$#!* Happens! A dirty story about freelancing success
It was about 11:00 a.m. when we started up the mountain outside of San Pedro Sula in the northwest corner of Honduras.
The humid air lay heavy and still in the valley below, causing the fields of sugar cane to shimmer in the hot sun.
We were videotaping b-roll for a few TV spots one of my fundraising clients wanted to test. Our task that day was the same as it had been every day that week: to capture images of the devastating poverty these people suffer.
The camera crew donned their battery belts, cables, and assorted gear and we followed the narrow dirt path toward the shacks above.
As we ascended a steep rise and veered to the right, we came across a young boy toting an armload of dry firewood. One of our videographers wanted to shoot this and positioned himself in the middle of the path.
That’s when it happened. And to understand what happened, you must understand the term “wrap-and-throw.”
Many of the people my client helps are so poor they live in makeshift shacks, some of mud or wood, others little more than plastic or cardboard nailed to sticks.
These places often have no sanitary facilities. So the residents have developed a practical way to deal with their waste: They wrap it in a small bag and throw it away from their home.
Thus, we were walking in a “wrap-and-throw” community.
And while the videographer set himself to shoot the kid with the wood, one of our guides trotted ahead to ask the child’s permission. The boy agreed, and the guide came running back toward the cameraman.
A wrap-and-throw lay silently in the path, aged, warm, and ripe. A group of unsuspecting, sunblock-smeared gringos stood stupidly smiling three feet away, anticipating nothing but the beautiful picture they were about to record.
Our guide’s foot came down hard at ground zero … and the principles of ballistics did the rest.
It gave new meaning to the term “$#!* happens.”
Three people were hit, the brave videographer getting the worst of it, sprayed heel to cheek with the brown, foul-smelling slime.
Fortunately, I had been walking ahead of the group, upwind and out of range. But when I heard the ruckus and walked back, it was like a scene in a war movie. Shocked, pale faces. Cries of disbelief. People running in all directions.
The videographer stood stock still, looking down at his body in disbelief, mumbling, “I can’t believe that just happened. I can’t believe that just happened.” Others in the group tried to act concerned as they cautiously inspected their own bodies for damage.
I must admit, I would have been equally disgusted if I had been a casualty of this incident, but I would not have been surprised. In fact, that’s what I found most interesting about it, the utter surprise that this had happened.
Surprise? We had been walking in wrap-and-throw for days. The only surprising thing was that it hadn’t happened before. We knew where we were going and what we were doing. And we knew the risks.
In my mind, this was proof that we were out there doing what we had to do to get the job done. That wrap-and-throw was just part of the process.
Which brings me to freelancing. (How’s that for a segue?)
I am sometimes baffled by the unrealistic attitude some writers have about freelancing. These delicate souls assume it is nirvana, a magical land of wealth and contentment where there is no stress and nothing ever goes wrong.
Here’s what I ask everyone who contacts me wanting advice on how to succeed in freelancing: “Are you ready to do what it takes? Are you willing to stick with it even if things get rough?”
Freelancing, after all, is just a form of business. And like any other business, you have to market your services, deliver professional-quality work, do billing and paperwork, and service your clients.
You have to deal with all the crap that goes with it when things go wrong, clients get mad, and people don’t pay. You can’t hide in a cubicle with your iMac. You have to get out there and get the job done.
And yes, you have to deal with failure. Because you will fail. Repeatedly. You can’t let it get you down or tempt you to give up. Getting freaked out by reality and throwing in the towel too soon is the biggest mistake new freelancers commit.
It’s been said that the best way to increase your success rate is to increase your failure rate. In other words, the more you try, the more you learn. And the more you learn, the better your results in the long run.
Take it from me, someone who came up in freelancing the hard way. Success is about persistence in the face of failure.
And really, as the years go by and you figure out how to make freelancing work for you, you’ll realize that all those little so-called failures are not failures at all. They are nuggets of precious knowledge. They are experience. They are your most valuable asset.
Freelancing isn’t a place you run to escape crappy writing jobs and the harsh corporate world. It’s a path to a better, more rewarding life where you deal with writing on your own terms and take on the corporate world as an equal.
Indeed, $#!* happens. You’ll step in it every day.
But that odor is the sweet smell of success.
- When freelancing fails: 5 questions to ask yourself
- My Path to Freelance Success (And So Can You)
- Okay. Okay. I’m writing a freelancing book.