Free Agents, Roller Coasters, and Pushing Past Failure

Hop on the roller coaster--the ride is just fine!

Hop on the roller coaster–the ride is just fine!

There is a myth that successful people have some kind of special advantage. Perhaps they possess a special “success gene.” That last sentence might seem fatuous unless you regularly hear the litany of excuses that people make about why they regularly fail to deliver, or worse, say things like, “it’s easy for you.” So why do some people succeed, and some people, exceedingly?

At one time, I subscribed to what I now look back upon as a victim mentality. This term gets thrown around a lot by right-leaning political types to malign people in poverty. While there are certainly those occupying the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder looking to blame others for their lack of a job, as well as sorry lot in life, I maintain that this blame-shifting behavior is prevalent in the professional world in equal measure.

One of the common refrains that I hear from many is that they don’t have enough time. Welcome to my world! Who ever has enough time to accomplish everything?

Since last August, and actually prior to that, I’ve been learning to manage an entirely different work experience. I like the term “free agent” to describe that experience for a couple of reasons. The first one is that it is a term that business writers like Daniel Pink and others use to describe the shift that’s occurred in our economy and our 21st century world of work. Pink actually wrote a book about it ten years ago that still is relevant today. That says a lot about Pink’s ability as a writer to anticipate trends, which he’s continued to do.

The second reason why free agency is a terrific term to describe many of us in the 21st century workforce is that the corporate model of employment is coming to an end. More and more, employers are going to bring talent on-board when they need it, rather than keeping a workforce around that may lack the skills needed, or the nimbleness to meet the rapid shifts that many businesses now experience.

Seth Godin writes a lot about risk-taking. He posits that success demands an ability to push forward not knowing the results. For many requiring certainty, being risk-averse becomes a problem.  At the same time, being able to tolerate a high risk to return ratio seems impossible for most workers that have been with one employer for a long period of time. That’s not to say that some people who have been with an employer for a decade or more can’t adapt and embrace what Godin writes about in books like Linchpin and even Poke the Box. It’s just not the norm.

Being able to handle risk doesn’t guarantee that life suddenly becomes simple. It also doesn’t guarantee success, but it is an important part of the equation.

I actually find that one of the major challenges of being a free agent come when my “fly by the seat of my pants” skill set runs up against clients and even partners that want the rewards that come with my willingness to do what it takes to get the job done, but also want to rein those skills back in when they get a little uncomfortable with playing fast and loose. That’s actually a very corporate, 20th century way of approaching work and in my opinion, it doesn’t work well at all. What’s even more difficult is when you are the only one in the room that knows this.

More and more I’m simply refusing to fail. This really is a mindset. It requires a willingness to do whatever is necessary, burn your candle down at both ends sometimes, and work at times when others are sleeping, or out having fun.  I laugh at those who tell me, “it’s the weekend, I’m off work.” Great! I’m probably working on a blog post, an essay for an upcoming book, or a bid on a proposal for some project that might just keep me rolling forward for another 3-6 months.

There are rewards for free agents. While life sometimes feels like riding a roller coaster standing up, it also means that when you push through and accomplish the impossible, you can close your laptop and go off and do what you want…until it’s time to jump back on the roller coaster once again.