By Jake Poinier
I’m a sucker for nautical stuff. I grew up sailing in Massachusetts, and as Arizona desert rats, our family heads out to Californian waters as often as we can — and thanks to my laptop, I can even do freelancing aboard when necessary. Last week, we sailed back from Catalina Island to Long Beach, California, after a few days of spring break. It’s about 25 miles, usually with a decent breeze. Under good conditions you can see the mainland the entire 4 to 5 hour trip.
This was not one of those days.
As we departed, the harbormaster shouted to us, “Be careful out there — it’s a little lumpy!” Sure enough, as soon as we passed Bird Rock at the harbor’s mouth, large, lazy swells started rolling in, causing a rocking-horse motion as the waves came in on the stern quarter, lifted us, tilted us, and laid us back down.
And about 4 miles in, it got foggy. Really foggy.
Growing up, fog was a reason *not* to go out in small boats lacking navigation tools. On this trip, we were in a 31-foot Beneteau, equipped with GPS as well as a compass. Still, I’d be lying if it wasn’t unnerving to see less than 100 yards, knowing the speed of ocean-going tankers hauling in and out of Long Beach, and trusting a little cartoon boat on a 4-inch-square computer to tell me exactly where the heck we were on the planet.
We made it without incident, and as a result, our entire family is better equipped to understand slightly gnarlier conditions than usual. So, let’s bring this around to how this applies to freelancing:
Know what you’re getting into. Just as most don’t go into rough, foggy waters in a small craft without navigation tools, you need to be aware of what you’re capable of handling as a freelancer and avoid the dangers of faking it. Have a basic plan before you set out, but be flexible when conditions change.
Trust your craft. A bigger boat like we were in has tons of metal in the keel to keep it from heeling (aka, tipping) too far. If you’ve built your business properly, you should be able to handle challenges such as economic slowdowns — even if your progress isn’t as fast as you’d like.
Stop and listen. We’ve all been in a freelance fog at some point — too many projects, too fast. In a boat in a fog, you need to periodically idle and listen to what’s going on around you to get your bearings. Same thing for freelancers.
Test yourself. Bringing it back around to the headline, there’s always a risk of freelancers being too cautious. Learning to handle the rough stuff — complex projects, challenging clients, tough negotiations — can provide the confidence to conquer anything.
Jake Poinier, when he’s not messing around in boats, can be found at Dr. Freelance. The name of his freelance editorial services company, Boomvang Creative Group, alludes to a boat part — a boom vang is a pulley system that helps control the shape of your mainsail.