I both require and recoil from structure. Help?
September 30, 2009 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I have recently realized that, without some kind of structure in my life, I am not going to be successful (in terms of career and money). The times that I have had structure (college) have been my most successful and productive. However, the idea of structure sends me running, fearful of losing the freedom and flexibility to do what I want, when I want. I can see rationally how this aversion has hurt me: My freelance business is dying, I'm out of money and I'm not much further along in my "career" now than I was when I graduated from college 10 years ago (I'm 35). It's obvious to me that not having an income will restrict my freedom and flexibility even more than structure would, but this knowledge doesn't seem to make it any easier to bite the bullet and make myself a schedule or apply for a job. How can I give myself the structure I need without it hurting so much? Or, alternatively, how can I cope with the fact that it will hurt, because I know it's a trade with a net-gain? I'm already working with a therapist on this, but I'm looking for personal experiences with similar issues. What techniques, books, videos or anything else have helped you?

One specific issue I'm hoping to address: I often have ideas to improve or expand my business, or for new businesses entirely that I really believe are good. I get excited for a while and then lose my drive to see them through to launch.

A thought I had was to put an ad on Craigslist to assemble a few like-minded freelancers/entrepreneurs and have a daily or a few-days-a -week video conference at the same time each morning. It would be pretty brief and consist of each person stating their tasks and goals until the next meeting and how they have done since the last meeting. Even that much structure makes me squirm a bit, but I'm thinking it would make me/us accountable in some way and be a tiny bit of schedule I'd have to adhere to -- maybe a way to dip my toe in to the concept of having structure.
posted by The Dutchman to Work & Money (7 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried looking for already established "entrepeuneur support" groups on meetup.com? I have a few friends that have found these useful for keeping some kind of structure in their freelance careers.
posted by unlaced at 10:11 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would suggest to work with a switch. I do it.

When I'm at work, I'm at work. I do everything I have to, the best way possible, and overachieve like a bandit. However, I am protective of my free time, almost to the point of rudeness. When I am done with work that's it. I am done.

Separate your day (or your week, or month) in working time and living time. Decide the sizes of both reasonably. For example, my husband works four days a week, and has three completely free days, to lay around like a cat, go out of town, to a concert or whatever he wants. I do the same, but from a bi-weekly point of view.

I think this may help you to keep the feeling that you are master of your free time, without ruining your chances when it comes to work and money. Don't be ashamed of protecting your free time!

Hope this helps.
posted by Tarumba at 10:21 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can you take on a partner? If you have someone you "report" to, even if it's an equal business partner, it can give you a little taste of structure, without necessarily turning it into a must-show-up-at-work-every-day-at-8am kind of structure.

Also, Tarumba's advice about strictly separating your work and personal life definitely works.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:40 AM on September 30, 2009

but this knowledge doesn't seem to make it any easier to bite the bullet and make myself a schedule or apply for a job

I remember my friend told me once when I had a similar complaint, "You know, I think you need to have life kick you in the ass a little." Of course, I put off the ass-kicking, and wouldn't you know it, life went ahead and gave me one, anyway. The good news is that I think it changed my attitude about a lot of things. The bad was that it was ten times the ass-kicking than what I probably needed.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:59 AM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

In this economy it may not be as simple as figuring out whether you want a job or not. I think if there's even a remote possibility you might want (or more likely NEED) a job, start looking now. You can do the soul-searching when you have an offer in hand.

Remember that most any job won't be a 24-hour commitment. You'll have time to run your business (or start new ones) if you're willing to work the hours.

My freelance business is dying, I'm out of money and I'm not much further along in my "career" now than I was when I graduated from college 10 years ago (I'm 35).

Give us a little bit more of an idea of what your "career" goals are and maybe we could be more specific?
posted by milinar at 2:56 PM on September 30, 2009

Response by poster: Well, so far my main career goals have been to work less than 20 hours a week, location-independent, and make enough money to pay the bills, travel, have nice things and generally enjoy life. So far, I've done really well at the part where I don't work much and am not tied down to an office. The rest...not so much.

I still believe it's possible to achieve the kind of lifestyle I want (with flexibility on the 20 hours a week thing, at least at times), but I'll never find out if I can't see my business ideas past the concept and initial excitement and registering the clever URL stage. Hence my feeling like I need some kind of external structure to keep me on-track and moving forward and not giving up at the first sign of difficulty.
posted by The Dutchman at 3:18 PM on September 30, 2009

Best answer: You're not able to transition successfully to a structured lifestyle because the pros of changing aren't outweighing the cons of changing enough.

You know exactly what structure would get you in life, and that's fantastic. You're afraid that you'll lose the freedom and flexibility to do what you want, when you want. That's pretty vague. What specifically does that mean to you? What kinds of things do you want to be able to do? What kinds of things does your current flexibility and freedom allow you right now? What could it potentially allow you in the future?

Seeing these pros vs. cons with clarity will not only allow you to make an informed decision, rather than an "I should/it would be better if" against vague but strong anxiety against, but also allow you to find work-arounds. If you know the specific things that freedom and flexibility give you, you can problem-solve to find ways to bring these things - or the feelings these things give you - into a structured lifestyle. You can do this because structure is not absolute. You don't have to make your life so rigid that it kills all spontaneity.

If the issue is losing a sense of autonomy rather than spontaneity or specific activities, give some thought as to whether or not that's an accurate conclusion to draw, and why, and exactly how you could bring a good, strong sense of autonomy into a more structured lifestyle.

What are your other reservations about changing to a structured lifestyle? Do the time and effort involved with making such a major life change weigh in pretty heavily? Will you lose some social connections?

You have to not only see why structure is good, but want it well and above what's holding you back.

Commitment isn't simply a blind force of will. You have to hold this want in your hand every day. You have to remind yourself the whys, you have to have a plan, and you have to have faith that you can do it. Visualize what you want every day.

Being accountable to others is a great idea. I hear it works really well for some people, though I haven't personally had success with it.

Take baby steps.

You asked for books and whatnot. It's not geared towards entrepreneurs, but it's widely applicable to making any sort of lasting change, and is all about stick-to-it-ness. I've found it profoundly helpful, and I think you could adapt it readily: Changing For Good, James O. Prochaska.

(On preview, I see that you're looking for the structure itself to help you make the change. The structure may or may not be what you need; it certainly sounds like it would help. I considered not posting this response, but I think it will translate.)
posted by moira at 4:42 PM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

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