Optimizing for Happiness

I was sitting on a plane on the way home from a site meeting last week and was thinking about my next email to you. Nothing really brilliant occurred to me.

But back at home, sitting at my computer with my teething baby smooshing his face against my french doors, I realized something important.

I am living the dream.

Really, I am. My dream was always to have a big family. Not to be super successful or to make a lot of money.

I’ll grant you that most of my ideas of family life came from Full House, Family Matters and Boy Meets World but as a kid from a single parent household, those big families looked pretty good to me.

But here’s what I didn’t fully understand as a kid watching a TV family.

Somedays, even the best things are hard.

Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Life can be hard.

So I try to make work as easy as possible.

How do I do that?

I realized pretty early into my adventure as a dad that as a parent you have to be willing to give up control. I don’t get to decide when my baby is hungry. A trip and fall (or a virus) can change the course of a day.

Teeth come in when they’re ready.

But running my own business provides a place where I definitely have more control, and so a big philosophy of mine is to reduce risks and anxieties. So I have the energy to enjoy my family when they get home.

I don’t want to worry about work. I don’t want anxiety based on money.

For me, that translates into reliable, regular income. When I know the bills will be paid, I have room to breathe.

So here are three ideas to chew on for today:

Retainer clients.

I talk about retainer work regularly, but I’ll say it again because I believe it wholeheartedly:

Retainer clients are a win-win for everyone.

Retainer work provide the client the ability to partner with someone that knows their application and has become an expert in their systems based on past work.

They also provide us, as the consultants, the stability to do our best work and give our clients the best possible ROI because we’re not haring off after other clients or contracts all the time.

The right fits.

When I am approached by a potential client, I don’t just look at the size of the project or the potential invoice.

If my goal is to reduce my work stress so I can focus on the things most important to me, tying myself to a bad fit client undoes all my best work.

Instead I try to take a bigger-picture look at the work the client needs done, the culture their company maintains, and the team that I’ll be most closely in contact with.

Then I decide if we’ll be a good fit in terms of goals, methodologies and skills.

(Or if I can refer them to someone that will be a better match.)

Saying no.

I know firsthand that the reality of the feast or family cycle that many freelancers live in is that we often think we have no choice.

We think we have to agree to any work that shows up on our doorstep. We sabotage ourselves when we believe that.

Saying no can be difficult at first but it leaves room to find the best clients for your skill sets, or to explore options for alternate revenue streams.

Saying no also protects us from the challenges that can arise (either personal or professional) when we are stretched too thin, not the best skill fit for a client’s projects, or are just not that interested in the work itself.

I’ve told you that my dream was to have a big family. That may not be yours.

But with work- or money-related anxiety out of the way (or at least moved to a back burner), you can be free to go after your dream too. Whatever that may look like. These ideas can work for you too.

My good friend Andrew Culver once told me that he always viewed my business as something solid, rather than up and down. I was pretty proud of that compliment.

It’s confirmation that I’m living my dream.

How can I help you reach yours?