While social media may tell us the lie that running a freelance business is more about photos of yourself working in exotic locations than hard work, it is a lie. There is freedom to be found in running a freelance business, but also much hardship.
There will be times that your finances aren’t working out as hoped. There will be times when you’ve got hard problems to solve and no idea where to start. There will be late nights that look like a waste of time the next morning.
Running a freelance business is hard, and to succeed, you need to have something beyond money fueling your work.
I often find myself discussing the power of meaning with my clients, and we find the work of Emily Esfahani-Smith resonates with us. She writes, “When we devote ourselves to difficult but worthwhile tasks — whether tending a rose or pursuing a noble purpose — our lives feel more significant.”
Simon Sinek calls it your WHY. Jeff Goins calls it your Purpose. Robert Greene calls it your Life’s Task. But they all amount to the same thing. It’s the reason you do your work. The reason you keep going when things are hard.
The data on the gig economy shows that a huge reason people look to freelancing is that they are disengaged in their jobs and don’t feel a sense of purpose. The thing is, this overarching purpose can be hard to find. School does little to prepare people for it. Sure, you learn math and how to read, but school does little to help you find meaning in your work.
The path to finding your purpose
Finding the bigger reason you work may not be a one-and-done process. It’s likely to be fraught with trial and error.
The point is not to find it and stop looking. You should be in a continual process of figuring out your purpose, and the following questions will help you.
1. What did you excel at?
A great place to start is to look back at your childhood to see what you excelled at. One current that flowed through my childhood and teenage years is coaching. I was the one who friends came to when they had issues at home, with girls, with boys and with life.
I was the shoulder to lean on, the one who had advice for them that helped them work through their troubles.
The biggest mistake you make as you search through your story is to look at the awards you won. While awards may hold a hint at a purpose in your work, spend more time focusing on when the things you did helped others. That’s more likely to lead you towards your overarching life task.
2. What is difficult for you but invigorating?
Have you ever had a project that made you work and struggle but at the end of it you were energized and breathless?
Discounting the hard things in your work is easy. In some candy and fairy-filled dream, running a freelance business is easy, but it’s unlikely you’re going to be happy in that life.
Meaning is found in adversity. Look at the hard times to add more threads to the tapestry of your purpose.
3. What makes running a freelance business worthwhile?
A final way to start the journey toward your purpose in work is to figure out what is worthwhile. One of my favorite clients is Greater Impact. Their whole mission is to help people have better marriages.
By keeping their site updated, I also help people have better relationships. That’s something closely related to my purpose: “To help people build the life and business they dreamed of.”
I’ve worked with homeschool sites and companies that help you prep for your SAT/ACT. Even the carburetor shop I count as a great client had a purpose that matches mine. They rebuild car parts so that they can contribute to the community programs in their town. They sponsor bike racing teams, build bike lanes and help kids succeed.
I coach new parents so they can build a business that lets them spend time with their kids. I enable them to take a business that was scraping by and turn it into something that allows them to travel without working all the time.
By working exclusively with clients whose mission matches up with my own, every line of code I write accomplishes my overarching goal. Each hard problem that takes five hours longer to solve than I expected is a problem solved to achieve my purpose.
That gives my freelance work meaning, and if you can identify your purpose, every bump in the road for your business will feel smoother because you know it’s on the path toward building a meaningful career in the gig economy.
Curtis is a business coach and speaker. He focuses on helping businesses build effective processes for vetting ideal clients and building a business that doesn’t take every hour of every day to run. Learn more on his website.