In May of this year, I quit my job as an editor to go freelance. I knew it would be a challenge, but I had enough money saved to cover expenses for six months. I figured if everything went according to plan, I’d only have to rely on that safety net for three months, tops. In hindsight, I told myself what I wanted to hear.
In reality, to stay financially afloat I had to immediately scale back on expenses and track every penny I spent. I stressed constantly over what my next assignment would be. And, I burned through a significant chunk of my savings, money that took me years to earn. Going freelance is like starting any other business, and my initial business plan — “work hard and show everyone” — was not going to cut it.
So I adjusted. I sought out new revenue streams, marketed my skills in better-paying industries, and stopped pitching projects that would take weeks to complete but only pay minimally. Within six months, I was finally, modestly profitable (though not profitable enough to buy people Christmas gifts).
Now, with financial doom at bay, a new worry has surfaced: I’m not pursuing the sort of creative projects that compelled me to go freelance in the first place — the ambitious reported features, the dream-big book proposals, the podcasts that everyone but me seems to be hosting with great success. I like working in my sweatpants, sure, but when I quit my job, I was chasing an authentic spark, inspiration, and a path forward that I couldn’t find in my staff position.
And so, as I head into 2019, I’m making a New Year’s resolution to pursue money and creativity in tandem this year.
Make your resolutions count
The common refrain about making a New Year’s resolution is that it doesn’t work. One study by the University of Scranton shows that 92 percent of people who make them don’t actually keep them. But it’s possible these people are making the wrong resolutions. The Scranton research, for example, found that the most common goal among its participants was to “lose weight.” According to a 2015 Nielsen survey, the year’s top-ten resolutions included “enjoy life to the fullest,” “spend less, save more,” “and get organized” — all admirable intentions, sure, but also far too broad to be achievable. (It reminds me of the year I resolved to “lighten up.” Unfortunately, we don’t turn into chill new humans the minute the ball drops.)
A more effective approach to making resolutions is to set specific goals. For instance, if your New Year’s resolution is to bring your lunch to work, you might decide how many days a week you plan to pack your food. The key here is to be realistic. Once, I vowed to “cook for the week on Sundays.” It was a resolution that was good on paper but, in reality, untenable. When I adjusted my expectation (“cook three nights a week with rare exceptions”) I stuck with the plan. (Read what one writer learned from packing lunch for 20 years.)
In my case, I’ve turned my somewhat vague resolution to both earn money and also strive for creative fulfillment into three specific, measurable goals:
- Meet a set income. My plan is to match or exceed my last staff salary.
- Hit a pre-determined savings goal. I won’t be able to recover the money I lost — or “invested in my business,” as I like to tell myself when I can’t sleep at night — but I can replenish it by half.
- Complete at least one big creative project per quarter. By big I mean ambitious, exciting, or outside my comfort zone.
Check in with yourself
As exact as my three goals are, they’re not particularly action-oriented — which means I’ll need to set sub-goals throughout the year for them to come to fruition. And so one safeguard resolution: have monthly check-ins with myself. Am I on track to meet my goals? What steps do I need to take to accomplish them? Have any unforeseen circumstances derailed me?
The reality is, resolutions can change throughout the year, and there is no New Year’s Resolution Police (NYRP) forcing you to stick to your January 1 plan. If it turns out your goals were unrealistic or your priorities have shifted, you can adjust accordingly at any time.
Set goals big and small
In thinking through some goals for the year, I noticed a voice in my head berating myself for not having a “self-care” routine. I don’t moisturize every day, even when my elbows look like turtle shells; I don’t have a go-to mascara; I don’t clip my toenails until I maul my boyfriend and feel shamed into action. (Years ago, a doctor even noticed how unkempt they were!)
But the truth is, I don’t have the time or energy right now to overhaul my beauty regime. It’s just not a priority for me. And so instead of resolving to become someone I’m not, I’m making one final resolution: to regularly trim my toenails. It’s a free, achievable goal that will help me take care of myself. Sometimes, that’s all we can ask of a New Year’s resolution.