“Hey, not sure if you’d be interested, but I know someone looking for a freelance writer.”
The text came on your typical Tuesday evening during which I was watching Netflix and questioning my choice to leave the relative comfort of the restaurant industry and write full time. I sat up, fully focused on the words on the screen. A contact had asked my friend in passing if she knew a freelance writer who might be interested in some work writing on recycling and renewable energy.
I vacillated as I considered the question. It was a paying gig, but I didn’t know much about recycling and renewable energy. The familiar train of overly idealistic thought started up. Sure, I didn’t know much, but I could learn! Sure, this had nothing to do with my expertise and I’d have to do a ton of research to even begin to write on this topic, but it was a paid gig! As much as I felt the instinct to say no, I also felt the pull of what if?
My friend and I went back and forth, and she ultimately left it up to me to reach out.
If you’re a freelancer of any variety, whether a performer or writer or designer, you’ve likely come up against a similar situation. In my days of pursuing a singing career, there was the added pressure of accepting unpaid gigs. And in the opera world especially, gigs and programs for which I had to pay. It can seem like we must say yes to everything or we will miss out. We never know which opportunity might be the one that leads to more opportunities, or which one might be our big break. Especially in the early stages of our creative journey. Especially when work is particularly scant.
How do we say no without experiencing the fear of missing out? How do we determine which opportunities are worth our time, and which will send us off in the wrong direction? Here are three practices to walk through when you feel that FOMO and self-doubt start to creep in.
Thinking about the offer my friend presented, I needed to first determine if it was worth pursuing. In Essentialism by Greg McKeown, he lays out a strict criterion for when to say yes and when to say no. “It’s either HELL YES or it’s no.” By running through a series of questions that laid out the factors I needed to consider, I was able to gain clarity by using McKeown’s method.
- Is it worth the time required and amount of pay I will receive?
- Am I the best person for the job? (don’t let this one trip you up if you’re prone to underestimating yourself)
- Will this opportunity continue to move me toward my goals?
- Is this a person I want to work with?
- Does the topic excite me?
- Do I want to do it?
- Is it the best way to help me meet my financial goals?
- Do I feel energized when I think about this work?
- If unpaid, is this a valuable experience that will teach me a skill I need (teamwork, collaboration, working on a deadline, etc)? If so, is that worth the cost (time, stress, loss of focus, bandwidth)?
Though I could easily say no to most of the questions, I still wanted to make sure my judgement wasn’t skewed by something I might not be able to see. Which brings us to the next practice.
Mayhaps like me you have a tendency to overthink yourself into knots. If you’re a more established creative, mayhaps you have a team you can talk through this stuff with. Or, if you’re married, it’s the kind of thing you sort out with your spouse.
For those of us who don’t meet either criteria, it’s still important to reach out and connect with someone who knows us and knows our goals. They can’t make the decision for us, but they can remind us of our values when we get tangled up in a decision without a clear right or wrong. In the current scenario, I was able to work through these murky thoughts with the friend who brought me the opportunity.
Normally, I would run the opportunity by one of a set list of friends whom I have known for years and whose opinion I trust. They are familiar with my priorities and personality, and can see what I can’t about myself. They also resist the temptation to solve the problem or answer the question for me. They may give me advice and point me in a specific direction, but they mostly ask questions and let me verbally process, reminding me of what they know to be true about me and my work along the way.
Currently, I’m part of a mastermind group, which gives me access to three coaches and twenty-six fellow writers who are all committed to their work. Connecting with my cohort has been a game changer, and working with coaches? They have helped me clarify my goals, expanded what I believed to be possible for my creative work, and pushed me in all the ways I needed pushing. It has not been comfortable, but four months in, I have no regrets.
Do you have a few go-to people who can help you see more clearly and focus? What would it take for you to find people committed to your growth?
At the end of the first quarter (March 31), I took the day to distill my goals into a value ladder. Before that, I had a nebulous sense of what I might like to do to increase my income and move toward my larger goals. But they were murky, so it was easy to get pulled off track. I didn’t have a clear picture of where I was going. I knew there was a book involved, but other options had crept into my imagination.
So I took the time to develop a path, a series of products and services that stack up to the ultimate thing that will best serve my audience. Now, when an opportunity comes along, I feel more equipped and empowered to stay in my lane. The ladder might change over time, but for now, it’s a filter through which I can see with more confidence what fits onto it and what doesn’t.
Do you have a clear sense of where you’d like to go? If not, take some time to sketch it out. I used this blog as a starting point, but it’s not the only one out there, and it’s designed for more general entrepreneurs, as opposed to specifically for artists/creatives. However, it’s a good jumping off point to help clarify your path and your next steps.
So what about FOMO?
I never reached out to the contact. Though I felt the tug of all that I thought the income promised, I said no, not knowing if another opportunity would come my way or if that might have been my golden ticket. But I learned something through the process of saying no.
The secret to not getting FOMO is that there is no secret. Any time there is an opportunity that presents us with a series of unknowns, the what if’s will creep in and make us second guess our instincts. And sometimes we will learn something later down the road that suggests that we made the wrong choice.
Using a combination of these three practices-reflection, connection, direction- we can build resilience and confidence over time. They’ve helped me wade through the ambiguity of the creative life and develop a system for making decisions without as much wasting bandwidth on overthinking. They help me resist the temptation to chase every shiny thing that comes across my path.
Maybe I’ll miss something, but I’ve noticed that a win/lose mindset doesn’t serve me well in this situation. One of my core values for my business is “Learning, not Losing.” It’s a riff on something my therapist says to me a lot. “There is no losing. There is only winning and learning.” There will be times when I don’t make the best decision. There will be times I’ll miss out and times I’ll over commit. But getting hung up on making the perfect decision every time and listening to the FOMO only ensures paralysis. Take the time to step back and reflect, connect, and direct your steps. And if we whiff it, we have the opportunity to learn and try again.
If you’re having trouble with any of these practices, or sussing out which you might need to focus on, I offer one-on-one coaches. Check out more here and sign up for your free 15 minute intro call!