Unexpected growth. Oh, and tired.

So, it seems that I am going to start just about every one of these posts with a whinge about how tired I am. So, how about I just get it out of the way: I. am. tired. I am mostly tired because I am finding it hard to get into a routine – or at least – find a routine that also allows me to a) earn a living for my family b) get my study done and c) get more than 3 hours sleep a night. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am running a web design business and studying a full time load, so it’s pretty exhausting.

I came home one day last week and noticed that my son (18 months) was heavier. That is generally a sign that I haven’t seen my kids much, and in this case, it’s right. I haven’t seen my 9 year old daughter in what feels like months, and the middle boy (nearly 5), well, the only time I see him is when he seeks me out. It’s not a good balance.

And the thing that scares me, at this very moment, is that I am about to get a whole lot tireder.

I am genuinely surprised about the knock-on effects of this decision to become a Doctor. I am not sure if it is related to turning 30, or that I have opened a Pandora’s Box of figuring out (and asserting) what I want out of life, but something major has shifted in me. I feel a little bit like I am suddenly evaluating all of the choices I made up to this point – all of the things I have done out of obligation, or habit, or societal expectation… and its like the decision to uproot my life and try to do Medicine has made me question everything else, including my marriage. Like my previous career (s!), my marriage is not a bad one. I’d be okay if I stayed, but there’s just something that I am yearning within it that makes me feel incomplete. And I need to be separated to figure it out.

Because the feeling that I have when I am at a Lab, or studying the Sciences? It makes me feel complete. It might sound crazy, but Chemistry was something I was told was hard, that I was a creative-brain and that I wouldn’t cope with it. So I didn’t do it. Same with Physics. Others expectations of what I should do and how I should feel prevented me from finding my passion. Because to me, Chemistry & Physics are simply applied Philosophy. Nobody ever told me that Aristotle is as much the Grandfather of Science as he was of Political Philosophy. Noone ever said that Classical Philosophy had as much of a scientific application as a creative one. And I feel a bit let down by that, because if Chemistry had been explained to me in terms of the search for meaning or understanding the world around us, or explaining the Universe… I would have taken to Science 10 years ago. I think it might be a failing of the public school system that they don’t show the overlap between the Arts and the Sciences. My only exposure to it in high school was Bicarb and vinegar and memorising the periodic table! But, if you show me how osmosis applies in the body, why they put physiologic saline in a drip with drugs… I not only retain it, but I love it.

So I feel a little bit of sadness at how I was a Scientist for all these years and never knew it, purely because the system doesn’t encourage us to find our passion, but to pick a job we can do.

And I am sure all the Doctors that read this will laugh, because right now, I am studying only to get my GPA up so I can get in to Medical School and I am studying basic Chemistry, basic Histology, basic Physics… the sort of thing all you eggheads take for granted. And I may be right-brained but I am home, because I understand *why* these disciplines exist – and that they are a philosophical hypothesis like anything else, and it’s a discipline based on Millennia of thinking and reflecting, like anything else. If anything, I feel that having studied the classics n Philosophy prior to approaching the Sciences will make me a better Doctor, because I get the why as well as the how. Understanding things at the molecular level, and applying it across disciplines… excites me in a way I have never ever been. I want to be a Scholar, not a subset, and the discipline of Medicine is so broad, I am truly excited about my future.

And like cells have an enormous impact on the whole world, that one little decision to pursue my dream of being a Doctor has had a butterfly effect I could not have foreseen. I am truly excited.

Having said that, there are some practical hurdles that I keep coming up against. The main one is time with money a close second. And University bureaucracy is doing my head in, to say the least. My University decided that in order to graduate with the new triple-minor in Politics, Public Policy & Biomedical Science, I needed to take a whole bunch of Politics Units… it meant an additional year of study in something I had already done, so, me being me, went on a bit of a Twitter tanty. We finally negotiated that I could do as initially promised, plus one more Politics unit and that would be fine. I was a ball of stress about all of this, because as it is, the numbers are against me even getting into Med, without being stuffed around on top of it.

As I said earlier, I am full time at University, and working in a business that requires a lot of time. I got out of bed last Monday morning at 6am, to catch the train for an 8:30am lecture, to have the lecturer pretty much read from the slides that are available online. I started the Semester with the intention of attending every single lecture (to show I was committed), but at this point in time, I felt it was unsustainable, and an inefficient use of my time, so I decided to dedicate blocks of time for the whole week’s revision, instead of FOUR 1 hour lectures, on different days, per unit. I feel like I am functioning a little better this week because of it. Because it’s not so much about my commitment to the degree or to getting into Med School… for people who are grown-ups, with jobs and families (and in my case heading into single parenthood for at least a little while), it is about my time being valuable and needing to schedule efficiently. I am still attending all compulsory Labs & Tutes, and doing my best to go to lectures, but at the same time, I need to be aware o burnout. Because I have health issues, stress is not good for me and I need to learn strategies to be efficient rather than super-human.

I hope that I can at least be an example for those other older people considering entering Medical School – that it’s not about the right timing, or having enough money, or being able to take it on. As you get older it only gets harder and more complicated… and if that burning desire is there, and refuses to subside, leap now. It is really hard. It is really exhausting. And it may open up feelings and thoughts that you didn’t expect or realise. My personal growth since the decision to try for Medicine has been a combination of surprising, invigorating and downright terrifying, and you need to be prepared to feel like a different person on the other side. But, I’ll tell you… after my histology lab, with the microscope that was too high and hurt my back, and the eyestrain from staring at my own eyelashes for 2 hours, and the migraine that followed… I felt a sense of bliss like never before. The week before, I was wrist deep in cow’s guts and I have never been happier. And I was in a first year dissection lab, fighting back tears because I was just so overwhelmed with excitement and privilege to have gotten even to that point… it is so worth it.

And I know that on my first day of Medical School, I will sob like a baby. Because it has taken not only a tremendous amount of physical energy, but the emotional and spiritual transformations I have inadvertently discovered along the way, and I will feel so lucky to have the opportunity to even be there.

Which is why, whenever I feel tempted to pack it all in (which happens at least every second day), I think of that moment. Not even finishing Med School, or being a Resident, or finding my speciality, but I think about that very first day of Medical School, and that feeling that I have discovered my calling and my dream, and that feeling of nothing but pure excitement, and an immense feeling of privilege and humility, that will make all of this tiredness, separation logistics, forever teetering on bankruptcy, worth every second.

Yay 4 day work week (or whatever it is you people say).

I would wander into the tea room, give you a smile and say something small-talky along the lines of "oh no, another work week, but at least this is a short one", except, all I did was work all weekend. Dealing with tech support issues that aren’t even my problem. So unfortunately the niceties aren’t really coming easily today.

The Web Design business prepares you for being a Doctor in quite a few ways you wouldn’t expect… long hours, lots of "Emergencies" that aren’t actually urgent, lots of balking at bills and assuming you are "rich", lots of "c’mon, just one more free hit"… mass consumption of caffeine & Red Bull… and a lot of people acting as though you are their own personal counsellor/troubleshooter/agony aunt/whipping girl.

So I figure hey, at least if I am a Doctor I get to say what I do and actually get some respect. People go to jail for practicing Medicine without a licence.

OK, that’s not the real reason for me going to Medical School, but it sounded funny in my head :)

5 more things I wish I knew about the web design business

In my previous post, I mentioned that my list of 5 things had blown out to 10 things I wish I knew about the web design business. Well, here they are:

5. Don’t take criticism personally

All of the business advice and freelance blogs will talk about the idea of "you" being the Point of Difference when it comes to your clients. People approach LinkArtist, fundamentally, because they want me, the word about town is that I do excellent work and have a personal touch that not many other designers can replicate. My pricing is set according to people’s desire to have a site that has been designed by me. I don’t compete on price alone, and that is because I have a reputation as a designer that pours my heart and soul into my work.

But what happens when you have put all of this physical, emotional and mental energy into creating something, and the client rejects the work? Don’t take it personally. Yes, it’s really hard when you are selling yourself as the product, to distance "you" from "the work you do", but it is necessary to keep you from burning out from stress, or worse, being rude to a client and acting unprofessionally.

When a client approaches you for a project, more often than not, they want "you". Or, more specifically, they want you to help them look the way they think they should, and the unfortunate reality is that, sometimes, clients have a mental picture of what they want, and they expect us to pluck it out their head. We try our best, but, sometimes, we get it wrong, they change their mind, or whatever, and yes, it’s frustrating. But, it is also a big part of business.

So, remind yourself that yes, your business is you, your work is you, and that’s great, but criticism comes from the customer wanting a certain result – and does not mean that you are at fault. Of course, if a client if abusive, or is deliberately changing the spec of the project those are different things entirely!

6. Take risks

It is tempting to get complacent, earning the same money for doing the same things, over and over. But it is also very easy to get yourself in a rut. And even worse, get into a situation where you feel ripped off.

I recently took a very big risk. I broke up with my very first client. The person who supported me when I was nothing but an amateur designer and wannabe webmaster. The person who cheered me on when I didn’t think I could do it anymore. The person who became a very close friend. There were lots of very good reasons to stay.

I broke up with this client because even though they were ultimately very supportive and nurturing, there came a time where they were not prepared to pay beyond my entry-level rates, and were taking up more time than I could afford to grow my business. I started to grow resentful, and often felt as though my opinion didn’t count – much like that aunt that still sees you as a 10 year old: they couldn’t see that I had grown up and could no longer be bought with candy.

So, I made the risky decision to dump my highest profile and first-ever client. I was worried that I would be frozen out of the network somehow, or that I would stop booking clients. But, that didn’t happen. I took a calculated risk and it paid off for me. And, the friendship has remained intact!

I have increased my prices and billable hours 3 times in the past year. Each time I have felt it was risky and I have lost some clients because of it. But others have stayed, and I am attracting a higher level of budget than a year ago, and am building momentum.

So, even though some situations or decisions may seem risky, you need to assess what the payoff is. For me, it was actually having time with my children, or at least, if I was having time away from my children, being compensated justly for it.

7. Know when to ask for help

I have a tendency to think that, as a generalist, I can do it all.

I have also spent many a night going round and round in circles trying to figure out a solution to a problem that was then promptly fixed in 15 minutes by a programmer. I don’t do this anymore, of course, because I have learned that there are a hundred other things I could be doing with my time, and, for the sake of a few bucks, my sanity, self confidence and sleep are saved.

Start compiling lists of people you can contact when you’re stuck. I also encourage them to contact me, so it becomes a loose network of troubleshooters with particular skillsets. If you want to be on my list, email me, because I always need programmers to call on with half an hour’s notice for small jobs :)

Part of knowing when to ask for help, is also being able to identify when you aren’t coping with your load. I now let my phone go to voicemail to avoid interruptions, I do invoicing once a week (with some exceptions like deposits to commence work), and as soon as I can afford it, I will be outsourcing all of my admin. You can’t be expected to do it all AND be good at your work. It’s just not possible.

8. Don’t pretend to be bigger than you are

If you do this, people will expect certain levels of service and availability that one person just cannot provide. Even though it is tempting to talk about the "we" or big-note your "team" of people, this will come unstuck VERY quickly.

I have always tried to explain to my clients that I am small. Even though the personal touch makes for excellent service, the reality is that having to provide personal service to everyone at all times becomes overwhelming. There are many benefits to going with a freelancer over a bigger Agency, but one of the costs of that is that often, I may not answer my phone, or I may take a little longer to get those "5 minute jobs with a minutes notice" done.

Being honest about your size and your time will make your life easier in the long run, contrasted with any short term gain you may get by overselling your services and capacity.

9. Don’t befriend clients without knowing the risks

Freelancing, and especially freelancing from home, is very isolating sometimes. Despite working every day, I can go several days without actually speaking to anyone outside my family. I have plenty of friends, but because I am so busy, it is hard to fit them all in. It is inevitably those who are on Facebook, or take the time to email me, that stay in touch. It can be lonely.

Then, you get that client who is just like you. They too work at home, find it isolating, and are very chatty and personable and you have a lot in common. Your kids are similar ages and you talk about anything and everything. You don’t censor yourself. It’s all roses, the projects go well, they love you and you love them. You’re on a high, you cannot believe your luck of finding someone who finally "gets it". You go above and beyond for them, because that’s what you do with friends.

Then, there is a problem that needs to be dealt with, business to business, and it goes to shit faster than bad seafood, because you blindly went into a friendship without negotiating what it means to the client relationship. The boundaries were never negotiated, because you think "oh that person would NEVER treat me like that". And then they do. And it makes you question whether you even want to continue working in the business, and if only you’d defined some clear boundaries from the outset, and not befriended clients, it wouldn’t suck this much…

I just had a friendship and client relationship fall apart like this, so I am speaking from experience here. Tread very, very carefully when you decide to become friends with your clients. I talked about being too candid with clients in the previous post, but this one goes a step further. Be very, very aware of what can happen when a client falls out of love with you, or there is a disagreement over money, or you feel tempted to give them more than what they can afford in the name of friendship. Or, in this case, if the client starts to rely too much on you for stuff that is in their "too hard basket".

Think about friendships with clients like you would if you were going to have a pre-nuptial agreement. As hard as it is to think about, you need to consider the "what-ifs" if it goes sour.

10. Hosting just ain’t worth the effort.

If you are a web designer or developer and are tempted to sell hosting as well. DON’T DO IT. It is not worth the grief, the disruption or the small amount of money you will get. Clients will expect you to provide tech support, and this is a full time job in its own right.

Take it from someone who has been there and is currently trying to wind back from hosting… DON’T DO IT.

So, hopefully some of this list can help you with your journey, whether you are at the beginning, or partway through, like me.