The Trials and Tribulations of an Independent Freelancer – The Path to Self-Discovery
It has been about a month and a half since the last blog post that I put over here to let folks know how things have been moving along in my new life as an independent freelancer, after having worked at IBM for the last 17 years. So I guess I am well overdue an update, don’t you think? Even more so when things have been a bit quiet over here in the last few weeks and for a pretty good reason, I suppose… That one of entering the path of self-discovery.
It’s unbelievable how time flies, specially, when you are having plenty of good fun. It’s been 3 months since I decided to quit IBM and, after the initial month of vacation that I took, things have been moving along at a faster pace by the day to the point where I’m starting to get the gist of what it is like being an independent thinker and trusted advisor on Social Business and Digital Transformation. It’s been an absolutely fantastic experience overall with plenty of new challenges and new things learned every single day and it’s probably going to be a bit of a challenge to write them all down over here in this post. So, I will just go ahead and focus on some of the highlights, which is probably what most of you would be interested in, anyway, right? Specially, if I have made it through, or not.
You may be wondering though why I mentioned the concept of self-discovery as an opportunity to describe what has been going on with me over the course of the last couple of months. To be frank, that’s probably the easiest way I can use to describe what I am currently going through in this period of transition. Because that’s how it is feeling at the moment. And not necessarily about who I am or what I do (Or would want to do), but more specifically about the how, the when, the with whom and the where I would want to. Essentially, a path of self-discovery to re-find my place in this (business) world.
It’s probably not as dramatic as it might sound (don’t worry, no need to panic!), some of you may well be thinking. And you are probably right. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a very much needed opportunity for myself to think and reflect about what I have been doing over the course of the last few years, figure out if that’s what I would want to continue doing in a completely different working environment and eventually get down to work.
A very good friend of mine once told me (right after I was moving on from my former employer) that when she moved on from her previous working experience, it took her a few months to readjust to the new reality. I know she is going to have a giggle or two when she goes and reads through this blog post where I am confirming that I, too, apparently, have been needing that time to refocus and align with the new me. And while I can sense how some of you may be thinking that must have been quite a difficult and exhaustive experience to go through (you know, going from one of the largest IT corporate environments out there into building your own business as a solopreneur) it’s an experience that I strongly recommend everyone to go through: the self-discovery phase, that is. More than anything else, because, in my case, it’s helped me question every single thing that I have been doing all along and try to figure out whether it’s something that I would want to continue doing or not. And, if so, how and for what purpose.
Thus over the course of the last few weeks I have been working on a wide range of activities, some of them pretty random, just to help advance that self-discovery phase and see where I would end up. That’s why I thought it would be a good idea to share some of those activities over here as entry points that I will start going through soon enough in additional blog posts and I will explain why shortly. So, what have I been up to in the last few weeks? Well, in no particular order, here it is what I have been up to:
- Web site launch - Work continues to move on nicely, helping design and develop my own Web site (to go along next to this blog) where I will be listing the various different services that I am currently planning on offering, plus additional resources that may be of interest. It’s been taking me more time that I thought it would, but that’s something that, somehow, hasn’t bothered me just yet, because potential client prospects seem to still be able to find me without it, which I guess is not a bad sign, right? So, at the moment, I am currently looking into launching it, officially, during the course of the month of May (second half, most probably).
- Client work – I guess this is pretty much the new state of things, but I seem to spend a substantial amount of time, resources, energy and effort on constantly working on the pipeline of potential client prospects and business partnerships, to the point where it seems the second half of this year is going to be a lot busier than whatever I thought it would be, even to the point of challenging my own scalability. When taking to fellow colleagues from my networks, they all confirmed that’s pretty much the new state of things for us all, independent freelancers. So, at the moment, I am adjusting to the whole notion of seeing weeks pass by working on the pipeline and then see work accumulated from all of those weeks into a single week or two! How fun the network effect(s) will become, over time, on this one!
- Change Agents Worldwide – Perhaps one of the best decisions I have ever made in recent years. Joining #CAWW, that is. Described as the Airbnb of consulting business, Change Agents Worldwide has become my new home relatively quickly. Because that’s exactly how it feels. My home. A special place where working around the edges is no longer an expectation, but a day to day reality. A special network of independent thinkers and visionaries who are constantly challenging, through working out loud and many other social practices, each other’s ideas, experiences, know-how and in-depth expertise around Social Business and Digital Transformation, amongst several other fields, to help define the future of work through positive, irreversible, unprecedented and inevitable change. Today’s reality. In short, true, diehard change agents with a single unified purpose: Changing the world of work. One human at a time. Who wouldn’t want to be part of such wonderfully talented and rather smart wirearchical cooperative, right?
Did I mention how we keep building on the pipeline? I tell you, I am now starting to understand fully the whole notion around living just for the pipeline (haha – just kidding!).
- Back to the IBM ecosystem – This activity has been quite an interesting one, specially, as I keep talking to more and more people about my recent departure from IBM. Somehow, it seems like plenty of folks out there think that I basically moved on from IBM out of resentment, i.e. in bad terms, due to some kind of unfortunate set of events. Far from the truth, I am afraid.
Like in every large corporation, and probably in any other kind of business, there are, of course, plenty of highs and lows and eventually one has to look a bit more objectively into the overall, larger picture, to figure out whether the experience has been worth while or not. Focusing on one good positive or negative experience is probably not going to cut it. At least, for me. And, to such extent, I can only be eternally grateful to IBM for some wonderful 17 years with plenty of pretty inspiring and mind-blowing experiences all around that have allowed me to travel internationally to multiple different countries, work in various different business units with plenty of amazingly talented and rather smart folks on topics that I have always been very passionate about and, specially, for being such a great champion on walking the talk around what it is like becoming a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise, where performance is not measured by how many hours you clock in the physical office, but by the outcomes and outputs you deliver, which, over 10 years ago, allowed me to discover Gran Canaria and live here ever since.
So it would be far too silly for myself to neglect that kind of legacy, don’t you think? After all, it’s the legacy I helped co-build over the years to make it my own, resulting in me owning my own work, so why ignore it? Why leave it behind for good when I can use it extensively to help other businesses accelerate their own digital transformation through embarking on that so-called social business journey? That’s why after a little while I decided to come back to the IBM ecosystem and have already started working my way through rebuilding plenty of the social networks I once had at The Greenhouse and SmartCloud for Social Business, but this time around as an independent (freelancer) trusted advisor. Thus if you ever wondered whether I was leaving behind all of that legacy, I guess this will answer it from now onwards. Fancy connecting over there as well?
- Public Speaking – I will probably be writing a separate blog post on this particular activity alone, as I am thinking it’s the main one that seems to be confusing plenty of people out there, on whether it’s something that I still do, or not. I think, for now, perhaps I will just mention how I continue to travel for public speaking at various different conference events, although not as often as I used to when I was at IBM, and, contrary to what some folks have annotated about me now being stranded with no more frequent travelling, I always keep reminding those very same people to think about where I’m being stranded, if you know what I mean …
- The Social Web – Oh, my dear social networks! Where would I go, or what would I do, without you, eh? 15 years on and you are now as irreplaceable as ever! You are me, I am you. One and the same entity: the network. Our network. Who would I reach out to connect and learn, to cooperate and collaborate, to share our collective knowledge and provoke those wonderfully delightful serendipitous knowledge discoveries that make “coming to work” every morning a real treat and a privilege?!
Well, there have been some changes in here as well. After several months away from one of my favourite social networking tools (Ironic, right?), I have now come back to Google Plus and started posting in there as well. And it’s not that I wasn’t using G+ in the recent months. I surely was, but privately (Through certain circles, Direct Messaging and Hangouts). What I have done now is started to post again into the Public streams and the larger circles I have cultivated over time. Oh, and in case you are wondering why I have come back to it, I would share a couple of reasons why: this conversation or this other one, for instance (Hint: it’s never been a ghost town).
But perhaps you may be a bit more interested in this other activity around the Social Web, as I am hoping it will pick up plenty more steam over the course of time. Late last week, and after having had an active profile in LinkedIn for over 7 years, I have now decided to close the account and delete it (of which I got the confirmation this past Monday). Yes! Gone! Forever. At least, till LinkedIn starts treating its customers with respect by putting together terms of service that would be everything but what they are at the moment: draconian. This article by Heather Bussing explains quite nicely plenty of the reasons why I decided to have the account deleted. And while I am not sure whether I will be regretting such bold move over the course of time, for now, a week has almost passed by and I haven’t missed it a single bit. Why? Well, because most of my networks know where else they can go and find me. Funny enough, pretty much like I did with Facebook over 4 years ago. Have never looked back!
- Life Without eMail – I know, and I fully realised, how I am very much long overdue an update on this activity. There are, indeed, lots of things that I would want to share with everyone, as I am pretty sure most of you folks out there would still be wondering whether I will be continuing further along with this movement now that I am an independent freelancer versus working in big corporate world, right? Specially, if I would want to test the waters and see if I would be able to pull it off while no longer working as a salaried knowledge worker, but being an independent advisor.
Well, I won’t spoil the various surprises I have got piled up and that I am hoping to be able to share shortly with you folks, but, for now, suffice to say that Yes!, I am still doing it and here’s a mini-progress report of sorts: back in 2011, if you would still remember, I was getting an average of 16 emails per week. In 2013 that spiked higher up into 35 emails per week and nowadays, in 2014, I’m currently averaging about 7 emails per week. So I guess you can imagine what that progress report will indicate once I share it across, right?
- Going out and about – As part of that self-discovery phase I am finding out as well how ever since I left my previous job I am spending plenty more time outdoors. Probably as a result of that work life integration I have become such a huge fan of in the last few years.
I still keep running every day for about an hour (this will be my 3rd consecutive year doing it) with Boira (our Belgian sheepdog) and it’s interesting to see how that running time has turned itself into my thinking and creative time as well, something I wasn’t expecting it to happen, but that now that it’s sinked in I’m appreciating it more and more by the day.
Spending more time outdoors, going out and about, is probably the main reason as well why I have picked up again sharing photos through Instagram, Flickr and very soon, Google Plus, once again, more than anything else as an opportunity to capture certain life experiences that I may, or may not, be able to live through again over the course of time. Who knows… The interesting thing is that I’m enjoying capturing those moments, as they become part of my living memories. Something that I can then go back to, treasure and appreciate even so much more how lucky I truly am.
- Becoming an early riser – Almost nearly a year ago I tried it. I even blogged about it. And I failed miserably. Probably because my working schedule for the past 10 years shifted gears towards US timezones vs. Europe’s. But now it is no longer the case I am giving it a try again and see if I can become an early riser. Changing long term habits can be quite an interesting experience, specially, if you think it’s going to be a relatively easy exercise of re-adjustment, when then it may well not be the case. For now, it’s working really well though, perhaps because of the motivation and several benefits behind it all, like, for instance, seeing the huge amount of stuff one can get done in the early hours of the morning when everyone else is still sleeping away. I can tell you, if there is a time where you may want to change your habits and become an early riser again, spring, in full swing, is probably as good as it gets to make it happen.
Phew! That was a rather long update, wasn’t it? Way way longer than I thought it would be. I guess thas what happens when you disappear from the blogosphere for a little while and people keep asking how are things moving along and instead of repeating the very same story all over the place, you decide to keep writing till you run out of everything you would want to share across. Even then I still realise there are a few other activities I haven’t mentioned, nor talked about, just yet, but, for now, I think I will leave things here with one more clear premise: blog more often, shorter blog posts!
[I told you, long term habits are extremely difficult to change, but I think I just managed to come up with another one I’d want to break away from. Paraphrasing Blaise Pascal “I have only made this blog post longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter”. So, let’s see how it goes …]
Written by Luis Suarez
Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide and a well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business; and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua or Google Plus.