I recently gave a presentation at my old stomping grounds (Roosevelt University, where I taught for 17 years) about thinking like an entrepreneur. In preparing for this, I thought about the characteristics that I have found fundamental to running my freelance career. I came up with a "top ten" list. Not all of these were inherent in my personality, so I learned how to cultivate these traits:
1. Know what your goals are.
Make a goals list for:
1 year from now.
5 years from now.
10-20 years from now.
2. Be passionate about what you do.
Be so passionate that your goals are always ready on the tip of your tongue. Do you have an “elevator pitch” that concisely sums up what you want to do?
3. You need internal drive to succeed.
You need this drive to get yourself off the couch and out meeting potential collaborators, researching opportunities, and getting work done.
4. Be proactive!
Seek out opportunities, while also creating your own opportunities.
5. Be flexible and curious.
Be willing & able to take changes in stride. Keep learning throughout your career.
6. Work every day towards your goals.
This is important to do, even if it is just 5-10 minutes a day. Use a reward system if needed (i.e. a piece of chocolate when you finish something you've been putting off, or go to see a movie, etc.).
7. Be prompt in your emails,
phone calls, and gigs.
This will tell people if you are reliable or not.
8. You’re going to make mistakes. We all do.
What matters is how you handle a situation once you’ve made a mistake.
9. There is something you can learn from every situation and everyone.
For instance, if you’re at a great performance, figure out what makes it work so well. If you’re at a problematic performance, what could be improved and how?
10. You are your own best advocate!
If you don’t believe in what you do, no one else will either. Know your strengths (weaknesses too), what makes you unique, and what you enjoy doing, then shape your career so that you will enjoy working on your goals every day.
I offer one more characteristic that matters: always be kind to people (h/t to J. Michael Weiss-Holmes for mentioning this characteristic at his presentation, which followed mine). Perhaps this one seems obvious (it is part of human nature), but when things aren’t going as planned, it can be challenging to keep your cool and thank people for their efforts to help you.
Now go forth and be passionate about cultivating your career!