It was a beautiful wedding. The bride and groom beamed, surrounded by friends and family in a warm embrace of love and support. The setting, too, was gorgeous. I have never seen my mom’s farm look so magical…
Rob and Betsy planned everything down to the last detail… Except for the storm.
The day started with sunshine and white puffy clouds, so when the storm swept in, we didn’t even see it coming. One minute the bride and groom were cutting the cake, the next minute the toast was cut short by rain coming inside the tent sideways!
Lightning flashed and wind tore through the tent, knocking flower vases over. Someone ran to cut the electricity and most of the guests took cover inside the house. It was a spectacle.
God definitely had other plans for the evening! (Have you ever felt that way?)
So what happened next? Everyone got in their cars and we headed for the only hotel in Wahoo, NE and continued the party indoors.
The men loaded up the stereo and we all grabbed the beer and wine and even some of those flower vases that survived, to brighten up the new party space. The space wasn’t nearly as beautiful, but the spirit was the same.
The celebration re-booted with a new toast that started with “…as I was saying…” and carried on until late in the night, destined to become one of those occasions no one will ever forget.
Have you ever planned something from tip to tail only to have it fall apart? Do you have the resilience to move forward after a catastrophe?
It’s not always as “easy” as changing your plans when a wedding gets rained out.
Freelancing bites when you’re not prepared for disaster.
When you freelance, sometimes you’re blown sideways by clients who don’t pay you for your work, and other humiliations you never could never foresee.
When you are really trying to please a client, and he pulls the rug out from under you or tries to insinuate that you’re a slacker — even though you’ve invested everything (time, effort, creativity) — into his project… OUCH. That can totally suck the life right out of you! If you’ve freelanced long enough you’ve probably already experienced something like this demoralization. People are people, and some of them cheat.
How do you pick up the pieces and go on?
I really hate to talk about this, because when I do, I still feel angry and humiliated.
I’m not sure if that’s a “woman thing” or if men also feel that way (you guys disguise your hurt feelings so well), but to explain this resilience thing, I’m going to relate it to “rebuilding” after a storm. Storms are natural occurrences we can all relate to, as are setbacks in your freelance business. May as well accept the facts.
Which hurts more? Getting fired, or getting stiffed? How about both?
On to my personal story. A couple of years ago I got knocked to the ground because I failed to put a contract in place.
I started working (off and on for about a month — literally about 60 hours of work) on a large project… before I received payment. This client was so earnest, and sincere. (He was an accountant, a trustworthy, reliable type, right?) He had that clean cut look, the gentle voice, all the right words, talked lovingly about his family, etc. I thought he was a “good, sincere guy,” someone I wanted to work with, and I clicked with his goals and business ideas.
I also actually really liked his product and could see the viability. As a marketer, I can sniff these things out quickly.
Since I tend to be creative and energetic, running ahead of everyone else from the get-go, I pulled all my weight into this project and just knew we could make him a star on the speaking circuit. I’d done it before, and this guy had all the chops I look for in a speaker and info-marketer. I admit I am a bit of an agent and “champion.” If I believe in someone’s work, I sell the crap out of their stuff and can usually help a person explode online with sign-ups, traffic, new followers, etc.
It’s just what I love doing, and how I built this business — by being a behind-the-scenes gal. Apparently I should have been a better listener and seen the warning signs sooner.
When this client backed out, I was devastated. Personally and professionally.
He gave me a super-lame excuse and told me he would not be paying me. At the moment when he told me this, he owed me about $1200 for the work I’d delivered, not counting the mental energy I’d invested. (Freelancers, you know how difficult it is to separate a project from the hours you put into it.) Let’s just say that my investment in time and work I’d already done, added up to a LOT more than I ever received in payment.
When he let me go, he cut me down and OFF. Without any warning.
I fought back tears on the Google hangout we we on, which was totally humiliating, but I had earned, and was relying on the check he’d promised. I asked to reschedule so I could regroup and think about how to respond.
“How could I have done something so stupid?” I thought. I knew better than to jump into a job fully invested, without any commitment or contract from the client, but I was excited about the work and I had liked the client. Pouring in time and resources, I made a beginner’s mistake — and I wasn’t even a beginner at that point. I should have known better. I lost my neck in that one… big time!
Never jump into a large project without a contract. (Duh. Headsmack.)
OK, the obvious resilience tip is to avoid stupid mistakes in the first place.
I’ll talk about preparedness in another post, but is it fair to say that everyone makes some stupid mistakes and gets knocked down sometimes in the course of running your business and life? If you agree, here’s the next chapter…
Blindsided and hurt, it took me several months to put the incident behind me. I fell into the trap of self-blame and shame. Unlike my brother’s wedding party, I didn’t pick up the pieces nearly as fast and elegantly.
Instead of deflecting the blow and moving on, I totally absorbed it and allowed the hurt to move into my heart and head like an unwanted guest.
Talk about resentful! It wasn’t pretty. OK, I’m not proud (just honest), so can I share? I can still see his face, so sometimes in my kickboxing class I summon it up and get a really good workout. HA! The silver lining!
A little rain won’t kill you.
It took some work to kick it out, but I finally managed to put the incident behind me and glean some value from it. Next time it seems like everything is falling apart, I knew I could hurry through the following steps, taking lessons from the storm that changed the course of Rob and Betsy’s wedding day. Here’s what I promised myself.
1. As soon as I can, I’m going to cut my losses and move on. At the wedding, the instant the microphone started snapping and buzzing, someone wisely disconnected the power, cutting the toast short. Recognizing defeat early and decisively is the key to getting out with the least damage. You don’t use electronics in a lightning storm. Similarly, when a project, process, or even an employee doesn’t turn out like I planned, I’m going to stop investing!
2. I’ll remember my strengths and my purpose. There a bigger picture that drives me. It’s bigger than any one project or job. My legacy isn’t tied up in one thing. One setback won’t kill me, just like a little rain doesn’t change the happiness of a newly married couple.
3. Finally, I’m going to stay open up to new ideas. Usually when something you try fails, it doesn’t necessarily mean if was a bad idea. It could be your timing was off or you need to tweak something. If you absolutely bomb (or if it rains on your wedding cake) then you learn from your mistakes, rescue what you can, and keep producing. If the wind blows you down, get back up and take shelter. And never, ever give up!
Some say rain on your wedding day is good luck. If that’s so, then my baby brother and his lovely wife are destined for a very fortuitous life. While no plan is perfectly executed, mistakes and the occasional storm flavor your life and business with the opportunity to grow.
Fast assessment and response, integrity, and the ability to learn are what set you apart from others who give up when the going gets rough.
So here’s to a storm on your wedding day, or making the most of that pile of rocks you just produced. Everything happens for a purpose, even mistakes and mild catastrophes. That mistake I made taught me to clarify expectations and become better at customer service. It turned my attention toward a new product idea I never saw before. It also got me to improve my client on-boarding process by asking better questions, getting terms and conditions in place, and working within a contract.
The episode transformed into a win, if only in my mind, which is where it counts most anyway. I saw that I was more resilient than I ever knew.
Resilience is a gift you cultivate in times of adversity. How could you transform a problem by seeing it in a new light, and move forward today? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below…