Some of the best advice I have ever received as a freelancer is to focus on actions rather than outcomes. For most of my life, I was focused on outcomes. As a young person, I wanted to make straight A’s–an outcome I was very successful in achieving. But there was a hidden cost. To protect the outcome, I became risk-averse. I avoided subjects (such as biology and chemistry) that might have jeopardized that goal, and poured my energies into maximizing my grades in subjects that came more easily to me. I think now that my career might have been a bit different if I had been focused on the pursuit of learning rather than the “sure thing” that would please my parents and teachers!
I think for most students, it’s a big transition to the workplace, where you may only be evaluated once per year. As a technical and business writer, though, I could generally measure my success pretty easily. I had assigned projects that needed to be completed to a known degree of timeliness and excellence. When I became a senior-level writer, I had wide latitude in how I went about executing complex projects that often extended over many months. Still, what and why were set at the executive level.
In those days, actions had pretty predictable outcomes. As a freelancer, my world has expanded. That means my tolerance for risk has also had to expand. Let’s face it–it just doesn’t work to say, “I think I’ll have a great insight today,” or “This month I’m going to get an amazing new client.” I’ve learned to focus on doing every day and let go of the idea that it will pay off with some obvious “gold star.” Instead, it’s taking action that generates ideas, energy, and momentum. And that leads to outcomes large and small.