You’re a champion, or you’re losing. You’re on top, or it’s barely worth showing up at all. Sports often encourages this type of winner-take-all mindset, however misguided. And that attitude sometimes bleeds over into other areas, like creative work, as well.
In my work as a freelancer, I’ve found there are two starkly different approaches people take to the field: one of scarcity, and one of abundance. Scarcity means you see opportunities as limited. You scramble and hoard each one you find, because you never know where your next assignment or paycheck will come from.
Abundance, on the other hand, is shorthand for the phrase we use here all the time at aSweatLife — there’s enough success to go around. What’s more, everyone does better when we help each other find it.
Here’s how I see it applying in my career specifically. For as often as people say print is dead or bemoan the shifts of the media industry, there are still a heck of a lot of people who will hire others to produce words of some sort. Instead of settling for opportunities that aren’t quite right for me, I would far rather go for the things that excite and inspire me, or at the very least have some other upside I happen to need at that moment (say, a bigger financial payoff, more prestige, the chance to work with someone I’ve long wanted to meet).
That leaves other projects open for people who are excited and inspired to tackle them. And ideally, I know of an opportunity and the right person for the job, and make a connection that leaves everyone satisfied.
Sure, there are situations in which I am directly competing with another writer for a specific assignment or role. Sometimes, someone else pitches an idea to an editor before I get to it.
But honestly, those instances are rare. In most cases, there are far more pages of a magazine, sections of a website, or minutes of airtime than any one writer can fill. And an idea — well, it’s usually possible to spin off another angle or place it elsewhere, and if not, it probably wasn’t that unique of an insight in the first place.
Besides, when other good contributors join the publications I work with, that elevates all of our offerings. Not to mention, if I connect an editor to another freelancer who’s reliable and high-quality, I’ve instantly increased my value. Plus, I’ve demonstrated a high level of maturity and professionalism, which further cements that relationship.
And even bigger picture — navigating the shifting media world and figuring out how to continue producing and delivering high-quality journalism requires collaboration. It’s clear we need new funding models and ways of breaking through the din of information overload. Solving these problems demands more creativity and resources than any single individual can muster, and it’s far better to be a part of those conversations than left outside of them, wondering which way the wind will blow next.
Now, this doesn’t mean I never feel pangs of envy when another writer produces something I wish I’d written or joins an amazing project I’d love to be part of. However, I try my best to defuse that by using it as a guide to what I should go for next. For instance, if I find myself a bit green at the gills because another writer scored an amazing book deal, I have a couple of choices — I can stew, or congratulate him or her and get to working on my own proposal. When someone starts a new venture I wish I’d thought to propose, well, maybe I can find a way to join up or replicate the idea in a different market or topic area.
Viewing the profession abundantly and helping others frequently reduces that feeling of envy for me anyway. When I’ve played a role in someone else’s success, I feel I have a stake in it – and it’s a lot easier for me to be excited rather than deflated when things go well for that person. Even just knowing another freelancer personally makes it far easier for me to feel happy, rather than dejected, when his or her star rises. And making and maintaining those connections goes far more smoothly when you’re open about sharing connections and other resources.
I would never say this mindset works for everyone; there are as many ways to approach freelancing (or any career) as there are freelancers. And I’m certain some people find great success by being competitive and cutthroat.
But knowing my own strengths and values, I don’t think I’d be doing nearly as well career-wise if I didn’t take the view of abundance — and I’d certainly be a much more miserable person.