Playing well with people might come easy for some, and for others it was something they had to learn. However you get there, as a freelancer if you want to have a successful career, it’s something you have to do all the time.

This just doesn’t apply to clients, or the moment you finally quit your day job. If being a freelancer is something you hope to do one day, you should keep this in mind, because today’s annoying co-worker/friend can be tomorrows art director.

Play Well With Others

I worked as a production artist for years. One company I worked for had a lot of issues. There was fighting going on between Editorial and Design/Production, and then within our own department there was a war between the Department Manager and the Design Director. As the guy making the stuff, I was at the end of the line for everyone: Writers, editors, designers, artists, marketing, and manufacturing. Any mistakes made along the way, ended up on my plate.

It builds up and you get frustrated, and you want to say something to the people you feel are making your job harder. As tempting as it was to vent on those people, the chances are, they aren’t intentionally trying to make your job harder. I kept my frustration in check at work.

Since then, two of the people I worked with have moved on from the company as well, becoming art directors with companies that use illustrators. I’ve kept in touch with them via facebook. They have seen my work as an illustrator, and have given me work.

I doubt that either of them would have thought to use me as an illustrator, if I had given into the moment and vented for my own emotional satisfaction. Even if it wasn’t venting about them, you can still be seen as a difficult person if all you do is complain.

Don’t Burn Bridges

A friend recently graduated art school and I was doing my best to lend him a hand. This was anything from answering questions about freelancing (as best I could), being encouraging when he was facing hard times, and even sending work his way, when I had too much.

At one point I was trying to get him in at a company I was working for. At the same time, the company started having lots of issues, and the project spiraled out of control. Lots of yelling, finger pointing and high stress levels. I decided that it was time to go, and did so professionally.  Unfortunately this meant that my friend missed out on work he could have used.

My friend took it personally. He wrote me an angry email, furious that I would leave this job when it meant not being there to push a referral for him. He made clear that he no longer wanted to be friends, personally or professionally.

I completely understand his frustration. You try to hold out from getting a crappy survival job, and rely on your skills and talent. Along comes something that might not be the ideal type of work, but it’s a thousand times better then retail or waiting tables. And it falls through. Right back to where you started.

But, you don’t take that out on someone that has been trying to help you. More so, you don’t burn your bridges.

I recently went to two events that another friend invited me to. I met art directors and illustrators, gave out business cards and spent a good amount of time chatting with people. I left both events feeling really good. I would have invited my former friend along to these events. Contacts and positive reinforcement are very valuable to any beginning freelancer. And both can be very hard to come by. I can only imagine that he would have gotten both (contacts and positive reinforcement) from going to these events. It could have even resulted in work.

My reason for not inviting him had nothing to do with him hurting my feelings or for disrespecting all the help and favors I gave him. I didn’t invite him simply because I couldn’t trust him to act professionally.

He may have been frustrated at losing a short term opportunity, but what he really lost was long term opportunities.Sometimes building your network is the main focus of your freelance life, as you get started. To tap into an existing network can often make a huge difference in how long it takes to get your career on its feet.

We all make mistakes; we all get frustrated at other people. If you are going to let your personal frustrations guide your actions, it’s going to make it all the harder to get anywhere.

In the world of the freelancer, your attitude is the grease to make the gears turn. You can’t control other peoples attitude or how they react. So control yours and it can make all the difference in how fast your career grows and where it goes.

Thanks to Marc Scheff with his help on this entry.

Leave a Reply