A friend recently shared with me about a new business she’s launching and it’s a brilliant idea. My immediate response was to think of how I could help contribute to her success. Naturally, right? Well, that might not have been my reaction two decades ago.
Freelance life is tricky. It’s very easy to fall into a scarcity mindset when you’re trying to make a go of things as an independent writer, pitching from gig to gig. You don’t get paid if you don’t ship. There’s no sick leave. There’s no bludging on company time, no cushy days where you just phone it in and surf on Facebook a lot, and still collect your pay cheque. There’s not enough hours in the day to produce what you need to actually generate rent money. There’s not enough room on the masthead, there’s not enough budget, there’s not enough pages for everyone’s ideas, when you’re pitching. You’re competing for everything. You follow the advice on how to make it, and try and carve out a beat or a speciality… and try to “own” that space. Which meant, for me, feeling singularly responsible for telling all the stories worth telling, within that space. Which meant that anyone else who wanted to tell stories in that space was my immediate competitor and adversary AND that I couldn’t ever rest, because there were so many stories to tell, and I had to do them justice. It was a recipe for burn-out.
What happened, between then and now, apart from said burn-out, that shifted my reaction to someone’s brilliant creative idea, from envy (“why didn’t I think of that?”) to pure celebration?
I realized that I couldn’t do it all.
There’s no way I could tell all the stories that warranted telling. And furthermore, it was way more interesting to read other people’s interpretations and telling of them. And collectively, we were building a culture, and a community, and that was so much more fun to be part of, than to hustle 7 days a week as the the solitary work-warrior building a solo brand. It was nice to have a colleague say, oh you should write about this because that suits your style and voice – instead of having his elbows dig into me as he fought me out of an opportunity.
There is so much I want to squeeze into this lifetime, to experience, to contribute to… and there’s not enough time. I can’t do it all. If I want to do anything well, I have to put as much thought into the No as the Yes, put as much intentionality into the things I pass up, as to the things I go deep in. And yet, the best way to be energized by the things I pass up, (instead of suffering lament and FOMO), is to try and match a great person to that project, or to drop an idea in someone’s lap when they’re looking for one, or to contribute good vibes and energy to someone else’s brilliant project or initiative….
I don’t have the time to do it all. Uplifting others is the only way.
I am stronger for the people who have done amazing things, whose brilliant stories I’ve read about people I haven’t met, who have poured their energy into their passions, and started really creative businesses that excite me… but that I don’t have the time to be involved in.
I was not stronger when I thought everyone else was my competitor and I had to be faster and busier and more prolific than them all.
I was honoured when my friend shared her new business idea with me. And I was pleasantly surprised to observe I had no envy at all… Why would I? I have my plate full with the things I’m choosing to give my energy to. The values and desire driving her project are things I support with all my heart… but I don’t have the resources to make change in the world that way… and so I can just ride the stoke that she does. And uplift her. And even just thinking this way makes me feel lighter.
Maybe it has taken this long for me to realize that I don’t want to just be a tree. I want to be part of a forest.
Sure, a lot of what I have learned about scarcity mindset has been through the lens of a gig economy worker, a freelancer… but it’s capitalism, it’s baked into everything, I’m guessing you’re no stranger to it either. This year, though, my guiding mantra is “think like a forest”… We’re all inter-connected. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, all flourishing is mutual.