A long time ago I decided I didn't want to ever be in the position of being fired or laid off. I didn't want to rely on someone and their uncertain satisfaction with my work for all of my income. I gravitated toward farming for this very reason, in that it seemed like a world where even if the income was meager, the farmer, as Almanzo Wilder is taught and asserts in the Little House on the Prairie books, the farmer is independent. Over the years I have ended up doing a whole bunch of things, from editing scientific manuscripts to carving spoons to teaching people how to use a scythe to cut grass. And let me acknowledge outright that I have never been truly independent: I have support from my family, from my colleagues, and from my customers, and I have obligations to them too.
Like many young people, my wife and I faced a choice in our early twenties when we got married: follow a career wherever it took us, or live where we wanted to live and cobble together work. We chose to have a family close to where we both grew up, and while this area is not economically depressed, we have both taken a while to find our path in a way that lets us live here, near our parents. Combine this with my desire to be master of my own fate, and you have the classic recipe for a need for hustle.
The hustle has become a way of life, and I like to think of it in terms of me hustling, rather than trying to hustle other people. Every day, I have projects I push further to completion. I put it out there that I am offering the world what I know and what I make, and the world reacts. If I don't put it out there, the world doesn't react. Hustle.
I asked my older brother if he thought I was more tolerant of risk than he was and he said of course, how could you not be if you are self-employed doing all these things with no guarantee of it working out? Which was funny because I actually feel more secure doing all these different self-employed things than I have when I had a job. No one can ever take them away from me, and because there are so many and they are all so different, each has its busy season and ebb, and if one is not working out the others provide some resiliency to my income as a whole. He thought about that and then also pointed out that all of my businesses have very low operating costs and overhead in general, further reducing my risk.
But the truth is that hustle IS risk. There is no getting around it. My life is one giant trust fall into the world, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it really doesn't. Sometimes four orders flood in in one day, along with a workshop reservation and two manuscripts. Sometimes there is radio silence.
What I've learned is that the micro fluctuations of what does or doesn't happen on a given day doesn't mean anything, no matter how terrified I feel in the moment. Posting the perfect picture to Instagram or crafting the perfect email is not what makes a situation work.
Doing good work, day after day. Being honest. Being REAL. Communicating actively and clearly. These are the things that matter. Putting myself out there, day after day. Doing the things that make me uncomfortable. Doing the things I shy away from because I'm not a numbers or a technology person. Giving a situation time to build, and keeping perspective on how far I've come. That matters.
Luck is the confluence of preparation and opportunity. Both of these things are under our control. In the words of Garrison Keiller, do good work, and keep in touch.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.
One idea is as worthless as another until you actually do something about it, and then it is the action, not the word that matters. --Orson Scott Card