Friday, December 12, 2008

Keeping Stress to a Minimum (It's All in Your Head)

My business is starting to grow. I'm landing higher-profile clients and more lucrative contracts. While this is definitely something worth celebrating--I'm not complaining, and I feel blessed to be doing well so far in this economy--I'm also feeling the level of pressure increase as the level of client and pay does. This is the ugly side of success that nobody tells you about.

Some people are naturally chill and relaxed, while others have so much confidence that nothing phases them. I'm a very high-strung individual, and I really, really want to please my clients. But this month I found myself under a lot of stress, and my traditional way of dealing with it--i.e. breathing heavily into a paper bag until the urge to pass out subsides--just wasn't cutting it any more.

At the beginning of the month, I landed myself in a situation where it seemed whatever could go wrong did. At the end of two weeks of incendiary contract disputes with a third-party client, I found myself on a bus to Boston on the way to a week-long business trip, stuck in traffic, twenty minutes from my flight's departure time. Under normal circumstances I would be banging my head against the window and shrieking at the driver to drive over the median to get there faster. But after all I'd been through up until then, I had to laugh. For what was probably the first time in my life, I thought to myself, "screw it. I'll either make the flight or I won't." And somehow, I did make the flight.

This taught me a big lesson: even though I have complete faith in my own skill as a writer, this job can still bring me enormous stress. I could handle it when I was just starting out. But at the levels I'm starting to compete at, it could easily consume me. I realized this month that this job could only get to me if I let it--and I had to stop letting it.

Here are a few mental tricks I'm putting into practice to lift the pressure.

Keep things in perspective. We're writers, not doctors. When we screw up, nobody dies. Nations don't rise and fall. Global economies don't crash. The worst that can happen is someone's promotion isn't as successful as hoped, or there's a typo in the headline of your sales letter, or your landing page doesn't beat the control. Not great, true--that typo thing can seem like the end of the world to us grammar perfectionists--but not exactly a national crisis, either. Whenever something doesn't go as planned and you feel yourself starting to stress, ask yourself this: in five years, will you care?

Pick and choose what you'll allow to stress you out. Let your family issues stress you out. Let your relationships stress you out. Let your dog's hip displasia stress you out. But do not let other people's stresses stress you out. As your business grows, you'll find yourself working with many, many people who are stressed themselves. They need your draft yesterday. They're dealing with pressures of their own. Do your best for them, but don't let their anxiety become your anxiety. Set boundaries when needed.

Let go of other people's responses. You don't want them to like your work--you want them to love it. As a professional with a very high standard of quality, i can totally relate to that. But bear in mind that the quality of your work and the client's response are not always tied to each other. No matter how on-target your copy is, you will almost always get nit-pickers and people who feel the need to mark their territory by giving you additional revisions. Take a deep breath and do the best you can, but do not let criticism of your work damage your confidence as a writer. That confidence is your livelihood.

There will always be another chance. Clients come and go. Projects come and go. Nothing is forever. If one business relationship doesn't work out, it could be a blessing in disguise--it could clear your schedule for that fabulous project or client just around the corner. When you let go of a troublesome business relationship, remember that the money will come back--you're freelance and flexible, and there are thousands of businesses who need your expertise.

Running your own business is always stressful. And in a creative field, you face myriad challenges from client attitudes toward writing in general, subjective direction, giant egos and third-party editors with agendas of their own, among other things. But as long as you're making enough money every month to support yourself, you're doing fine.


Unknown said...

Amen amen amen!!! It's the toughest lesson to learn - we are hardest on ourselves with expectations than most of our clients will ever be.

Here's how I managed to lower the stress - I pretend the fee is much lower. Would I be so worried if the client were paying half what he/she is paying? Then I stay in my happy place until I write out the invoice. That's when I snap back into reality. LOL

Jennifer Williamson said...

Wow, what a creative idea! I'll try that. Right now.

Kimberly Ben said...

Jennifer, I am going through the same thing. I have moments of panic that I feel so silly about because isn't getting better clients and making more money what I want? I've stressed myself so much that I would up with a horrible sinus infection.

Lori, I like that advice. I'm going to put it into practice starting riiiiight NOW!

Joanna said...

Your post comes at a perfect time for me. When I have a lot of work on my plate, I find myself suddenly consumed by stress about getting it done -- yet this is exactly what I want!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder about not letting my client's stress become my stress!