A Twist In The Road: Unexpected Opportunities

Happy Labor Day! Hopefully you are all out exploring a lake or mountain somewhere. Preferably both. I’m planning on heading out for a long day of wandering … right after I hit publish on this post.

So I have a story to tell you. It all started last week. I was lying in bed daydreaming sitting at my desk watching the sun come up when I got an email from someone I’d never heard of before. Her name is also Kate (which always freaks me out, even though it’s a very common name… so I kind of disliked her on principle at first). She works for an epilepsy awareness group. She’d stumbled across my blog (probably because of my excessive tagging of “seizures” and “epilepsy”). And she had a question for me. Would I be interested in doing some writing for publications put out by her awareness group?

Umm, what?

Well, if you don’t know me, you’d probably guess that my answer would be an unequivocal no. After all, I just wrote a post about how exhausted I was of talking about seizures. But those of you who actually know me, know that my attitude is pretty much always shifting. I get over any one particular mood in about 2 days. Maximum. My real average is probably closer to 8 hours.

So when I said I was exhausted even thinking about discussing seizures, in reality I felt that way for about 2 days (a long time for me). But it’s the lens through which I see the world at the moment, and often an interesting one, so I was already regretting my pledge a few days later and itching to post about some of the things I’ve been discovering–both within myself and in interacting with the world from this slightly different perspective–but didn’t because I didn’t want to jerk you guys around.

Anyway, that’s my long way of saying that I said yes. And then asked “what exactly did you have in mind?” I know, I should probably have asked that before I said yes. I’m sure you’re all shocked that I didn’t. 

So this week we’ve been going back and forth about what she’s looking for. I can’t talk about it yet but it sounds pretty interesting. It’s also the reason I didn’t post anything on this blog last week. Multitasking has never been my strong suit. I prefer serial obsession with one idea or activity at a time. But life doesn’t always work well that way and in the back of my mind a bunch of ideas have been piling up that I need to get down on “paper” so you can expect a flood of posts soon.

Also, at one point in our back and forth discussion, Kate–wait, that’s going to get confusing. Let’s rename her. I’ll call her Phoebe. So Phoebe asked me for a link to my “freelancing portfolio.” Apparently I’d been doing a good job of sounding professional because she thought I was an experience freelancer. Which I’m not.

So I thought about it. I had a few hours to decide between two strategies: (1) ruefully admit that I don’t have a portfolio and this is my first time freelancing or (2) quickly throw something together and try to bluff some experience.

The second option was tempting and probably what most people would do. But I’ve been a professional consultant in a highly specialized field for a long time and one of the things I’ve learned along the way is that (1) people who work in specialty fields can see through fake expertise in a heartbeat and (2) there’s value in being new and eager.

Pretending to be an expert when you’re not is a quick way to damage your professional relationships. When a client calls me and tells me they know exactly how to handle a specific problem, but is getting everything completely wrong, they lose my respect. Fake experts also pay more in fees because they’re harder to work with and I have no personal incentive to go above and beyond to help them.

They also miss out on the opportunity to get my buy in. The best thing about serving clients is feeling like you’re helping people who need and appreciate your expertise. People who admit they need help inspire me to go beyond the specific question they’ve asked and give them the benefit of my overarching experience (often for lower fees).

I wanted my response to Phoebe to put me solidly into the second category – inexperienced but intelligent and open to instruction. So I told her I didn’t have a portfolio and hadn’t been asked to freelance before. She was shocked (which was flattering) and immediately called me to tell me (1) that for her purposes it didn’t matter that I didn’t have one and (2) how important it was to get a portfolio together and out there. Then she started rattling off resources I should use and recommendations on what she looks for when seeking out writers. And we had a little bonding moment. Score one for honesty. 

I decided to take her advice. I’ll be working on putting my portfolio together next week, probably with helpful input from my new friend Phoebe. Much better than if I’d hurriedly thrown something together and bluffed. Maybe I’ll do a big reveal when it’s all finished and polished up. No promises, but I’m thinking about it.

I’ll also be working on some writing projects we’ve hammered out. I know it’s going to be tempting to ask me all kinds of questions about them but try to resist. This is an unexpected twist in the story and one I’d like to explore a little before I talk about it. It might be a dead-end or an epic hike. I have no idea yet. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and looking around for now. But I’m excited!

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