that with enough practice I’d  develop the hand-eye coordination, focus, and discipline required for basic juggling.  But I’m talking about my “right-now skills”, the marketable ones. Theoretically, I could learn to juggle, but practically, you do not want to hire me to entertain at your next party by juggling GeeMa’s china.

It’s ok.   I suck at actual juggling.  You can say it.

I’m rather bad at metaphorical juggling, too. You know, the kind that has to do with balancing various life tasks, skills and projects? The kind of juggling that is *crucial* for a successful freelancer?

Yeah.  I suck at that, too.

To illustrate my suckage, here’s a look at what happened this past month.

I had a number of ongoing client projects rolling;  two were behind schedule on, but still  do-able.  Ok.  Manageable month. That’s like 4 balls up in the air.

So then I had the not-so-bright idea of taking on the 28 Day CustomerLove challenge, and developing a product to launch with it.  That’s like trying to twirl a hoop on one foot, while still keeping those 4 balls up in the air.

And just after I’d paid for the associated CustomerLove e-Course, Jennifer Lee asked if I’d join the Right Brainers in Business Summit, and OMG, that was so cool!

Exciting. Opportunity. Exposure for my own stuff. And how perfect that it would happen just as I would have finished the product/promotion for #CustomerLove. Amazeballs! (as Michelle Ward would say). Guest posts! Freebies! Affiliate links! Community! Yes! This is what I live for! (and oh yeah did I mention it was a live video summit when my only previous attempt at video did not work well? Um. Never mind that.)

Now I had 4 balls up in the air, a hoop on one foot, and I’ve grabbed a flaming baton. “Yes!  We can DO this! We are Super-RingMaster-Juggler!” *cough cough sputter*

I could have managed all of this…

…if everything had gone right.

For a month.

And as YOU are no doubt wise enough to know, everything NEVER goes right for a whole month.  I’m apparently not that wise.  Because it didn’t all go right, of course. Things went wrong. Lots of things. Things that were on fire with their neediness.

Things like, well…  a web client’s site got hacked.  Much support and fixing needed, like, yesterday!  So. Ok.  Everything was no longer doable.

So I rearranged. I dropped personal stuff. I dropped Circus stuff. I shuffled deadlines. I delegated.  I made judgment calls about priority, based on what I knew about hard vs soft deadlines, cost to me vs cost to clients, and the impact on the rest of their stuff.

I thought I had it back under control.

Until I found out that I didn’t have all of the information, that one of my client deadlines that I’d thought was arbitrary had morphed into a hard-omg-have-to-have-it-YESTERDAY deadline.

I’d misjudged priorities. Ouch. Flaming hoops and balls were flying all over the place, and I was ducking and running for cover.

There was no way it could all be done. So instead of preparing for the summit that night, I stayed up until 3am.  I dropped the rest of my promotional plans, and spent that night, and the entire next week including weekends staying up until 3am, hoping to minimize the loss to one client, while hoping the web client didn’t get hacked again while I was busy.

It’s done now.  Almost.

I don’t think I burnt down anyone’s house, but I’ll let you know if I wind up chief suspect in an arson investigation.

Now, I know this stuff happens.  It happens to other freelancers all the time.  It happens at Mr.Spouse’s Fortune 500 company.   Getting multiple projects out at the same time means juggling, prioritizing according to client need, and, sometimes? We just don’t have all the info, things go wrong, stuff is late and it costs other people money.

It sucks. And it’s part of doing business.
I know this.  But me? I don’t have the stomach for it.

Now, I’m not a big fan of “Lessons Learned” posts, but this whole thing illustrated some key points for me:

  • I’ve finally realized how many balls and hoops and juggling clubs are up in the air at any given time.
  • I suck at juggling, whether actual or metaphorical. Yes, I can get better, but no amount of practice will get me a slot on Ed Sullivan.
  • I feel insanely, torturously guilty if I drop the ball, as if I’d singlehandedly cost imageMr. Sullivan his only shot at a  place in Television History or something.
  • For me, freelancing as much a pull on energy and time as a cubicle job, and maybe more so.  I mean, I  can’t leave it at the office, my reputation is always on the line, there are no sick days, no one I can delegate tasks to, no one to kick it upstairs to, for approval and an opinion.
  • As much as I love working with freelance clients (and I do love you, clients! Each and every hair pulling moment we share is worth it, when I see the final result), and as much as I want to keep a creative toe in each little pool of income that pays this or that bill? I have to stop.

I’m not a freelancer.

It’s not the business I need to be in.

For me? Doing art, writing, design, code for someone else requires giving up my personal creative work. It means no more Emmit. No more Circus, Quirkipreneurs, or Habit Habitats.  No more <sekrit-project-I-can’t-tell-you-about-yet> and no more brain training stuff.    In fact, now that I think about it? Freelancing is what killed my last blog and business.

And as much as some of you might like my help with WordPress and graphics and illustrations and writing?  You’ll be better off hiring someone else.

Someone better at juggling.

So what can you learn from this?

We’re all different.

Some of us are great jugglers.
Some of us aren’t.
Some of us need space to work on our own stuff.
Some of us are brilliant working in support of other people’s stuff.

So here’s my question for you, today:


What business do YOU need to get out of, in order to do your very best work?


  1. My biz that I had to stop was being a Virtual Assistant. I did it for almost a year. During that year I didn’t make things or work on my coaching business or jewelry business. I was a total zombee. While I totally miss the money cuz at the moment I have none, I know not having that job is the best thing. Now if I can just avoid getting another one. lol.

    It is good that you realized what you don’t want to do. Know that is as helpful maybe more helpful than knowing what you can do.

  2. I love you for putting this so eloquently.

    I made the decision to stop coding for clients a month ago and I’ve never been happier – such a huge weight off my mind.

  3. I walked away from my 9 to 5 job last Friday for out here on my own in scaryland, also known as being an entrepreneur. Thank you so much for sharing this! We all have to find our own way, but it’s so much easier when we know we’re not alone!

  4. Hooray for knowing limits, Tori.

    I too am in the process of re-evaluating my priorities and capabilities and I also suck at the juggling. Eventually I will clear all my existing ‘they already paid for it’ work but I’m not taking on new stuff at the moment because I’ve discovered that the jars are enough for now and they’re taking all my best energy. The major worry is money though. Stinky old money!

  5. Yup – been there this last month with editorial deadlines. Editors DO NOT want to hear about missing a deadline (never mind that they usually aren’t ready to start editing for another month.) But, still had to ask for some leeway on one (just one – nearly killed me!) from an editor I happen to know very well who knows I’m not a flake with scheduling problems. Ack!

    Not sure just yet what’s got to give- thinking on it!

  6. Tori, were we sisters in another life? Or maybe twins separated at birth? Are we living in a parallel universe? I’ve been wrestling with some sort of identity crisis because I’ve been trying to be what others expect of me rather than who I really am. Just this week I’ve made some mammoth decisions to save myself so I don’t become extinct like a mammoth. The decisions I made go against traditional wisdom, but they are best for me, for the moment. I’ve been wondering when and how to break the news. I like your pull-off-the-bandaid-quick approach.

  7. Tori Deaux /

    @Delisa Yay for hanging up the VA hat! Bizarrely, what I “want” to do didn’t factor into this. I only took freelance jobs I really wanted to do. That’s part of the trap for me. I’d draw lines, and say, “time to focus on my stuff!” then along would come something that looked just perfect and fun and… yeah. See how it happens? 🙂

    @Christy: Ha! It does feel like we’re suddenly part of this great big family of people who are like us in ways we thought no one was like us (that sentence makes sense in my head)

    Unfortunately, I haven’t pulled-off-the-bandaid quickly – it took a long time for me to figure this out, and trying to have the multiple-streams-of-income from freelancing and my own products has actually cost me quite a bit of money!

    @Barb: Congrats and welcome to Scaryland!Your ticket entitles you to free popcorn and cotton candy available at the souvenir stand!

    @Nathan & @Kirsty thanks for ‘getting’ it, and being part of the great-big-we-aren’t-really-going-it-alone movement 🙂

  8. Maureen /

    “Sure I can.” used to be my mantra. Just like you Tori, something cool would come along and into the pool I would jump.
    Charitable orgs are my gig but what I did was repackage what I am doing. I’m working with three different organizations but with the same theme: community creating for people who WANT to live indepedently but need some suppoert. All three are cool and look at things from a different perspective. Once a great idea pops up, I do a little magic so it fits the other two and presto, chango! I have something that works for all three. I learn a ton, it is less time consuming and I get to hang out with a gazillion other magicians.
    Then I take what I learn from that and coach other management people, from charitable organizations, in a whole other circle of magicians…you know the kind. The kind who can pull something out of thin air.
    I always admire your ability and willingness to publically make yourself vulnerable by sharing what works for you and what doesn’t

  9. Tori- YES!! OMG I am such a bad juggler (real and metaphorical) my last 6 months have been about releasing things that do not serve . . . and I’m feeling lighter, getting more done, tearing out less hair . . . still a ways to go . . but YES, thank you for articulating this so beautifully… I have a few coaching clients I’m going to share this post with 🙂

  10. I’m not entirely sure what it is I have to get out of yet, but I do know I’ve got to get the balance right in my life too. I got sidewiped by pain this week, which throws everything off, but I’m not sure how I factor that in when it strikes so unpredictably.

  11. Hi, Tori —

    This post is swirled through with three kinds of fabulousness. The business I needed to get out of — and did get out of at the start of this year — was SEO copywriting. As a lifelong writer, it took me until I was over 30 to *commit* to making my life’s work about my writing. But to my surprise, writing business/marketing copy for other entrepreneurs’ websites wasn’t my most natural and fulfilling vehicle for the use of my writing gift. LOVED my clients, didn’t love the actual process of writing copy as much I wanted to. So earlier this year, I reconfigured my business to make it about what I LOVE LOVE LOVE, so that I can work with whom I love AND preserve my writing for use IN my own biz, and in my own personal writing projects.

    Have a feeling this is going to be one of your most popular posts. So many of us need to understand that just because we CAN do something {and even do it really well}, doesn’t mean that we SHOULD or we HAVE TO. Thanks for writing this. 🙂

  12. First of all ‘YAY’ to being back online in a place that doesn’t ban the Circus from my computer! Glad to be back with you Tori.

    Funnily enough, this time I’ve had to stop trying to force my business to work before it (or I) am actually ready. I’ve gone back into a job, stopped stressing about money, and got better at managing my time. Wonderful to realise that I haven’t lost any enthusiasm or passion for my ‘real’ work in the process, but this temporary break has taken the pressure off. I’ll take your approach soon 😀

  13. Took me a day or 3 to realize I actually did have an answer to this!

    I’m already out of it, and not by my own choice, but what it was (the it that was in the way) was creating content for others. As much as I loved being able to share my knowledge with a larger audience (and the money wasn’t bad, either) I had no time left for my own projects. When the program I was a part of was canceled I realized I didn’t want to do that anymore: didn’t want to give up my time and creativity to pad someone else’s website.

    It may take me longer to be seen and heard by going it on my own, but it’ll be on my terms and totally my win or loss in the end, and that’s what’s most important to me.

    Oh, and I had a similar juggling experience last year:

  14. @Maureen, you’re re-purposing ideas and solutions like writers repurpose content? Very cool juggling technique!

    @Paula, yay for feeling lighter. And I’m so glad this post resonated – somehow my “OMG I havent written in eons what can I say quickly?” posts always seem the most helpful. Go figure!

    @Ryah, wouldn’t it be great if we could just opt to set down the health issues? Hmm… maybe we could outsource ’em!

    @Abby The “whose content do I want to produce?” question is one that nearly killed me last year, too. I really admire people that can produce both paid-content and content for their own projects. For me, it splits my attention. Argh. And thanks for the (likely unintentional) nudge to get that “must read posts” widget up in the sidebar!”

    @Meg! So glad you found your way back to the Circus. I think I’m going to do a follow up post, because I’m afraid people will think my “drop the outside work” is the right way. And it’s definitely not (as you’re proving)

    @Scraps Love the comic page. And yeah, I’ve not done the “get your voice out there” paid content route for a long while; it still periodically tempts me. My current approach is get my product stuff done and up for sale, THEN put the word out. The various content farms may or may not be part of that. We shall see!

  15. @Tori Ha ha! Outsource the pain… wonder who I could bamboozle into taking that on?!

  16. This post has stuck with me over the weekend and I’ve really been thinking about the idea of letting something go. Funny, that didn’t occur to me earlier… Now, to think about what that might be. Thanks for asking that question at just the right time 🙂

    Also, earlier comment strangeness due to speaking/typing without brain engaged. That’s been happening a lot lately and it worries me. Perhaps it’s just one more sign that something has to give!

  17. OMG, THANK YOU!!! :>

    You have explained, in one blog post, why Mike & I have been so resistant to putting up services pages on our sites, even tho’ it can be the fastest way to the money.

    So, it’s not so much a quitting for us, as a never-starting, but it’s all one-on-one services except limited jewelry and talisman creation.

    This will free us to create products that will help many, rather than helping one-at-a-time, which we are neither physically nor temperamentally suited to doing sustainably over the long haul.

    So congrats on your epiphany and thank you for helping us with ours! 🙂

  18. Bingo!

    I’ve been moving away from freelancing for the past year. I’m actually a pretty good juggler (of virtual balls, that is; I can’t juggle physical stuff to save my life, though I did spend a year studying aerial arts…) but do I LIKE juggling?

    Err, no.

    At least not THAT many balls.

    So, I’m focusing on the kinds of work I really WANT to do (consulting/coaching, developing my “info products,” building my Thriving Artists Project community, making my art, making my music).

    Sometimes freelancing can be a bit like “golden handcuffs.” It’s hard to pull yourself away from a job, especially a job that *you created*. But the larger goal is to grow a sustainable *business*, and there’s a difference there.

    Good for you for getting clarity, Tori! And thanks for sharing your story.

  19. First… let me just give you the sincere praise you deserve on two fronts: 1) your blog is beautiful and unique – I love that it is actually custom illustrated! Wow. 2) You are brave to write about your challenges so openly – and generous because I know it helps others to hear that it is not just them!

    I think you hit on something important here: we are all different. We all have natural and learned traits – strengths and weaknesses, if you will. It is important to know enough about your own innate strengths that you can choose a type of work and a way to work that fits you instead of throwing you into fits!

    I’m working on a ‘Sekrit’ project related to assessing your personality so you can make your work feel like freedom, not handcuffs – golden or not.