Predictable Unpredictability

Did you see the eclipse last week? We drove to Burlington, Vermont to stay with my wife’s brother for a couple of days to watch it.

It was spectacular; without question the second most fun I’ve ever had in three-and-a-half minutes.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that an eclipse is kind of the exact opposite of life as an independent professional.

I knew it would be big. But as the day drew closer, I was still surprised by how much it took over everything: every newscast, blog, late-night monologue … and of course, every casual conversation with whoever you ran into.

With the possible exception of the Super Bowl or Taylor Swift coming to town (sometimes both at once), there aren’t many things like this.

And yet, many professionals approach their marketing with the implicit (sometime explicit) assumption that there is going to be a “Big Bang” that will blow the doors off: the book that becomes a best-seller; an invitation to appear on a high profile podcast; a lucrative project or client that changes your life forever.

Not to say this never happens. But it’s a winning lottery ticket that you are probably not holding. Instead, marketing for people like us is a little-bit-every-day kind of thing.

You write a newsletter, you go to a networking meeting, you make a phone call, you have lunch with a colleague, you waste 20 minutes watching funny bulldog videos (that may just be me).

It’s many little bangs, most of which – by themselves and in the moment – lead nowhere. But all together … they add up to something.

Which means you need to keep doing those little things, all the time, and stop fixating on a home run solution. It doesn’t exist. Just keep showing up and things happen.

Our eclipse glasses came with a little booklet filled with diagrams and explanations of what an eclipse is and how it works. It also had several pages of tables in the back specifying the exact time and duration of the event in dozens of cities across the country.

I’m no astrophysicist (clearly), but I still find it kind of amazing that all of this is precisely knowable decades before the fact. I don’t know how long that’s been the case, but I can only guess that 1,000 years ago, when an eclipse arrived, people were like, “Oh well, I guess this is the end.”

When you work for yourself, predictability is not in the mix.

You don’t know who’s going to hire you; which blend of services will do best; how much money you will earn; or which words, people, and technologies will turn out to be most useful in staying visible.

The list of unknowns goes on and on. And even when you figure some things out, nothing stays the same for long. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.

But try not to worry about it. The lack of routine and certainty is both the scary part and the fun part. If you can live with the former, you get to enjoy the latter.

There is actually one big thing that an eclipse and working for yourself have in common: You will never regret having had the experience.

It may not go as expected – it almost certainly won’t. But years from now, you’ll never wonder if maybe, you should have taken a chance.

So give yourself a pat on the back. You showed up; you’re in the game. Win or lose, that’s a whole lot better than sitting on the sidelines.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where were you during the eclipse?
  2. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had in three and a half minutes?
  3. How do you manage the unpredictability of working for yourself?

Share your answers below…

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9 thoughts on “Predictable Unpredictability

  1. Glenn Dornfeld

    1. I mostly ignored this eclipse [though it gave me a great idea for a song I’m writing].

    2. Too many unbelievably fantastic 3-1/2 minute events to have to pick one. [sorry]

    3. Work hard when i have to; write songs when things are slow.

  2. Janet Falk

    1. I watched it from my driveway. We had 92% coverage. It was amazing.

    2. Sex. What else.

    3. I have two anchor clients and keep prospecting for projects. That makes it a hybrid practice.

  3. Mark Wayland

    This reminds me of the words of one of America’s great 20th century philosophers, Mike Tyson… “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. “

  4. Keanisha Mona Johnson

    Where was I during the eclipse? I was lucky enough to be at home around 3:30pm after work when it went down and I had the 3d glasses on that one of my passengers had given me also so it was a fun “wow” experience.

    The most fun that I’ve had in 3 min, I would have to say on the Harley Quinn at 6 flag’s.

    Number 3 question. Not there yet but SOON!!


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