I’m a distance runner (marathons and ultra-marathons). Running is something that helps me think clearly. It’s a moving meditation. This oxygen-pumping, bone-strengthening activity we call running is a lot more than an exercise. It opens your senses and clears your mind; no matter how bad you are feeling on any given day, you will always come back happy from a run.
All your dreams are hidden on the other side of your fears. I find running marathons to be very similar to freelancing. Both are scary and full of uncertainties, but once you’re into it, they’re very rewarding. When it comes to running marathon distances, it's a lot more than just running; you set goals, plan, and act. You have to go through training and make a lot of sacrifices, very much like what we must do as freelancers. Here are things that running taught me that are very much applicable to the freedom of freelancing:
1. Goals are the starting point
A goal is like a guiding light; this is something that will get you going in the right direction. As a marathoner or freelancer, the first thing you need is a clear goal on what you want. Your goal is why you do something.
If you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there.
Everything starts with the simple idea of having a goal. In this case, that’s running a marathon or working for yourself as a freelancer. Only the top three out of thousands of runners will be rewarded; what keeps the rest of the runners going is their goal. All of them have a personal goal (running the first marathon, running a faster marathon becoming fit). Everyone who crosses that finish line after going through the pain of running a marathon will be happy. It’s the satisfaction of achieving your goals.
2. Action is the only way to get to your goals
Once you know what you want, and define your why, then the next step is taking consistent action. As the saying goes, “Everybody wants to live long, but nobody wants to get old.” As soon as the year ends, a lot of people set a lot of ambitious goals, but by the second week of January, they’re back to their old routines.
A goal without action is just a wishlist.
Everyone wants to be successful, but some forget the most important ingredient is action. Setting goals is the easiest part, taking consistent action day after day is where all the magic happens. Go for training, submit proposals, and work on making your profile better day after day. This is the most difficult thing, but essential to bringing you closer to your goals.
I recently read a beautiful quote in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson: “When taking action is your only measure of success, even failures move you forward.”
3. You must endure pain and failures
In running, some days you feel like flying effortlessly, but other days it’s a struggle to take the next step. Pain and failures are part of any journey. The quality of your goals is defined by how many times you fail or struggle in the process of achieving them.
As a freelancer on Upwork, every day is not the same. Some months you may get a lot of invites and jobs and make a lot of money. Then you hit periods with no invites and maybe even no income. Sometimes weeks even months go like this. That's okay; failures and pain are part of the process. Once you make peace with failures, everything is a success.
4. Training is the only way forward
This is more in line with #3. No matter how hard the last day was, or how poorly you think your last interview went, you get up every day and show the same enthusiasm.I have seen a lot of my friends start to run and the moment they stopped seeing the progress they moved on to something else, again making some progress and in a couple of months starting with something completely new. Years passed by like this and every December their Number 1 personal goal is to "become fitter" or “lose weight”.
The same thing with freelancing, I know at least 4-5 of my close friends who started freelancing and the moment a rough patch came, they jumped onto some other shiny thing and began chasing a different goal.
One of my favorite books, "The ONE Thing" had a great quote on the cover page:
“When you chase two rabbits, you catch none.”
Stick to your training, stick to your areas of expertise. Stay focused, and show up every day with the same enthusiasm. That's the only thing that moves you closer to your goal day by day.
5. Highs and Lows
There will be highs and there will be lows, that’s the only thing guaranteed. It is like any other journey, to reach the top, you need to start from the bottom, climb to the top, and then descend again in order to climb the next mountain. Be ready for a similar journey in freelancing. Maybe you finish a dream project and get excellent client feedback, but then with the next project, you are struggling to meet the deadlines and the client's expectations. No matter how hard the going gets, our job is to keep moving. In a marathon, you go through all those emotions during that 26.2 miles / 42.195km. Happy, excited, tired, cursing, struggling, and then comes the finish line and you are proud that you dared to keep going.
The key is to keep going, one step at a time, one day at a time, one project at a time.
6. It’s rewarding at the end, and then you start all over again
The amount of satisfaction is equally proportionate to how much effort you have put in and how much pain and struggle you have gone through in achieving your goal. Have you ever wondered why athletes cry even after winning a race? It reminds them about the challenges they had to overcome to see this day.
Just believe that every time you fail, every time you don’t get through that job, it will add joy to your success. There is a famous SRT Ultramarathon (Sinhgad - Rajgad - Torna) in my city. It’s an incredibly difficult, 12-hour marathon. I failed to finish 2 years in a row and last year I made it at exactly 12:00:00 (last-minute finisher). When I crossed the finish line, it was the best moment of my life. When I look back, I think that every time I failed, it added more joy to my success.
It does not end there. Once you achieve your goal, you start again for your next goal. Life is about solving problems, overcoming challenges, and achieving goals one after another. Goals are just milestones to remind you to celebrate your success.
I tell all my running buddies who are attempting their first marathon, “When you cross that finish line for the marathon, you are a completely changed person.”
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