Let me set the scene for you: You’re a 20 year old failed rock star working at a call center in the middle of a small town. Every day you call people who don’t want to talk to you, and you don’t want to talk to, only to be yelled at and called every name in the book. So you start to simply end calls without speaking. Naturally this isn’t the stealthiest move in the world, and you are fired, and rightly so. Now imagine that at this same time you have just found out that your girlfriend of only a few months is pregnant. And also imagine that you’re freeloading living at her parent’s house.
That was me, 5 years ago.
5 years ago I was fired from the only job I could seem to find, without a care in the world, because it had never occurred to me that the life growing within my now-wife was real. Until it did. The moment that it occurred to me? It was mid-way through the drive back to her house after getting fired. I realized at that point exactly what I had done, how stupid I had been, and could feel the world waiting to give way beneath me.
Everything would have given way beneath me if it hadn’t been for a couple of friends who I had been passing my now very free time doing volunteer coding for. I told them about the stupidity I had done, and that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to feed my kid, and they offered me a job. Doing the same thing I was doing for them for free, for which I would have kept doing it for free if they hadn’t ever offered it, but they did. So I accepted and started my first freelance job ever.
I’ve since learned a few things that I think pertain to all work, and not just freelancing.
#5 – Work Doesn’t Stop When You Leave
When I was 20 I don’t think I had a conscious idea that work stopped when I left, but I stopped caring about it. I was there for the paycheck, the place could have been invaded by zombies and I wouldn’t have cared at all–except for the not being able to kill me some zombies aspect of it. As a freelancer, making my own hours, and getting messages at all times of day and night about bugs cropping up, servers going down, etc, you realize that the work doesn’t stop when you punch out. And when you can never punch out, you’re always on call.
This period of my life was a trial by fire into work ethic. For a lot of the time I was the only thing between our website and the growing hoard of rabid players that weren’t able to click their fancy buttons and type their little words. Which leads me to my next lesson…
#4 – Working Like An Owner
The fact that I was a player first, and then developed slowly into a paid programmer for the same game, helped me with this one. Every job before that I had always looked at it as a paycheck, something to be done so I could afford things. But when I was freelancing, it was more than that. I started to develop pride in my work as I watched the game I loved grow, and become something it had always aspired to be, and best of all, it had been my hands that had coaxed it along.
Finding that pride is what I call working like an owner. I don’t own a piece of anything I worked on during that time period, but I always felt like I did, and still do. I may not make money from it, but that’s ok, because it’s there for others to use, and I feel that same pride when they enjoy it. To this day I try to find that pride in what I do, and it always helps get you through the day feeling like more than just a grunt.
#3 – Bosses are People
I had always been very timid when it came to dealing with my bosses. I, for one reason or another, had put them on a pedestal. It wasn’t until my bosses were actually people I had already become friends with that I realized a boss is just a person, in a position of authority. Sure, there are some bosses that try to play god, but even they are just people. People with a god complex, that should probably chill it a bit, but people none-the-less.
So what do I do now? I chat with my bosses. I try to get to know them as the people they are, and not just their work-selves. We all have one, and that leads me to my next topic…
#2 – Develop a Work-Self
When I was 20, I was myself at work. That’s not a horrible thing, and if it works for your job that’s fine. But at 20, I was a dumbass kid, and I freely admit this. At 25, I’m still a dumbass most of the time. I’m crude, I have a very naughty sense of humor, and it’s not exactly suitable for a work environment. So do I stop joking around entirely? No, I just don’t make the same types of jokes. Work is work, home is home, and there are two versions of me that I let people see. When I’m working, I’m very focused on the task at hand, but when I’m having fun, I’ll have as much as the next guy.
I developed my work-self as a way of putting up a mask, because I was shy. Over time that mask has absorbed into my actual personality and I find myself more outgoing, and outspoken, and enjoying good debates about work and the like.
#1 – Enjoy What You Have, But Have a Goal
So after getting fired from the call center, then working freelance for a few years, I thought I was hot-shit. I quit the job that had been given to me, without a guarantee that I would fill that paycheck elsewhere. Not shocking that a year later I had no regular clients, no job to speak of, and was getting further and further behind on bills. I started putting job applications in, did so for a year.
Now, in the time I had been a freelancer I had watched the company that had fired me fall in upon itself and close. Shortly after a different type of call center setup, and in my time putting applications out I had learned a bit about them. They seemed like a better company, one that I would be interested in, but a few things kept me from applying. First was that I had been fired from the last call center, and the second was that I didn’t want to deal with angry customers.
After a year of rejections, I finally bit the bullet and applied. I got the job, and quickly realized the work was great, the people were great, and it was an entirely different type of work. I set a goal before even getting the job that if I did happen to get the job that not only would I succeed at it, but I would go as far in the company as I could. I found that keeping that in the back of my mind helped me get through the toughest days.
After 3 months working there, I’ve proven myself useful, and have started training for that next step. So while I get that training, I move forward, enjoying what I have, but looking for the next goal to tackle. For now, my only goal is to become the best I can in the position I’m in. Once I find myself in the swing of things, I’ll make the next goal. And then another. And another. Not attempting to achieve it for some vain attempt at happiness, but because I find going to and from work without a goal to be draining. Even if my goal is to simply help 1 person do their job better that day than they did the day before, that is a goal.
I have one.
You should too.