As I round the bases on my fourth year working as a soloist, I’ve been thinking back to the “early days.” The uncertainty of survival, what success looked like, and ultimately, the risks I needed to take to get where I wanted. In retrospect, I smile. Nowadays when I get anxious or nervous—from a decidedly better position—I look back on those first few months and realize just how risky it really was.
I’ll never forget my start as a freelancer. I was working for a studio, still living in Ohio. I had graduated from college a few weeks earlier and quickly realized the day-in-day-out lifestyle of doing work I hated was going to have a negative impact on my personality. Not only did I dislike what I was doing, but I was doing it for the wrong reason: money. My heart wasn’t in it and I briskly decided that if I was going to crash and burn, I’d rather do it on my own terms; doing the work I wanted to be doing.
The decision to quit came quickly. In fact, it was less than 24 hours from when I decided to hit the road to when I submitted my resignation. The night I decided, I called my dad to get his opinion to which he said “go for it.” I didn’t have enough money for rent—let alone all of my bills—but I decided to take the risk and go for it. Today I can safely say, that was the smartest decision of my life.
I’ll cut to the chase: I’m not rich. Far from it. I do have a fair amount of freedom, but that freedom comes with a price tag. I’m willing to pay that price because the freedom I get allows me to work on things—like The Meteor Chef—that have the potential to create long-term stability. As far as I see it, taking risks is a survival tactic; an alternative form of investment that’s difficult to quantify in the short-term.
Working on your own is difficult, uncertain, and involves a huge amount of risk. The nice part, though, is that my initial theory has (and continues) to pay off: do the best work you can, do it often, and be nice. This recipe hasn’t let me down yet. As you continue to ride the risk wave, you learn that it’s just that: a wave.
Everything moves in cycles; up, down, sideways. Sometimes you’re swimming in work and you’re getting a lot of attention. Other times, you might as well be the last person on Earth. It’s certainly scary at times, but there’s something incredibly calming about knowing that with continued effort, the risk pays off.
This is the point. Don’t be afraid to take risks, but don’t expect those risks to pay off immediately. It takes time, persistence, and most importantly: paying attention. I’d argue that I’ve gotten as far as I have so quickly because I made a point to identify what works, what doesn’t, and how all of that applies to me as an individual. If there was one thing I could pass on to others in respect to mitigating risk, it would be to adopt a lifestyle and process that works for you, not others. When you’re in your element, your work is in its element.
Ultimately, risk is a taste thing. Like sour candy. The payoff can be incredibly sweet, but you have to endure a bit of lip pursing sourness to get there. The nice part is, the more you do it, the better you get at it and the more aware you become of the cycles. You also learn about your personal limits.
Once you identify these, you can tailor your process to navigating them. Over time, you become good enough to control the wave, or at least, how it affects you. I’d argue from research and observation that this is how most people who start at the bottom find success: patience, attention, and tuning.
It’s never perfect and you can’t bet on your downfall or failures up front. Instead, you have to believe—in your core—that doing the work, doing it well, and listening to your heart will get you where you want to go. Risk is a fundamental element of doing bigger things in life. If your goal is to get outside the “norm,” prepare to take uncertainty head on and risk a little bit of your comfort.