A year ago, I decided to make a career change and start writing full-time. Aside from the obvious ‘will I have enough money to feed my family’ worries, I was also concerned about going stir-crazy while working from home. A comic by Internet funny man The Oatmeal does a great job of capturing the good and bad points of setting your own schedule—with the ‘bad’ including a degeneration of social skills and crushing loneliness.
One year in and I’m proud to say I still wear pants to work, speak in full sentences and honestly don’t miss the grind of a day job or the camaraderie with fellow employees nearly so much as I feared. Sure, there are days when I’d rather step away from the keyboard, call up a few friends and go for lunch but most of the time I’m happy with a full slate of freelance assignments and my dog for company. Part of the reason is that I’m still a family man at night: One (soon to be two) children and a loving wife mean I’m not alone for days on end. Perhaps a larger part of my success, however, stems from the fact that I’m an introvert.
Out of Your Shell!
As a child, I was frequently encouraged to stop watching other kids play and ‘join the fun’ or ‘play on a team’. Uh, no thanks. I’m fine here. Getting me ‘out of my shell’ also made a frequent appearance and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized my shell is a thing of beauty, an orb I’ve crafted over thirty-plus years to be pliable when required, rigid as needed and always, always kept in place. There’s nothing wrong with it. I don’t want to ‘get out of it’, since that would mean leaving a part of myself behind. I’m a card-carrying introvert, and proud.
That isn’t to say I don’t like people, hate emotions or can’t be social. I enjoy time spent with friends and family but such endeavors quickly drain me of energy requiring I re-bubble, rest and recharge. As I said to my wife one Sunday not so long ago: “I don’t like crowds. I don’t like people. I like you, and sometimes even you’re a bit much.”
It stands to reason, then, that working as a freelance writer is the introvert’s paradise—no one here but me, and my writing speaks for itself.
Except…building a brand requires networking.
I’m a product of the late 1970s meaning when I grew up phones had cords, the Internet had no tubes and television had less than 10 channels. Social media is like a foreign country to me and while I’ve learned the basics, virtual connections come with much of the same energy loss as dealing with real people. But I’ve learned a few things:
- Emails give you more control. You don’t have to reply right away, and if you’re looking for work you can tailor a query until it’s near-perfect.
- You can talk about the work. Nobody has time for chit-chat if you’re not face to face, so it’s okay to skip everything but the bare minimum of pleasantries.
- Phone calls will happen. I have several clients that utilize conference calls, and I recently hosted a podcast. Most of this is optional but can help build your brand. For an introvert, the key is being well-prepared and allowing adequate time to recharge afterward.
- Social media still sucks. I agonize over Tweets and try to predict how any given blog post will be received depending on who reads it, when and in what context. I’ve learned this is one area that sheer bullheaded stubbornness can be used to great effect: Just get in there and get it done.
Freelancing is the introvert’s dream job—almost. For me, it’s like coming home.