A few weeks ago, I took my 10-year-old son to Los Angeles for a freestyle trampoline event on Venice Beach. I took him because he desperately wanted to go (he’s a very good freestyle flipper—that’s him below) and I wanted to write more about this phenomenon of kids becoming extreme athletes in their backyards (I wrote one story about this already). I took a leap of faith and put the plane reservations on a credit card. I pitched the story to various outlets and wound up selling a piece (I’ll link when it’s out)—the fee for which more than covers the expenses of the trip.
So, yay for leaps of faith paying off! But the biggest leap of faith happened after I got home.
Let me first explain to you what I saw on Venice Beach. I mean, I can’t explain too much because that’s what my story is about. But I can tell you this: I saw kids flipping, twisting, and being joyous and genuine. They were launching their bodies through the air because it was fun, it felt right, and they were in charge of it. It reminded me of the life I aspire to live—one where I am being joyous and genuine, not just because I do cartwheels and flips, but also, because I am thoughtful and deliberate in the kind of work I choose to do.
I came home inspired. Well, honestly, I came home exhausted, because it’s really difficult to travel with a 10-year-old. He didn’t stop talking or moving the entire time. I was super done by the time our flight landed on Sunday evening. But the inspiration spread through me slowly as I fell back into my groove for the week.
That’s why, on Tuesday, I walked away—or rather, leaped away—from my biggest client.
Part of the story I’m telling about the Venice Beach event involves a 16-year-old boy (a freestyle flipper) from Boston who told his parents he was done with regular school and he was moving to L.A. to live with the family of a friend he had met on Instagram—another freestyle flipper about his age. Instead of all the parents freaking out, they were like, hey, let’s listen to these kids and try to figure this out. These two boys (and their families) are amazing. First, they’ve started a company that is doing very well (like uh, leading the industry in the niche it’s in). Not only that, these kids are unapologetic about doing what they love, following their dreams, learning what they don’t know, and not letting people box them in.
Yes, they’re teenagers without big adult responsibilities yet, but the attitude of “I’m not going to let others define me,” is an equal-opportunity attitude. It takes guts to make this your mantra, no matter your age.
Seeing young people embracing this philosophy and starting to build a life around it . . . well, let’s say it made me do some re-evaluating of my own life.
I genuinely love my life—mostly, because I have built it around that exact idea of not letting others define me. It’s why I work for myself. It’s why my husband and I do things very differently, both in how we’ve reversed the roles and in the way we approach marriage in general (we’re weird, but in a fun way).
And yet, I was making myself miserable in some of the work I was doing, particularly with one client. At first I was grateful for this steady work. But slowly, the culture started shifting away from a freelance culture and toward treating freelancers like employees and layering on policies and processes that added complexity to things that I felt should be relatively simple. I tried to pretend this wasn’t the case, because I liked the money and the people. I kept saying yes to projects. After all, we had a home equity line of credit to pay off. Plus, for some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to buy a Lexus (because if you’re stressed about money, that’s what you should definitely do). And then there was family vacation. We discovered the Michigan beaches and wanted to keep going back.
I had to keep taking on this work to pay for such luxuries.
But I grew to dread the work. I complained about it to my husband and to other writers. I didn’t like the person I was when I was working on these projects. I cannot handle rules that don’t make sense to me, processes for the sake of processes, and being micromanaged—at least in the absence of values to do with the greater good (like public health or national security). I. Can’t. Handle. These. Things. I don’t know why, but it’s like I have an allergic reaction to institutional policy. I blame growing up Catholic (it’s a very handy thing to blame in general).
And then I met those boys, living life on their terms, and I saw the energy of Venice Beach—boys and girls of different ages, races, and sizes, freestyling it and not letting anyone else be in charge. I remembered a little more of who I was.
So, two days after I got back from the beach, when I got an email from this client introducing yet one more freelance-unfriendly policy, I said, “Enough.”
I wish this client’s enterprise well. It’s a good fit for some. It just wasn’t for me anymore. That isn’t an easy thing to come to when you’re a grownup with adult responsibilities, but here I am. I believe the right work is out there, when you finally burn the bridge keeping you tethered to the wrong work.
It’s probably too late for me to be a freestyle flipper (though I still do a pretty good straddle jump for a 44-year-old lady). It’s not too late to be who I am though.
I am freelance, and no one is putting me in a box.