How To Be Open To All (the Right) Opportunities

Several weeks ago, I shadowed one of my OMies as she taught kids yoga as part of the Newark Yoga Movement. It seemed like a fantastic program. The children were adorable. My friend was brilliant. But in the end — remembering how ineffective I’d been when doing volunteer work with kids in the past — [...]

How To Think Outside the Box When Developing Multiple Revenue Streams

Before I went full-time freelance nearly six years ago, I secured a permalance copyediting gig, an internship at a web magazine, and freelance publicity work from my former employer. I figured that — beyond that — I would just frolic about, getting assignments at a variety of magazines and magically paying my bills. And it [...]

A Continuing Education in Drawing Up Contracts

Things I Am Good At: Writing about sex. Banging out listicles. Line editing. Connecting with other writers and editors. Making lemon pound cake. Singing in the shower. Mimicking the sounds my cats make. Things I Am Not Good At: Covering my ass when I draw up and/or sign a contract. I’ve been a full-time freelancer [...]

Create the Life You Want… Not the One You Think You Should Want

Almost two weeks ago, I was on the phone with a reporter from a national magazine, talking about solopreneurship and personal branding. We were having a lovely chat — though I felt like a bit of a spaz; that’s why I’m a writer, you guys — when he asked me about my income.

“I make about $30k a year,” I told him.

“You can live on that!?” he asked.

I mentioned that I was lucky enough to have a husband who made way more money than me, so that I could create a life in which I only worked part-time hours. I told him I was building a career in which I could stay home with my future (as-yet-unconceived) children and not take a huge, unprepared-for blow to my paycheck. And if I needed more money, I said, I could always hustle a helluva lot more instead of sitting back and letting the work come to me (which is my current, lazy-ass m.o.).

He asked me what I’d do if a media company offered me a staff position at $75k.

“I’d turn it down,” I said. “No question.”

“What about $100k?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said. “I never want to give this up.”

Two days later, my bread-winning husband lost his job.

I had just arrived home from yoga when he called me. I was feeling loose, relaxed, happy. I didn’t realize who it was at first. Then: “I have bad news. I was just laid off.”

I told him everything would be just fine. After all, he had a ton of great contacts in the industry (he’s a web developer), plus this could give him the chance to focus on his own business (which, at the moment, he just does on the side). Then I hung up and started crying and, in a panic, spent the next three hours looking at job ads.

Pretty much everything I tell my clients not to do.

At that point, reason took  hold and I reached out to my network. (Also, Michael eventually came home and told me to chill the eff out.) Within a week’s time, I had a new coaching client, a new ghostwriting project, two new, prospective ghostwriting clients, and yet another ghostwriting project on the horizon. And Michael had five trillion job interviews and his first job offer. (He’s lovable and stuff.)

I’ve been reading Danielle LaPorte’s The Fire Starter Sessions these past two weeks, and I felt a click when I read her chapter on money. In it, she writes:

Do you want to make a million bucks a year? Why? For what? Do you really need it to do what you want to do and be who you want to be this lifetime, or do you need more? How much will be enough if you’ve reached your lifestyle goals? And who really needs ‘more than enough’?


This passage reminded me of an exercise I’d done when reading The Wealthy Freelancer. Early on in the book, Pete Savage had asked readers to write up a description of their ideal day, so that they could then plan a means of getting closer to it.

What was weird was that I wasn’t as far off from my ideal day as one might think.

It also made me think of Laura Vanderkam’s All the Money in the World, in which she asserts that we already have all the money we need… but can easily get more if times get tight.

You guys! They’re totally right!

What I’m saying is… my response to that reporter still stands. Keep your $75k. Keep your $100k. I have all the money I need. And if I need more, I’ll just hustle harder. It’ll all work out in the end.

I don’t want to give up this life of mine. Because of the life I have, these past two weeks have allowed me to:

  • sweat over the fact that my agent has started sending my book proposal around to publishers
  • meet up with one of my tweeps at a networking event hosted by a fellow YEC member
  • see the Bloggess in person, and have her sign my copy of her new book (better than all the great works of literature combined)
  • have a Skype date with my writing partner
  • bid on my dream house
  • attend a meeting of the Toastmasters Club so I could improve my public speaking skills in advance of my panel at this weekend’s ASJA conference
  • get a haircut in the middle of the day
  • take 10 yoga classes
  • work on masterminding a yoga/writing workshop with a fellow yogi
  • hire a designer for a new web project
  • work on several ghostwriting projects, and draw up a project proposal for another one
  • apply for a volunteer position with Girls Write Now
  • write a personal essay on infertility for YourTango
  • have a phone chat with a new coaching client
  • etc.

You guys. My life looked nothing like this when I was working full-time for someone else. Back then, I did the same type of work all the time, instead of mixing things up. I spent about three hours a day commuting. Instead of attending literary events and happy hours, I rushed home so I could eat dinner and get to sleep at a normal hour. I never worked out (and, as a result, quickly gained about 30 pounds). I was sick all the time, and also taking several medications for depression and anxiety. It most definitely was not my ideal life.

This life? The one I’m leading now? It’s a lot closer.

There are people who will look at my salary and think I’m not successful because I’m not pulling in six figures, or who will think I’m lazy because I’m no longer working crazy hours at the expense of my health.

But damn if I don’t feel successful.

So what’s your version of an ideal day? Are you making enough to achieve it?

Related: Why You Should Change Your Definition of Success

Why You Should Change Your Definition of Success

I started freelancing full-time almost five years ago. At the time, success meant matching my previous income, and saying yes to every project that came my way. As a result, I found myself working nights and weekends, skipping meals, and pushing exercise to the very bottom of my to-do list, where it never got done.

These days, success means being pickier about projects, preparing home-cooked meals with my husband, and having time for both my personal book project and my daily yoga classes. I have the potential to make more money… but the other stuff comes first.

Which is why I love Laura Vanderkam‘s work. In both 168 Hours and her most recent book, All the Money in the World, she shows readers that they don’t necessarily need more time or money to achieve a successful and fulfilling life. They just need to know how to spend what they already have.

In this Q+A, Laura shows us how we should redefine success.

1. I went on a sort of Laura Vanderkam reading marathon last week. What I noticed immediately about both your books is that they eschew the typical self-help trope of promising more (more money, more time) to the reader. Rather, you stress in both books that, generally, we have enough. We just need to learn how to spend both our time and our money more wisely, rather than cutting back on things we enjoy as a means of grabbing 15 minutes here, $100 there. How did you come to this somewhat contrary conclusion?

I highly recommend Laura Vanderkam reading marathons. I’ve got some novels stuffed in a drawer that you can read as well…

To answer your question, with time that insight came from looking at successful people. I’m talking about people who have big careers and big personal lives. These people have the exact same amount of time as the rest of us, so what are they doing differently?

In some cases, these people do have more money, but plenty of people with money somehow manage to spend it on things that make their lives more complicated, rather than less. If you start with a blank slate, rather than various assumptions about how we should be spending our time and money, you’ll soon see that 168 hours a week and an average American income can cover quite a bit. I mean, who cares about spending 10 minutes less on errands if you’re in the wrong job? Then you’re wasting 40 hours a week. Fix that first. Then you can be as inefficient on your errands as you want.

2. I loved 168 Hours. Who doesn’t wish for more time? But when I read the press release for All the Money in the World, I was intrigued, because it hinted at the possibility that you don’t necessarily need to be making more money in order to be considered successful. A prospect I find attractive, as someone who values work/life balance over ever-increasing income. Can you share with us your own, personal definition of success?

My goal is to be able to write about any topic I find interesting for publications I admire and in my own books (and on my blog), and know that my words will find a big audience. Money is part of success — it’s how the market often recognizes talent — but you have to consider it within categories. You can be among the world’s best poets and still earn less than a mediocre investment banker.

3. When did you reach that aha moment where you realized that success didn’t have to mean more money? Was there a specific instance where you had to choose between saying yes to a project or yes to yourself?

In 168 Hours, I write of giving up a fairly well-paying gig with Reader’s Digest. I wrote the Only in America section for years. It was a fabulous way to learn to write tight, and to learn about an incredible diversity of subjects, from a young man who walked every street in Manhattan to the person who holds the world record for the most Guinness World Records. I’m so grateful that they gave me the chance to do that.

But what I eventually realized is that I wanted to be focusing on books and longer, bylined articles, and the mental energy required to write six to eight well-reported short pieces every month was distracting me from that goal. It was a tough gig to walk away from financially, but since my husband gets a steady paycheck, we decided I could take some risks.

4. Even though you suggest that we have enough money/time if we spend it correctly, you do recommend simply making more money rather than cutting back on expenses as a way to improve quality of life. Can you share a specific instance in which you realized you needed an income boost (whether for everyday life or a specific purchase) and hustled like hell to get that extra cash? What tactics did you use to drum up that extra money?

My first year out of college, I had an internship at USA Today. My take-home pay was about $1,200 a month. That was enough to live on, but it wasn’t enough to save for bigger goals, like travel or moving to New York City (something I’d always wanted to do). So I freelanced for a variety of different publications. When you set your expenses based on $1,200 a month, even bringing in an extra $500 is a huge win. And by the end of the year I was bringing in a lot more than that — sometimes tripling my salary. If you’re making $1,200 a month, you can’t save $2,000 a month. If you’re making $4,000 a month, you can. I was able to spend three weeks traveling in Asia after the internship ended, and then have a few months’ cushion for moving to New York without a job lined up.

5. I’m a huge advocate of career diversification, something that freelancers tend to master early on. What does a typical mix of projects look like for you over the course of any given week?

Ideally I’m working on something very long term, like a book. I’ve got a few intermediate assignments: a feature for City Journal or another magazine, a USA Today column. Then there’s the immediate stuff: blogging three times a week for CBS MoneyWatch and keeping my own personal blog ( Speeches have become a bigger component of my income over the past few years as well.

6. Finally, what was the most fun/fascinating/challenging project you ever did for the money?

I once ghostwrote a book in less than six weeks. I enjoyed the challenge. If I someday need to scale up my cash flow for big goals, I’d take on two to three crash jobs like that per year.

Related: Do You Love Your Work More Than You Love… Love?, Want Freelance Success? Watch Your Health, Didn’t Get It Done? That’s Your Own Damn Fault, Better Than Money