I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.

I’ve been a full-time freelancer for 10 months. My friend Chad says that freelancers are modern-day cowboys and I’d like to think it’s true. Partially because it makes me sound badass and partially because it makes me feel badass.

Spoiler alert! Freelance is hard, especially when you’re new. I thought going into this that it would be tough for the first three months or so. It would just be a short stint of business-owning puberty. Everything would be a little awkward, but I’d make it out alive and reminisce about it with a big Julia Roberts smile laugh. Things would get better and better and, before I’d know it, I’d be blowing my nose with dollar bills like Lloyd Christmas did in Dumb and Dumber. It would be awesome! I’d get to travel anywhere and work remotely. I’d have time to volunteer all day every Friday. Since I’d be making so much money, I’d even spend time on pro bono projects or just starting other side businesses because, why not? I’d suddenly become a decisive lady and personal finances would just “work themselves out.” Life was going to be fabulous as long as I worked hard early on!

“LOLZ” —Internet cats’ response

I started to get discouraged when my expectations were not being met. I was upset with myself. I worked all the time and I wondered what was flawed about my approach … or worse, me. Fear crept in. I started to think I might actually fail at my dream of being a business owner. It didn’t seem like it was this hard for the other freelancing cowboys.

Now, as I near my first year of flying solo, I realize those dreams take time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Our generation expects success as fast as an email exchange. It may take us ten hours to read a memoir, but that memoir took a lifetime of living and years of writing.

I don’t feel bad about my aforementioned aspirations. In my case, the time frame was just unrealistic. I was born a dreamer and I’ll die a doer. I’m still technically living the dream (traveling, donating design time, etc.), but it’s not without cost. David Allen said it best: “You can do anything but not everything.”

“BECKY, GET TO THE JUICY FEAR ALREADY.” —you, right now

Okay! When I was at Designer Vaca, the topic of fear was brought up. The panelists discussed the realistic worst case scenario (in regards to tanking careers). The group decided that it looks more like getting a desk job and sleeping on a friend’s couch than being on the streets and making pals with cats. The worst isn’t so bad, unless we allow it to deflate our egos. But that’s just it. It’s not sleeping on couches, it’s the implication that there’s an internal error.

Then Promise said something really poignant. “The fear isn’t simply just failing, it’s failing at my calling.” I nodded my head in agreement, but it wasn’t until later that I realized this is the center of it all. It speaks to a lot more than underutilizing resources or not working hard enough. It’s about being blindsided by our misguided direction.

Aside from fearing that I’m pursuing the wrong calling altogether, I fear my supposed calling not making a difference even if it’s a success.

Bob Goff is one of the most inspiring people around. I dare you to read his book, Love Does. He loves people to the moon and back and doesn’t waste a second doing so.

He says, “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

And there you have the fear: succeeding at that which does not matter.Though I’ll miss my blissful ignorance, I’m thankful that my fear has evolved into what it has. It keeps me on my toes and requires me to regain, refocus and find my anchor. Step by step by step by step.

Becky Murphy is an illustrator, writer and graphic designer. Her first book, I’d Rather Be Short, was recently released and is available where books are sold. It contains 100 reasons of why it’s great to be small and is a fantastic gift for all the shorties in your life. Becky writes about happiness, perspective and the occasional short joke at www.chipperthings.com.

You can also find Becky on Twitter and Instagram.

Krystle: Becky, I’m calling myself a modern-day cowboy from now on. And yes, I too am a victim of overzealous expectations. Freelancers are so hush hush about their struggles and I wish we could collectively take a step back and look at the bigger picture. We do what we do because it’s our passion, or calling, and what if it doesn’t end up working out? Gasp! Instead maybe we should treat this time as a stepping stone to the next thing. Maybe we won’t be freelance designers forever. In that sense, failing doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world. It becomes part of the journey.

Fear Confessions is a series of essays by creatives who share personal stories about facing their fears. It’s a celebration of vulnerability.

  1. OH MY GOD. This post touched my soul. And made me cry. Yes, yes, yes. Exactly. All of it. Thanks Becky for sharing this fear – a whole lot of creatives are going to feel less alone after reading this. Myself included.

  2. * round of applause *

    You took the words that have been rattling in my brain for so long and got them unstuck and out in a way that makes sense to those around me, not just my own crazy creative brain. Promise’s quote really struck home…and it looks like I need to pick up Bob’s book that has been laying on my shelf and GET BUSY!

  3. I think you nailed it, Becky. I think that in some ways we (and by we I mean I) spend time on activities that aren’t part of my “true calling” as it’s easier than chipping away at my dream and maybe coming up short. But it’s counterintuitive because all I’m doing is setting myself up for failure (aka success at something that doesn’t matter to me). Thank you for analyzing this so succinctly and cleverly.