(Note: This is based on one of the prompts from Robert S. Kaplan’s book What You’re Really Meant to Do.)
When I was still working for Voce, I would often refer to the programs I managed as “mine.” Sometimes that was awkward when I said it in the presence of the client and I had to quickly correct over to “our.” I was the one who was responsible for the day to day operation of those programs, though and so felt a sense of ownership over them.
That’s just one manifestation of the way I personally invested in my work, often to the detriment of other aspects of my life. I was seriously committed to them and the success we were all working to achieve. That kind of emotional involvement had the subsequent negative effect of making me feel clients who fired the agency were firing me personally, that I had not only failed them but also was a failure in general.
In the year-plus since I was let go I’ve needed to adopt an even more comprehensive sense of personal ownership over my work because there’s literally no one else responsible for it. As an independent freelancer/contractor, it’s all on me. If a client no longer wants to work with me, that’s my fault. If I can’t bring in new work, that’s my fault. I’m the owner, operator and employee.
It’s a role I’ve struggled with. I still tend to take things very personally, so will get down following rejections. But it also allows me to revel and feel a great sense of accomplishment when things go well. Oddly, I’ve actually been able to put more emotional distance between me and the work in the last year because otherwise I’d never get out from under the desk. It’s just one part of who I am, not the complete and total definition of myself.
Thinking of myself as the owner of my actions isn’t new, but my mindset has certainly changed. I’m still where the buck stops, though. I just don’t take it nearly as personally as I once did.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.