For the past week or so I've been working my way through my HUGE box of business cards which I've been collecting for 4 years, inputting each and every one of them into a new spreadsheet database. You might think I'm a little mad for doing this time consuming, and let's be honest, inanely tedious job but it's all part of the process I've started since reading Alex Mather's e-book How To Get Illustration Clients.
I've been working on creating, nurturing and building my database of contacts, one business card typed into Google Docs at a time. BUT, I'm not writing this post to subtly promote Alex's book, or brag at my awesome patience (which isn't that awesome, I promise) but, to tell you about a discovery I made that really struck me whilst going through these business cards;
All of this can end at any moment.
Now, I don't mean in the morbid sense, although you wouldn't be wrong with making that connection too. What I'm on about is freelance business, creative business, art careers, that can all come to end in a quicker fashion that it may have taken to create. The amount of cards I went through who either were no longer doing that line of work (illustration, surface design, tailoring, design etc) or simply did not exist on the internet any longer took me quite by surprise.
It had the same tang of when you discover an old school friends-father's-long-lost-cousin had died - you don't know that person at all, in fact you probably never met them, but you acknowledge there is a loss there and that someone was somebody's something; Aunt, Uncle, Niece, sibling whatever. For me, it's the same thing. These people's business cards don't hold much sentimental value in my life, but I can't help but wonder what's happened to these people. Are they ok? What happened for them to no longer be doing that line of work? All those long hard years of working, just gone. They were someones illustrator, photographer, designer, copywriter.
I can see how this may seem a little dramatic , however when you work for yourself you sometimes can forget that in the midst of the hard slog of seeking out clients, networking, marketing, generating work and still trying to earn a regular bit of money, some creative or freelancer, somewhere, had the plug pulled on their dream of a creative career. And that's a sobering thought.
I have no idea what the circumstances are for these creatives who I met many years ago - they may possibly be on to bigger and better things, situations that suit their circumstances better, but I can't help but feeling immense gratitude for still hanging on to my dream, even if sometimes it feels like I'm just hanging on from my fingernails.
One day, I may find myself in a situation where I need to make a hard decision and I cant stop myself from imagining someone, somewhere, finding my business card after 4 years, Googling me only to find that I exist no longer on the internet. The very thought makes me a little sweaty because I absolutely refuse to let that happen.
But that's the feeling you want. Really!
If you're like me and still hustling your career then I think it's healthy to have a little fear to keep you from being complacent. I tend to work 1000% harder, doing things that I find uncomfortable and loathsome, when I'm low on clients and money. But what if I applied this fear edge to when I'm actually ticking over nicely? Imagine the work generated!
I have a lot of business cards left to wade through, but I can tell you that I'm getting through them faster than ever before now that I remember what I need to do to prevent my future business card self ending up in a recycling bin graveyard.
Before I head off for an evening of Walking Dead and pizza (because Walking Dead gives me another type of fear and pizza is my comfort) I want to leave you with a question: If you saw your career as your lifeline, how tight would you hold onto to save yourself from drowning?
As always, I'm keen to hear your thoughts! How do you keep yourself from being complacent in your career? How does it make you feel to imagine never doing your dream job ever again? Feel free to drop your comments below or tweet me!