The only personal growth goal you’ll ever need

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There is so much advice out there about how to develop yourself that it’s easy to get overwhelmed, and come to think it’s easier not to change.

Far from being motivated, too much advice has the effect of paralysing you, and you may well end up doing nothing.

I read a lot of books, about personal development, spirituality, science, business, entrepreneurship, writing. And I always hold one value in mind when I am absorbing new information, which is to strive for balance in everything I do.

Balance in what I eat

For example, I want to eat healthily so I try to eat more vegetables, less meat and processed foods, limit sugar, and all that.

But, if I go towards the extreme of eating healthily, I end up becoming rigid and joyless, unable to enjoy a treat because I’ve labelled all foods that aren’t healthy as ‘bad’.

To find a balance, I would also make sure I allow myself to enjoy crisps, or some cake, a fizzy drink or whatever. But if all I’m eating is chips and nuggets, I’m going too far the other way towards eating junk food and not looking after myself.

All things in life have a balance between opposites at their heart, conceptually speaking.

Truth in opposites

This is because all truth resides in reconciling opposites, just like demonstrating great power is a positive trait in a leader but must be combined with humility and vulnerability, to avoid sliding over into tyranny.

The strong and the weak are one, because at the heart of weakness lies strength’s greatest power. At the heart of strength lies weakness: a fear of vulnerability.

So when I’m freelancing, I strive to learn and grow, building my confidence and my experience in order to grow stronger.

But I consciously allow myself to be weak, not to beat myself up for feeling scared or stupid, and even openly admitting my insecurities to others, to keep myself in balance.

Conscious living

Always striving to find a balance in everything you do means you can never go on to autopilot, because momentum means that we’re constantly prone to swinging to extremes.

Once you’re moving in a certain direction, it’s far easier to keep moving than it ever was to just get started in the first place.

So when you’re moving through life, and you’re considering yet another piece of advice from another guru, claiming the next quick-fix to help you improve your life, consider whether it will help you achieve balance or not.

Over time, you will instinctively keep adjusting your path. And that’s not to say that you will never find yourself losing your balance or swinging to another extreme. Rather, it means finding balance will start coming more and more naturally to you, and it will become easier and easier to keep finding the right path again.

Read more about how personal growth is the way to happiness, or find out more about my freelance writing business

CatherineCatherine Heath is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

How freelancing is a lot like dating

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I thought of this analogy a long time ago when I was first learning how to interact with clients and pitch to them.

Freelancing is not only like dating, but it’s like being a man playing the dating game. And as I’m not a man, it was a really hard thing to get used to.

I gained a renewed sympathy for how hard it is to be (a heterosexual) male and looking for love in our society, because all the pressure is on you to go out there and ‘attract’ a woman – and all the while, without coming across as too aggressive or desperate.

Hunter-prey dynamic

I’m not saying it’s right that we have such an imbalance of power in the dating game, but it does obviously arise from ancient hunter-prey dynamics fuelled by testosterone.

But in some ways, taking on the ‘hunter’ role was also very empowering, and I became a little jealous that men get to be the ones to come up with all the little strategies to attract the object of their affection.

As a freelancer, I have to attract clients effectively, and without showing them my desperation, which would make them run a mile – especially when I was just starting out and had absolutely no clients!

How to attract clients (or dates)

The only answer to the conundrum of attracting clients while not feeling your best is to build confidence, which can be applied in many areas of life.

You build confidence by trusting that the universe will provide what you need, and also applying proven techniques to draw your clients to you.

And it works – I now have twelve regular clients.

Hopefully, as a male in the dating game, you wouldn’t end up with twelve lovers, or that may require a trip to the sexual health clinic. In that way, freelancing and dating are different.

But here are some ways where freelancing is like dating:

  1. You have to present an attractive image of yourself that clients/dates will like
  2. You have to narrow down your market to attract a certain kind of client/date
  3. You have to make the effort to reach out to people or they will never know you’re in the market (for clients or dates)
  4. You have to risk rejection and failure to get who you want (clients or dates)
  5. You have to try many different platforms to ensure you’re reaching out to as many people as possible (sending cold emails and attending networking events, or going on Tinder and to speed-dating)
  6. When you finally land someone you want, it’s the best feeling in the world
  7. If you don’t hear from your client/date in a while, you start to panic that they’ve forgotten about you
  8. If someone goes quiet, you have to make the effort to follow up with them a couple of times, but then if you don’t hear from them, LEAVE THEM ALONE (some men should take note of this)
  9. Hopefully, if you’re both suited to each other, your client or date will turn into a satisfying long-term relationship

And that’s it!

The conclusion of this piece is that we can all learn a lesson from freelancing.

Heterosexual men trying to attract women can be emboldened by the fact that they’ve got a lot of pressure on them, and even if they get rejected, can take heart from the fact that at least they’ve had the courage to put themselves out there.

Heterosexual women can realise that they can take a bit more responsibility to become the ‘hunter’. It seems terrifying to put yourself out there but even if you get rejected, you’ll still be on a high from the fact that you tried.

As for homosexual men and women… I can’t even imagine how hard that must be!

If you’d like to find more about my freelance writing, you can check out my women in tech blog awaywithwords.co

Image: Adriana Velasquez, Unsplash

How to take your first step towards the future of work

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Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve wanted to have a different kind of job to the normal 9-5. The idea of sitting in an office until I’m old enough to retire seemed like my idea of hell.

I’m 27 now, and I did work in offices for a while. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but I was still fascinated by the idea of freelancing, and crazy jealous of the few people I’d come across who were freelancers.

Until recently, I didn’t really have a concept of an alternative to the 9-5, because I hadn’t discovered the wonderful world of the digital economy. I didn’t know how to make money online.

What held me back

Many myths held me back, like how unstable freelancing is, and that you have to be a massive risk-taker.

These unhelpful beliefs kept me thinking that I wasn’t the sort of person who would be able to try freelancing, as I’m cautious and I’m afraid of not having any money.

What I actually was afraid of was failing.

Honestly, so many people have a terror of failing, and it stops them from even researching their options. Or, there is so much information out there that it’s overwhelming and you give up.

The barrier to entry is so huge that many people don’t make it through the door. In a way, it’s a positive thing, because it weeds out the people who aren’t really committed enough to try it for real.

I then found out about the future of work through blogger Tom Ewer’s website, Leaving Work Behind. I also took his no-nonsense blogging course to get me started, which is very reasonably priced.

The future of work is not being chained to your desk doing a job that was decided by some hiring managers in some company. It is deciding on your own career path, working out if there’s a market for what you want to do, and then putting heart and soul into making it work.

There is no template for success

When I quit my job, I didn’t have any savings apart from a few grand that will serve as a buffer in case the worst scenario possible happens and I don’t make any money. No one is going to support me if it all goes wrong.

I’m not well-connected, and I just went to your average comprehensive school in a provincial town. I’m also female, my parents are divorced, I’m estranged from my father, and I even come from an ethnic minority background.

My only social advantage is sounding very middle class.

If anything, quite a few things about me are heavily criticised by some sections of wider society, like coming from a ‘broken’ home, not having a good relationship with one of my parents, not having a penis or being descended from Robert the Bruce.

I even had a mental health problem – extreme anxiety, panic attacks and dissociation.

The reason I’m telling you all this is because there is nothing different about me – no special secret that means I was able to do what has turned out to be quite an extraordinary thing.

How to take the first step

Nowadays, I can still get very anxious, but normally I can deal with it pretty well.

Society has really negative attitudes to people suffering with mental ‘illnesses’ but they can actually be an incredible catalyst for change.

Either way, nothing should hold you back from building your dream career.

Dealing with something like anxiety on a daily basis gives you incredible powers of resilience – so, all you anxious people out there, make sure you recognise your strengths.

I also have determination and curiosity, which are not traits I was born with but ones I have developed over time, inspired by my passion for self-development.

These are two qualities that will absolutely help you to follow your dreams and become a freelancer, or whatever.

Develop determination

To develop determination, you need to realise there is no such thing as failure – there is only giving up too early, or dying before you can accomplish your goal, in which case the failure becomes fairly insignificant.

You must remember that life is unfolding rapidly and make a commitment to the idea that there is nothing more important than achieving your goals – not going out and getting drunk, not finding a relationship, or even having a particularly clean house.

Develop curiosity

To develop curiosity, instead of feeling down about yourself when you hear about other people who are doing things that you want to do, think to yourself, I wonder how they did that. And then ask them.

When you hear about things that make you uncomfortable or confuse or scare you, resolve to find out more about them – even at the risk of leaving your comfort zone.

Your comfort zone will still be there when you go back – if you want to go back.

Find your own way

So there is really no template for taking that first step towards the future of work. You have to value your life too much to waste it, and then make an internal commitment to take just one small step in creating the career that you want. And then, maybe you’ll take another.

If I’ve learned one thing from brazenly quitting my job to become a freelance blogger, it’s that so many people are harbouring similar dreams to me. We’re all worried about looking stupid, or failing, or being criticised.

But, when you’re loving every day and feeling disbelieving that you’ve managed to do something so crazy, none of that really matters. Don’t settle.

You can find out more about my professional women in tech blog, Away With Words, and how the digital economy has created a Future of Work. Or, discover how I was able to quit my job and become a freelance blogger

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a blogger and content writer obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes tech, visual art, Eastern practices, adventures and being in nature.

Image: Unsplash.com

How I was able to become a professional freelance blogger

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I think there are two reasons why more people don’t become professional bloggers, even if they want to.

  1. It sounds unachievable.
  2. They haven’t discovered the potential of the internet.

At the risk of becoming an ardent evangelist, I’m aware that I’m placing my livelihood on quite a risky medium – the internet.

However, other people also place their livelihoods on other risky mediums, and that’s not just professional musicians or actors.

Financiers are at the mercy of the market. Charity workers are at the mercy of the performance of the organisation.

By coming to terms with risk, I was actually able to see that everything I was worried about going wrong with my vision was actually very unlikely to happen.

Change your ideas about blogging

There are people who are professional ‘bloggers’ and for them, blogging is a business. Blogging is the tool through which they sell their products and they can become very rich on it.

I am a professional blogger in the sense that I write blog posts for a living, which is very different. My blog is also my business because it generates clients for me, but I don’t sell any products through my blog.

This is where a lot of people go wrong when they start to learn about blogging.

If blogging as a business is what you’re interested in, I recommend Jon Morrow’s blog, Smartblogger.

I’m talking about blogging as a freelancer, which means selling your blogging services.

Read The Four Hour Work Week

The reason I was able to become a professional freelance blogger was by reading quite a famous book, The Four Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferris.

Among other things, he helps you work through your irrational fears about taking risks, and it enabled me to understand that traditional ‘employees’ like myself need to come to terms with taking control, and traditional ‘entrepreneurs’ need to learn how to let go of control.

While this book isn’t gospel or the be all and end all, it’s certainly essential reading if you’re planning to start your own business or launch a freelance career. I’m putting together a list of top reads for budding freelancers, so watch out for that soon.

Introduce minimalism to your life

Another thing that Tim’s book spurred me to on to do was go through all of my possessions to whittle them down to the bare minimum. (I mean, I still have loads of stuff). But I had been accumulating more and more for years, and it got to the point where moving was a real pain.

By minimalising, and streamlining all of my possessions, I was able to see how I could again put my belongings into storage and move out of my flat.

A lot of my well-being had become attached to my home, and while that’s still important, my belief that I needed to live in the centre of London meant I would need to be earning upwards of £1,500 a month from freelancing (and that’s not even taking into account tax).

While that’s certainly attainable in the long term, it’s a lot of pressure to put on myself in my first few months of freelancing.

So, by terminating my tenancy and paying only about £100 a month for storing my favourite items, I’m now free to travel or live somewhere cheaper. I don’t need my home comforts to be happy, because becoming a freelance blogger is more important.

Trial freelancing before quitting

You wouldn’t just go into a relationship with someone you didn’t know – you’d go on a few dates first to see if it would be likely to work out.

You need to see if your personality would be a good fit for freelancing – you need to be disciplined, able to work alone, at the same time adept at building your freelance community, and good at dealing with rejection.

Work out the minimum you would need to earn to make freelancing a success, and set concrete milestones that you need to pass before you actually quit your job. That will make you more accountable and stops you subconsciously moving the goalposts.

Just keep your freelancing separate from your work if you think it might be a conflict of interests. Most workplaces should really value the employee that is pushing themselves outside of work to develop and grow.

Work on your issues

I wasn’t always good at the things that enable me to be a freelancer. I was distinctly undisciplined for many years, but going through some difficult times made me realise that

I had to sort out the things I was avoiding through turning to alcohol and other distractions.

It turned out that I was developing an ability to deal with pain and transform it into something positive, that would help me cope with adult life.

Sadly, if you’re not willing to face your issues, you’re going to find it very hard to follow your dreams. This is because you’ll always be sabotaging yourself, either through procrastination, making mistakes or numbing out.

Only through personal growth can we follow the right path.

Actually… write?

I’ve been keeping this blog for quite a few years and if you look back through the archives, you can see how far I’ve come. I’ve even got other abandoned blogs where the posts are far more embarrassing than anything you’ll find here. But it all takes practice.

Not only do you need to write but you need to actually show it to other people and get it out into the world. That’s a huge stumbling block for many writers. I remember how painful it was when I first had to get used to criticism.

And that’s the key to success – being willing to learn and look a bit foolish in the eyes of others. You’re not perfect, you won’t always be right, and sometimes you’ll get it wrong.

But ultimately, it gets easier because you spend less time stressing over things that don’t matter.

Find out more about how I quit my job to become a freelance writer. Feel free to email me at catherine@awaywithwords.co if you have any questions about freelancing, or check out my professional freelance blog

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a blogger and content writer obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes tech, visual art, Eastern practices, adventures and being in nature. 

 

How to become a writer in the 21st century

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We have a lot of preconceived notions about what it means to be a writer, not all of them related to the 21st century. Many of these images stem from the past, when vastly different technologies dominated our society. The typewriter, for example.

This fact is important, because as someone who’s life’s ambition is to become a writer, the job opportunities must be clearly defined in order for me to realise my dreams.

Writing myths

There are a lot of myths and stereotypes attached to being a writer, not least because it’s a ‘creative’ career but also the fact that it is a ‘profession’. Because of these associations, only certain people seem like they are allowed to become writers.

And then there are the thoughts, what if I’m not good enough? What if no one likes what I write? What if they do?! Then what?

In school, you’re encouraged to study subjects at A Level that you’re good at and you may want to carry on to university. In some schools (not mine), children are encouraged at quite a young age to start building careers as doctors, politicians, bankers or journalists.

In my school, they were happy if you went to university, it being a relatively under-funded comprehensive school.

Gathering dust

So with the focus on just getting people to pass their exams, I never really grasped how I would pursue my dream of becoming a writer. It began to gather dust, especially as I went to university, had fun, and learnt about academia.

But then I graduated and had to make a decision about life, so I moved to London with vague plans of becoming a writer. Ha!

All my plan involved was wandering around tree-lined North London streets with a notebook, musing, and people raving about my genius – you know, Virginia Woolf style.

Real adult life was a rude awakening, to say the least. It took me five years, a lot of disappointment, frustration and depression, to get to where I am now.

Lessons learned

I’ve learned it’s not enough to vaguely say I want to be a writer. I’ve got to plan for it in a way that society will pay for, so naturally my thoughts went to becoming a
journalist.

But I didn’t want to play that game. I didn’t have the money to spend on another postgraduate qualification, especially after my ill-advised masters. I didn’t want to keep my finger on the pulse of all the trivialities and tragedies that we call news. I didn’t want to work long, anti-social hours.

Other types of writers are novelists – but it doesn’t pay the bills when you’re writing your bestseller for several years. Also, I don’t want to write a bestseller – I want to write a
classic. This is going to take many years and I’ve already been working on my fantasy novel for more than a decade – I started it when I was fifteen!

I worked in communications, but ironically I wasn’t officially allowed to do any of the writing. I had to work on the technology side of things instead.

Which, amazingly it turns out, launched my career as a freelance blogger (among many other things, of course).

The power of the internet

I learned how the internet is an incredible medium for people to connect with audiences.

I’d long been exposed to derogatory opinions about the internet from journalists writing in the newspapers I read, I imagine because it was threatening the model of traditional print media and its monopoly on ‘the news’.

Well, that ship has sailed now. In just a short few years, the internet has blazed like wildfire through our society, with some good and bad consequences.

A good consequence is that it’s possible for you to make up your own job. No, really. As long as people will pay you for it, you can use the internet to connect with them at relatively low-cost. The barriers for entry into business have been drastically lowered.

Try to wrench your mind away from precocious YouTube stars and celebrities on Instagram. Of course, competition is stiff, but that’s where persistence, experience and defining a niche comes in.

Getting paid to write

I love freelance blogging because it is amazing to have so much fun and get paid for it. I’ve chosen clients in a niche that I love, which is technology, and often focus on issues affecting women in the technology sector, which I feel really passionate about.

I run my women in tech blog, Away with Words, partly to showcase my abilities and interests for professional reasons, but I genuinely love thinking of and writing new posts. It’s so rewarding when people engage with them and give me their feedback.

So, being a freelance writer in the 21st century looks a little different from when Samuel Pepys was writing his diaries as London was burning, or John Keats was penning his sonnets during the time when women weren’t even allowed to vote.

Avoiding pitfalls

Of course there is still space for the traditional journalist, but this is not the hallowed career it once was. Journalists must manage the interests of the business that owns their paper, limiting their capacity for true freedom of expression. The weakening of unions means that they’re not protected from losing their jobs if their writing is dissident from established values.

And novelists must write for the mass market, unless they’re Jonathan Franzen. Communications professionals are contracted to write the views of their company.

That’s why I love being a freelance blogger. I choose the clients I work with, and they seek me out based on my blog, so we have similar values. I don’t write anything that makes my skin crawl.

Contact me on catherine@awaywithwords.co if you have any questions about becoming a freelance writer, or anything else.

Reflections on my self-employment so far

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I recently quit my job to become a freelance blogger and content writer. I just published a post entitled ‘How I feel about quitting my job‘. This is Part II of that post series.

This is what I’ve learned so far on my journey into freelancing.

  1. Putting myself out there is really difficult.
  2. There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there.
  3. It’s easy to get side-tracked but you need to learn the value of letting some “opportunities” pass you by.
  4. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and make impulsive decisions.
  5. You need to consider a plan from all angles and carefully decide how to proceed.
  6. Take time out from your “productivity” to regain your centre and reduce anxiety.
  7. One must develop a public persona that matches with their private core.
  8. One must not compromise themselves for the world, neither must they be afraid to bare their soul.
  9. The insecurity will always come raging back but we must blindly feel our way, one step lit up at a time, and no more.
  10. It’s hard to stray from the beaten path because there is no roadmap, nothing to tell you if you are going the right way. Don’t panic, though, because others have been here before you.
  11. Try not to think about all the precocious success stories who make it barely seem worth trying. There’s a middle ground between that and abject failure – which is moderate competence, and that’s the path we aim to walk.
  12. There will be many failures as we try to learn new things in the world at large, actualising by experiencing and it’s going to hurt. But we must remember that everything is going to be okay.
  13. You have to physically embody your creative dream and not be afraid of how others will judge you.
  14. Try to ignore all the thousands of past opinions weighing down on you and remember that there is no reason why you can’t succeed.
  15. You just need to calm down, look around you, and find a way to make it happen.
  16. Forget everything you think you’ve been told about “the way to do things”.
  17. And sometimes, stop looking.
  18. Integrate all experiences as having some value.
  19. And, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. You need to ask for the working arrangements you want and believe you have a right to fulfilment and satisfaction.
  20. Don’t rush things, be patient, but at the same time commit to deliberate action.

I’ll write more posts on this topic as they come to mind. If there’s something specific you’d like me to cover, email me at catherine@awaywithwords.co. 

You can also check out my women in tech blog, Away with Words

imageCatherine Julianne is a blogger and content writer obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes tech, visual art, Eastern practices, adventures and being in nature. 

 

Image: Brooke Cagle, Unsplash

How I feel about quitting my job

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I haven’t posted on this blog in a while, mainly because I started a new women in tech blog, Away With Words.

This new post is for all the people who may be thinking about doing something scary, or are struggling to find a new path for themselves.

Why I quit my job

Though I’ve wanted to be a freelance writer ever since I was mature enough to understand I need to have some kind of job, actually quitting my full-time job was something I thought I’d do in my late thirties, or maybe never.

Being just your average person, I settled for getting a job in an office (my ultimate nightmare!) and this was mainly because I didn’t have a clue how to become a freelancer.

It turned out that working in an office is nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be (well, my first proper job was, but you live and learn). It was actually kind of fun at times, and of course everyone is lovely.

But something nagged at me, telling me that I wasn’t fulfilling myself. I didn’t feel I was ‘complete’ by doing the work I was doing, and I always wondered about what else there was ‘out there’.

Overcoming a lack of self-belief

Since I didn’t believe it was possible for me to become a freelance writer, I didn’t even try to look for other work.

Instead, I did a lot of volunteer writing, which taught me a lot. I also wrote on this blog, and some very kind people gave me great feedback about the posts I shared.

Finally, one day in April 2016, I’d had enough.

I had been searching for my next step on the career ladder, and I got rejected after having an interview for another job. I was really annoyed and decided to throw in the towel on the whole career ladder thing – extreme! This was because my heart wasn’t in it.

I spoke to one of my friends about how he’d managed to quit his job as a recruiter (grueling!) and started travelling the world while running his own business. His words of encouragement were resounding, and they started me off on my journey.

I was also emboldened by another friend, who had to cope after losing his job. My worst nightmare had evolved from working in an office, which I was already doing, and turned into getting fired, but their triumph and grace made me see that the worst is never really that bad.

That it’s always me and my own fears that are holding me back.

So, after trying out freelance writing for a couple of months, it turned out I could make quite a bit of money out of it.

And then I quit.

Well actually, I tearfully told my manager I was going to quit and then I went on holiday.

Then, I quit.

How I knew what to do

It’s been really sad but I know I’m making the right decision. The time is right to leave.

I learnt so much from my job and it is a hugely contributing factor to how I’m able to become a successful freelancer. I met wonderful, helpful people and learnt about business, marketing and workplace culture.

Telling everyone I know about my decision has been an ongoing process, and I’m stunned to be able to say that every single reaction has been positive. No one has asked me if I’m crazy, or what I’m going to do if I fail.

Everyone has been wholeheartedly supportive (at least to my face!) and been excited for me. Maybe it’s because I am an extremely cautious and sensible person so they assume I know what I’m doing (heh…). Or maybe everyone I know is also crazy.

Now what?

I’ve learned that there are many things you can do, even if you lack self-belief. You can build up that belief – you just have to work up the courage to take that single first step. That is the turning point between complacency and exhilaration.

So, if anyone else is thinking of making a big leap, I’d be happy to talk to you about how I dealt with the anxiety I felt (and still feel), and how I have systematically taken calculated risks to ensure I stand the best chances of success.

My next post will be about what I have learned from being self-employed. 

Image: Phoebe Dill, Unsplash