Lady’s Choice (and Other Modern Relationship Realities That Drive Men Crazy)

As men, we’re raised with a few basic mental programs, two of which are particularly active: never show weakness, and women exist for us.

(This is a North American heteronormative context, I might add: other cultures, countries, and regions will have their own versions of this).

Vulnerability

The call for looking strong usually causes us to condition ourselves to be invulnerable: the flipside then becomes that we make any notion of being vulnerable bad. We confuse it with weakness. Vulnerability starts to mean that we’ve left a part of ourselves uncovered, open to attack. No man can accept that.

I’m not comfortable with vulnerability, and that’s the point: it’s not supposed to be comfortable. Vulnerability is supposed to wake you up.

Vulnerability is the key to intimacy: we stand naked and exposed to our partners during sex, and we seem to have no problem with this, for the most part. Intimacy means that you should be able to stand openly, as you are, with your loved one and feel safe, and yet at the same time, exhilarated by the experience of exposure.

Most hetero men have no problem being naked with a woman. It’s the emotional exposure where we get tripped up, because we’re simply not outfitted to deal with it for the most part. We become convoluted when we put our feelings on the line, and the reality of love is that we need to put our feelings on the line. That requires vulnerability.

Entitlement to Women

The other training that we have is the notion that women were somehow made for us. We’re conditioned to treat women as prizes to be won; the helpless princess in the castle that needs rescuing; as status symbols for your prowess as a man if you can get a “high status” woman hanging off your arm. Part of the big story of success that men tell themselves as teens and twentysomethings is that we’ll someday find “The One” and she’ll be “meant for us”, and then we’ll win relationships. And so we treat the women we meet on those terms, by and large.

So it’s a source of profound discomfort for us to learn, when we do fall for someone, that it’s not entirely up to us to have a relationship with them.

Lady’s Choice 

In relationships, it’s always the lady’s choice. No other reality about dating and relationships drives men over the edge more than this one, and most of them have no idea this is what’s at play behind their insanity.

The principle of “lady’s choice” is simple: if you choose to be in a relationship with her, your choice alone is not enough to create and maintain the relationship. No matter how much you may love and desire the woman who’s captured your heart, she always has the final say on whether or not you two are or will become an item.She must consent, in all things.

For men who don’t do vulnerability or who don’t do it well, this is a most terrifying reality to fathom: that we could finally open our hearts, express our most intimate feelings to someone we perceive as “the woman of our dreams”…..and then have her turn us down. It feels like we’ve been attacked after being assured that we could let down our guards.

Such rejection, we understandably believe, would be fatal. For those men who feel unworthy, it can be enough of a deterrent to keep them from even taking the chance in the first place.

expectTIONSREality.pngUncertainty

In the film “500 Days of Summer”, the following exchange happens between the boy and girl:

Tom: I need to know that you’re not gonna wake up in the morning and feel differently.
Summer: And I can’t give you that. Nobody can.

These are simply the realest words about relationships that have ever been uttered in a movie script, far more realistic than “you complete me”. The uncomfortable truth of relationships is that they are all the results of a ongoing series of decisions by both partners to say “yes”.

On any morning, someone can wake up and choose “no”. People, men and women alike, have this happen to them all the time. Nothing is permanent. Lovers can change their minds about each other and there is not much their partners can do about it.

To the men who are in love and do choose “yes”, this can be an agonizing scenario, so what do we do? Simple: we pressure and control. This is where you see men following women down the street, men persisting with women at the bar who have already told them to leave.

There are also other men, who you may never see, refusing to enter the arena at all, believing that the only winning move in love is not to play, lest you get hurt. No one wins under controlled conditions of this sort. The uncertainty is too much to bear.

Soothing the Anxieties: Boundaries and Trust

Relationships that have conditions in the form of boundaries created and respected by both partners win, whether they last 5 weeks or 50 years. Brene Brown has the best definition of boundaries: an agreement by both partners on what’s okay and what’s not okay behaviour in the relationship. Most people don’t like to set those rules up: they run counter to the sappy romanticism of our pop culture that says “love is enough”. It is not: you need agreements. My friend/boss Cailen said it best: love is unconditional: relationships are conditional.

Within reasonable boundaries of respect and compassion, every man needs to get comfortable practicing being uncomfortable at times: that is, with practicing vulnerability, both physical and emotional. It takes knowing that it’s all right to feel what you feel and that if what you feel is sadness and heartbreak, to reach out to your partner for reassurance, and absent her presence, staying connected with your friends and family.

Finally, there’s the trust issue. Some men may read this and believe that I’m letting our girlfriends and wives off the hook. Not at all: they are responsible for themselves, their boundaries, and their actions within the relationship. We have to trust our partners to manage themselves in a responsible way, and then focus on ourselves.

This is big if you’ve ever been cheated on. There is this term called psychological “schema”, the way in which we organize the trillions of bits of information coming in at us from the outside world. When someone cheats on us, it’s easier for our brains to re-arrange the data to fit the basic premise of the schema. We distrust it when we see our partners log on: we wonder “which of these guys is she talking to? Are they hooking up behind my back?” That’s just the damaged schema at work, filtering the data to suit past experiences.

Always remember: she may talk or flirt with someone else, but she chose you. Take her at her word.

Trust means believing our partners when they say “I choose this relationship”, and trusting that they’ll choose it again tomorrow, even if you never know for sure. In a way, that little bit of uncertainty can help ensure you don’t take her for granted in the relationship. If that’s too much for you, you can ask for regular reassurances, but just know that you are both here by choice, and you have the power to choose differently.

Love Made Simple, but Not Easy

If all this sounds easy, it’s not, but it is simple. Walking this path for the last little while, I can tell you, I long for the basic certainty of knowing where I stand, one way or the other.

In the end, I would say the simplest thing is to learn to love without conditions, to love her as much as you can and in the ways that she can best receive you, and to do so in an emotionally healthy way.

To look after yourself, stay in line with your own mission or desires in life outside other human beings, and fill yourself up as much as you can to overflow and give to the lady in your life. That, I feel, is our main responsibility to our lovers, and to ourselves.

Dismantling Unworthiness

peer pressureThe first five years of my life were spent in love, abundance, and belonging. Then I started kindergarten.

I don’t remember how it started, just that the other kids began to tease me. The teasing led to outright social isolation and bullying, and without understanding the reason why, I came to a conclusion in my kid-brain that I had somehow done something to deserve it.

When my Grade 4 teacher, who had some kind of personality conflict with me, joined in the teasing a few times, it wrecked both my grades and my sense of safety. From Grades 4 to 9, I spent every recess alone and anxious. Despite having once been considered for the gifted program, my grades didn’t recover until high school. I had no confidence.

I learned at an early age that, outside my immediate blood relatives, I was unworthy of love. I would always be awkward, unattractive, and alone. I didn’t even entertain the lofty notion of having a girlfriend. Not only that, I decided that outside my immediate family, I could trust no one, especially not an authority figure like a teacher.

These two mental programs, Unworthiness and Mistrust, have been my sword and armor for over 30 years in my interactions with people, and for the last six of those years, they’ve been at their strongest.

The Impact of Unworthiness and MistrustHPIM0456

When I fell in love with a girl at 15 years old, asked her out at 18, married her at 26, and then, at 29, watched that relationship end in her infidelity with a close friend (whom she later married), these two programs went into overdrive. I had let a beautiful woman into my inner circle from the outside who later deceived and rejected me in favor of someone else whom I had also let in.

When it all went down in 2010, Unworthiness declared “See? I told you: no good woman will love you”.

Mistrust, always in the service of Unworthiness, raised the shields and declared “Never again. No one gets into the Green Zone without passing through the checkpoints.”

People have to earn my trust over time to get beyond my outer circle, and even when they’re in, it takes the smallest offence to my sense of safety to get me pushing them right back out again.

Since an authority figure (my Grade 4 teacher) was also part of creating Mistrust, this also means that no matter how many times you may tell me about one of my bad habits, or some shitty belief I need to release, I won’t quite believe you. I have to actually make the mistake over and over again myself until I really “get” it.

This is unfortunate, because it usually means my relationships get damaged in the process of my own empirical testing.

aberdeengardinerThe Impact of Not Doing Anything About It

None of this is new. I’ve been aware of this path I need to walk for a long time, but in my laziness and failure to take responsibility for what needs to be done, I’ve just gone about my days doing what I do, but sounding really smart and enlightened that I “know myself” so well.

But I have been hurting someone I love, thanks to actions I’ve taken rooted in these beliefs. Looking back with a critical eye, I see I have mistreated many people I’ve loved, some of them badly, turned them into caricatures of who they actually are, and then dismissing and distancing them so I can feel “safe” again.

The Ripple Effect (or, How I Hurt the People I Love)

Here’s what it looks like in action.

My friends will sometimes tease me. They’re doing it out of good-natured fun. They’re not trying to shame and distance me the way the kids at school did. I know that intellectually, but deep down, where that hurt 5 year old runs the show, it reminds me of the schoolyard. This activates Unworthiness, and I hurt.

To stop hurting, I isolate myself from my friends, the “sources” of the teasing and thus the pain.

secondloveIsolation, in turn, causes me to over-rely on one person – my girlfriend Nikki – for the sense of connection and validation I would have otherwise gotten from my friends and other loved ones that I’ve pushed away.

That over-reliance causes Nikki to rightly desire her space.

Nikki’s retreat then causes me to believe that I’m not getting my needs met.

That belief then causes me to dip into my Soulmate Superstition, wherein I then measure Nikki up against a made-up fantasy woman whose qualities no one can match.

That comparison, ultimately, puts the relationship in doubt for me, which reminds me of how the last one ended.

That reminder re-activates my Mistrust, and I push Nikki away through words and actions, hurting her in the process until I feel safe again. At that point, I reconnect and want her back. No one deserves to be jerked around in this way, especially not her.

Meanwhile, my friends stand at the sidelines, wondering where I’ve gone. No one wins.

The chain reaction ripples away from the original source to the point that you can’t recognize the original cause for what it is, but make no mistake, it’s all Unworthiness.

And in hurting them, in letting Unworthiness and Mistrust run the show, I am hurting me, and that’s not where I want to stand.

I choose to stand in connection and love. To do that, I need to confront my own sword and armor.

Dismantling Unworthiness and Standing Down Mistrust

The first step, obviously, is stopping doing those things I’ve been doing and spotting myself when I’m doing them. That’s the first, and the easiest.

Mistrust serves me sometimes. Having a sense of skepticism about the world is helpful. It keeps you from falling for scams and bullshit, keeps you safe from unscrupulous people who actually want to take advantage of you. There’s no taking apart Mistrust: it’s an instinct that serves us when conditions call for it.

But how often does that actually happen? Jim Carrey talked about the distinction between an imaginary dog that could attack you versus an actual dog that’s actually biting you: too often, I look at the world and believe it’s full of criminals, some of them disguised as lovers and best friends, as clients and bosses.

Truly, there’s nothing to fear from people who have already chosen to work, play, and/or be with me, unless they give me a clear, unambiguous reason to be afraid or mistrustful. Unless that happens, it’s best to holster Mistrust and only use it when needed.

Walking The Talk

Knowing that a hurt and sad five year old is pulling the strings is powerful awareness, but it’s just the beginning. I am worthy of love, friendship, and relationships. Grown-Up Jody gets that. Grown Up Jody has never been more grateful and happy to have learned this, but that belief has yet to soak into the subconscious where that 5 year old lives.

Two solutions, then. First, making the time to connect with the people I love the most. Many of my closest, oldest friends are scattered, but even seeing them once a month, chatting on the phone whenever it works, and just keeping up with how they’re doing will help me feel connected and loved.

Second, when I am alone and feel lonely, using the tools I have been trained in, and writing some  good ol’fashioned affirmations and incantations, with appropriate visualizations, will help soak the idea into my subconscious that I am indeed worthy. I’ve known that I can do this, but I haven’t actually done it faithfully. Even starting the day out with these will help.

Detachment and Love For Its Own Sake

What I desire the most in my relationships is to love as much as I can, add my energies to someone else and create as much joy for someone else as the other person wants to take without requiring anything in return.

And even though I’ve heard it a thousand and one times – that before I can love someone completely, I have to love myself – I’m now finally prepared to listen, walk the path, to fill myself up through self-care and connection, before I can give that unconditional love to others.

This isn’t easy, and it won’t get easier, I’m sure, but I am starting immediately. I can’t afford to waste another instant not standing in connection and love, not with so much at stake.

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The Credibility Gap in Self Help Writing

invocationofthemusesMy girlfriend and I were talking recently about a book idea she had. I won’t go over what it is, but after describing the concept in some detail, she said “the only problem is, I don’t think I’m qualified to write it”.

“Well,” I said, “I wouldn’t mind writing it for you.”

To which she replied, “Are you a licensed psychologist?”

Nikki reminded me in that moment of something that I’d forgotten: we’re not qualified to be “experts” on everything just because we’re capable of writing books about it.

One very common quality that both Nikki and I share when it comes to the books we love and value is credibility: deep, well thought-out hypotheses; solidly-researched findings; empirical evidence; and above all, expertise from people who have spent years studying in their fields.

One very common tendency in the overabundance of self-help books out there is the very absence of this type of credibility.

In the desire to sell more volumes of books, everything is dumbed down to the bare messages, with only one or two layers of actual deep research or concepts to support the claims. This isn’t new: self-help has been notoriously full of “easy answers” for decades.

What is new is that the advent of self-publishing, the ease and availability of print-on-demand services, and the entrepreneurial push to make marketing more important than substance, have now damaged the overall credibility of self-help books.

The advantage of traditional publishing is that they have editorial standards: that is, you can’t just write any bit of nonsense posing as “science” or “psychology” or “diet research”: you have to pass rigorous standards of scientific and peer-reviewed evidence because publishers know they could be held liable for spreading false information. That’s one reason why it’s so hard to get published traditionally.

By contrast, self-publishing gives everyone a voice. That’s terrific – I’m a self-published self-help and fiction author – but there’s almost no editorial standards being enforced, meaning anyone is free to print a book with any number of pseudoscientific ideas posing as psychology and medicine; conspiracy laden paranoia posing as industry exposes; and just complete BS with no basis in reality outside the personal beliefs of the author.

Credibility matters. It’s not simply about science – I hold a number of non-scientific beliefs, refer to teachings from Abraham Hicks (a channeled entity) for my higher guidance, and am open to unconventional ideas: I just don’t claim that they are “scientific” – but also the author’s command of the powers of reason and intellect. If you’ve been educated in this field of study for years and you know it better than most others, than that in and of itself should give you credibility.

All too many self-help proponents bristle at that notion: they’ll say the “letters after one’s name” do not make the person all-knowing. That’s true, but it does make them qualified. Nor is it only about the letters, but the field experience. It may not take certifications and years of experience in architecture and engineering to recognize a crooked building when you see one, but it does if you want to fix it.

Why protest? It’s simple: many of them are not themselves sufficiently trained or experienced in the subject matter they want to write about. The best they can offer are insights. No wonder they get upset. After all, if you have too many legitimate experts and you have no formal training, how many people are you going to be able to get on your side? How will you be able to sell your books?

However, degrees and training are indeed not all you need: you have to be able to assemble a compelling argument, and this is especially true if you are challenging an existing idea, because the burden of proof isn’t on the establishment to defend their position, but on you, as the challenger, to make your case beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you can lock down both factors – years of experience and training and the ability to make a reasonable case – then you bring credibility to your book. And, to my mind, the credibility gap represents a huge missing in today’s self-help world, and a golden opportunity for anyone who can fill it.

My Soul Mate Superstition

This was going to be a far more in depth post than what’s actually going to result at the end of this entry, but there was no need. What I have to say is simple:

I’m ditching the quest to find my “soul mate”.

Born out of the end of my last relationship, this soul mate ideal got me through that long, slippery climb back up to worthiness and validation. It powered an entire novel in the process, and acted as a lifeboat, a bit of solace whenever I felt low: that there was someone out there for me, made just for me, perfect, just for me.

Obviously, I was bound to run into trouble sooner or later.

Ever wonder how the online activists never seem to run out of actual things to get offended by? How your buddy can buy a new Hyundai that you’d never heard of, but you’re suddenly seeing it every time you stop at a red? Have you ever had a song caught in your head that was so annoying that you wanted to punch someone in the face, but everywhere you went, it seemed to be playing from somewhere?

That’s a function of your filter. Some would say it’s the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in your brain that helps you recognize patterns in the data you receive from the outside world. Others would argue it’s Law of Attraction, and there’s some merit to that, I’m sure.

But for the most part, what’s true of the world is that there is every variety of love, hatred, injustice, abundance, beauty, and ugliness out there, and we can calibrate our lenses to see more or less of any of them in our experiences.

Properly calibrate the lens through which you see the world, and you’ll see what you want to see, something real and actually there, and nothing else.

love goggles.jpg

So…you’d think my Soul Mate Lens would help me see a soul mate, then, right?  Nuh-uh!

In fact, my soul-mate superstition has caused nothing but damage. My image of a perfect partner is so perfect that it actually has the opposite effect: instead of seeing the person who I want magically appear out of a crowd, I look at women right in front of me who actually exist, who truly love me, and see everything that they aren’t.

That’s right. Presented with the possibility – no, certainty – of true love, I nonetheless reject anyone who doesn’t match the contours of my Soul Mate Lens as I have defined it. Then I go back to my hoping and wishing: “She’s really out there, guys!”

My soul mate superstition is wrecking my love life. It’s keeping me from taking risks in love. It’s already damaged one relationship, and if left intact, it would ruin the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that.

There’s a cliche floating around the meme-verse on Facebook and Tumblr: “love means seeing an imperfect person perfectly”. That’s exactly what I am now committing to doing.

In order to do that, I’m tearing down the altar to this soul mate superstition that I’ve laboured on for years. It will be a hard habit to break, to stop comparing real and beautiful flesh-and-blood human beings to an idea, but now’s the second best time to start retraining my brain. The actual best time was six years and six months ago.

I just hope it’s not too little, too late.

straightjacket

Natural Resistance

Brace yourselves: I’m about to save you thousands of dollars that you would have spent on self-help seminars. Here’s how personal transformation happens, in a few short paragraphs.

You’re a being with a body that obeys a brain made up of “animal” and “human” components.

lizardbrain

The animal parts of the brain, being older on the evolutionary scale, are more closely connected with the body than the newer human parts. The animal parts are the ones closely associated with emotion and instinct, the “fight, flight, or freeze” threat responses, and so on.

The more human parts of the brain tend to involve higher functions: reason, imagination, visualization, socialization, and so on. They’re the source of conscious control over the body, though they, too, can be overridden by the animal brain parts.

Usually, all components of the brain work well together…until you try to do something completely new and exciting: say, launch a business, enter a bodybuilding contest, run for office, go back to school, write a book, become an actor, etc.. That’s when the system starts to wobble.

Even though your higher human brain systems are super-excited at the prospect of becoming, doing, and/or having the New Thing, your animal brain parts simultaneously go to DEFCON 1.  “This is scary!”, they shout, “this is dangerous! It’s outside our usual habits and routines! STOP IT NOW!”

And your modern human brain parts, with no ability to tell the difference between imagination and reality, start inventing all sorts of stories and imaginary threats that stop you in your tracks.

This is the Natural Resistance, and it happens almost every time you try to step out of your comfort zone. Most people get beaten back by the discomfort and anxiety and go right back to their routines, living out lives of quiet desperation and “meh”, such is the power of Natural Resistance.

Fortunately, Natural Resistance is pretty simple to beat: just acknowledge it for what it is – a natural, neurological and biological reaction to new possibilities – and then keep going for that New Thing. Stay in action. Eventually, the animal brain parts calm down, and you win.

There. Variations of this theme exist in nearly every personal growth course you can find on the market. So go ahead. You can fire your life coach now. (Well, actually, keep them around: you’ll definitely need some help dealing with the Natural Resistance).

Natural Resistance has a lot of names, almost all of them trademarked and coined by whatever personal growth company or guru came up with them (and I suppose, given that I’ve just capitalized both words, you can now add me to that list). However, they all describe the same thing: an animal-brain-created reaction to something new.

What’s more, the more transformational the goal, the correspondingly powerful the Natural Resistance becomes.

Flower_Power_demonstrator

It’s even something you can see on both individual and collective stages. Is it a coincidence you see a mass awareness of LGBT and Trans rights in the U.S. at the same time Donald Trump and his reactionary ilk are leading in the polls? Here are two disparate, polar-opposite sides, one based in love, the other in fear, and there’s very little overlap between the two. On a national scale, the Natural Resistance within the collective consciousness of the United States plays itself out live on CNN and our Twitter feeds.

Multiple factors play into what’s happening with those two phenomena, to be sure, but my tinfoil hat theory is that if you follow the veins and tributaries back to the source, you’ll come across millions of individuals allowing the animal parts of their brains to run the show, at least in the fear-based scene. A physical representation of the battle that goes on inside the mind of every human being at some point in life.

I digress. Natural Resistance gets a lot of fuel from pre-existing habits and deeply-ingrained beliefs, the grooves in the records that play inside our comfort zones. And a big area of life that feels the impact of NR is in our relationships, especially our romantic ones, where they tend to fuck us up the most…more on that later.

Seed-Planting and Patience in Entrepreneurship

It’s springtime in the northern hemisphere, and thanks to a wondrous alignment of SEO and some actual experiences in my recent entrepreneurial activities, I wanted to share an insight into having patience and playing a slower, longer game in creative enterprise than what’s currently popular.

Spring is a season for preparing the soil and sowing seeds. If you’re still new in your business, the metaphor holds that you’ve got quite some time left before you can start tearing those plants out of the ground. The problem is that too many of us, especially the younger ones, are doing just that, and then complaining that the sprouts do not nourish.

IMG_20120503_125611The Myth of the Quick Buck

People aren’t just going to hand you lots of money just because you’re awesome.

I work in the writing and publishing field, and I’ve learned the hard way that this isn’t a transactional field of service. Sure, you may be tired of hearing that it’s “all about relationships”, but in the pursuit of the quick buck, it’s easy to forget it. It takes time to develop trust with your prospects. This is especially true if your product or service is something that’s a four-or-five figure investment on the part of your clients.

If you’re starting up, I’m sure there’s a temptation to skip over this part and get straight to closing these “whales”, but there isn’t. In publishing and writing especially, this is a gradual process of building trust, rapport, and credibility. The same applies to many other creative fields.

“Without Integrity, Nothing Works” (a.k.a. “Get Your Shit Together”)

est founder Werner Erhard was right on the money. Integrity isn’t morality: it’s the state of being whole and complete. What integrity looks like in an entrepreneurial or freelance context is that you not only have the basic functioning components of your business in place – for example, a website, a business number, a working computer, etc.. – but that you yourself are also keeping up with your health and well-being, your bills, and your commitments.

And how about those bills? Too many of us – and I’m guilty of this as well, so don’t think I’m casting the first stone – go into entrepreneurship because we think it’ll get us that quick buck. I talked about this notion of “burning your boats” in order to “take the Island”.

However, what often happens is that you end up trying to milk money out of your start-up way too quickly. There’s no energetic capital yet, your following is tenuous and not nearly as devoted as you are, and people don’t yet trust you. As such, no cash is flowing in. That’s when the gimmickry comes into play: the “one day special”, the overly high discount on high-value products or services. You compromise your value, and surprise-surprise, no one buys.

Meanwhile, because you quit your job or have no other source of income because that’s how you interpreted “burn the boats”, your bills keep piling up, and so does your desperation to pull something, anything, out of the seedlings you’ve just planted in the ground.

Stop Flailing!

This is why you see many self-employed people occasionally flail about, offering anything and everything to get someone to buy their stuff. But flailing is a huge gumption drain, and you’ll have nothing left before too long to do anything.

This is why I now tell every young person who’s eager to take the leap to take their time. Get that job slinging lattes at Starbucks if you have to, or stay working full-time and devote three hours a night and parts of your weekends to nourish your business. Get your shit together, get your bills paid, and keep some left over to invest in your enterprise. It’ll stop you from flailing about when the floor falls out from under you.

Gary Vaynerchuk says, over and over again, that patience is among the biggest deficits among new entrepreneurs today. This is coming from someone, by the way, who already had experience building businesses and is now one of the more prosperous and influential entrepreneurs around today. In Vaynerchuk’s words, the payoff is coming. “Stop crying, and keep hustling”.

And if that quote’s not enough, if you’re still balking about having to work a j-o-b for a while, consider this rhetorical question from Mr. Les Brown: “do you know the quickest way for you to get back on your feet is to miss two car payments?”

Enjoy the Growing Season

I’ve never farmed, but I know it’s a lot of hard work. You’d never see a farmer plant fall-harvest crops in May and then try to reap them in June, so why would you expect your start-up business to pay your bills right away?sunsetcaledon

Entrepreneurship is among the most exciting, frightening, joy-filled, and heartbreaking things anyone can do, and I’ve only been at it for less than a year, but I’m putting in the work to make sure that my business grows well, even if some of that work involves doing something else to pay my dues.

My enterprise is still growing, and I’ve stopped flailing about trying to harvest what hasn’t yet grown. I am allowing time and attentive care to do their things. Summer sun is coming and I plan on enjoying every day out in the fields, sunny and rainy alike, knowing that the harvest will be bountiful.

Will you do the same?

Freelance Hell: Three Tips To Avoid Burnout

What I want most in the world is to be transparent, everywhere and at all times.

It’s that desire that every creative shares, whether they’re working at their craft for dollars and cents or if they’re creating for creation’s sake: to be seen for who we really are.

The number one reason we don’t share, those of us who are part of that first group, is that we don’t want to get in trouble with our clients. We don’t want to get fired. We don’t want to get a bad reputation in business. We don’t want to lose a referral. We don’t want to offend.

But sometimes, for an artist, expression needs to come before those considerations. And I must express my present truth, even if it gets me in trouble, because I will have a complete mental breakdown if I don’t get this out, and then I won’t be any good for anyone.

Outside of titles and roles, who I really am is someone who is overwhelmed most days, and have been not for simply days or weeks, but months. Months now. I am in Freelance Hell, and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

What is Freelance Hell? Simply, it’s when a self-employed individual has too much work than they can handle, too much work that ONLY they can handle, and not enough money coming in to pay their bills.

Getting out of here is simple, though certainly not easy: I need to finish what I agreed to finish. That’s part of what makes it hell. There is no quick fix: because there’s no liquid money floating around my account, I can’t pay someone to help me out of it. The only way out is to work what I’ve got.

As a cautionary tale, however, I share with you the three decisions I made that led here, and offer you three tips that I strongly suggest you follow if you’re to avoid your own personal Freelance Hell.

1. Underpricing My Services

Fish are mostly unaware of the water in which they swim. Similarly, many new freelances are blind to the true value of their services. I was no different in the beginning, and as a result, I priced myself as much as 50% below the market worth of my ghostwriting and editing services, according to the Writer’s Market Guide of the year. I employed “Wal-Mart” thinking in my pricing: I needed clients fast and decided to beat my competitors on price, rather than quality.

As such, rather than taking on one or two higher paying clients, I took on multiple lower paying ones.

What I didn’t count on was the labour-intensive nature of the work I was hired to do. This is why freelances charge the equivalent of a monthly salary of a 9 to 5 professional job: they’re often devoting the same types of hours in a given week to fulfilling one project as they would if they were driving into an office gig from Monday to Friday. In ghostwriting especially, the time pressure can impact the quality and timeliness of the work involved. And when I took on multiple such projects, the time requirements multiplied.

By underpricing myself, I’ve essentially turned myself into a slave to my one-on-one clients, who expect – and rightly deserve – top quality work, on time, and in full.

TIP#1: CHARGE YOUR WORTH.

Re-read the last three words. Burn them into your unconscious. Surrender to it, no matter what anyone else says.

Price yourself according to your worth and needs. Refer to indexes like the Writer’s Market (available in most bookstores in the Reference section) to find out what the average price for your service is currently, and decide where you stand in relation to the average. Understand what your monthly expenses are, and factor them into your price, plus an extra amount for profit so you’re not just “getting by”.

Afterwards, stick to your guns. Don’t be afraid to turn down leads who balk at your price: if they don’t see the value, then you don’t want to work with them anyway, because their doubts will dog your process at every step until completion.

2. No Alternate Source of Consistent Income

The reason I needed clients quickly was that I decided to, as Tony Robbins put it, “burn the boats”: I quit my day job to take the leap into full-time ghostwriting and editing. I did not save up much of an emergency fund, and as such, I had to get work fast.

Because I was running against the clock, it simply increased the pressure on me to find new work. That caused me to take on more for less.

TIP#2: DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!

I cannot stress this enough. If you do need the time freed up to do quality work, go work part-time somewhere, and do this before the work piles up to such a degree that you won’t have the hours free to work part-time. It will relieve the pressure, even if it’s minimum wage: at least you’ll have something coming in.

And I get it: right now, there’s some poor schmuck reading this who’s no longer content to be an drone for some shitty company, and all he or she wants to do is follow bliss towards this lifestyle.

Worse than being a 9 to 5 drone is no longer loving what you do some days because you’re not able to pay your electric bill with it. Meditate on that for a moment.

Stay where you are, take on one client, and devote 2-4 hours outside of your day job to give them the best possible work that you can muster. Then, if you love what you do and got great reviews from your early clients, keep working until you’ve replaced all of your office wages with freelance wages. Then, and only then, do you leave your job.

3. Lack of Clarity and Patience

Before making this leap into full-time freelancing, I did not develop a business plan. I did not assess my needs and wants. I didn’t even test it out on one project to see if it was something I truly wanted to do. Instead, I just went for it. The result…well, you get the picture.

In truth, I’ve discovered, in actually doing it, that as a full-time, singular profession, book ghostwriting is not for me. Editing isn’t even completely for me, though there are aspects about it I love. What I love about my field is making the connections, helping other writers and editors find work. I love developing ideas and building a team to fulfill on a project. I love coaching authors to succeed. I love the creative and people aspect of writing and publishing, not the labour. Whatever that work is worth, I will gladly accept those dollars and cents.

What I’m clear on now is that I would prefer personal rather than paid blogging and creative writing. Now my mission, rather than simply finishing what I’ve started, is to disentangle and liberate my writing from the awful, heavy responsibility of paying my bills. If I write a bestselling book that sells millions of copies, so be it.

By mid-2016, my goal is to return to the creative writing that I started with, the creative writing that I miss so dearly.

TIP #3: GET CLEAR ON WHAT YOU WANT.

Are you sure you want to make a living doing this thing that you love? Are you sure you want to evolve your hobby into a profession? If so, create a business plan. Talk to people who know this arena better than you do if you’re not sure. Find other freelance professionals who have made it and interview them, find out how their journeys have been.

And get really clear: what do you value? Do you want easy money? If so, freelancing is not the way to go. Are you more motivated to get away from a shitty job rather than moving towards freelancing? If so, reconsider taking the leap until you can truly become “pro” freelance and not “anti” job.

You don’t need to become a saint or attain nirvana before you make your move, but before you burn your boats, you should put a little thought into whether or not this is an island worth taking.

Follow Tip 3, and you’ll avoid Freelance Hell altogether.

Do not mistake what I am saying, boys and girls. I am responsible for my choices that led me here. I’m not blaming any external seminar, motivational video, coach, or other source for my decision to “follow my bliss”. Nor am I blaming myself too much, either, however: we’ve got too many mixed messages out there for creatives that love to tell them to take the leap, but say precious little about what happens afterwards. Use both your heart and your brain when mapping out a creative living.

And if you’re already in Freelance Hell, seeing yourself in what I’ve described, you have my empathy. Feel free to reach out to me at jaberdeen@rogers.com with your story. Let’s support each other, because the way out of hell is one step, one day, at a time. I know I will get out of here, and that you will, too.

And on that note, I must go back to work.