A long time ago, in a universe where I had a cat, a basement, a house and a more stable income flow, a mate, a points card at the supermarket, a host of cordless telephones and a guestroom, a friend of mine and I went skiing, and he kept on using a male-anatomied expression that people use to mean "going for broke." I won't spell it out for you, but the point was, he said, that when you're at the top of the mountain (or the bunny slope, in my case), you have to just pull out all the stops and do the thing. For real.
What does this have to do with becoming a successful travel writer, or dogwalker or SAT-prep teacher or CSA gardener or record label starter? Simultaneously quite a bit, and nothing at all.
Going for broke, or pulling out all the stops, or spending 100% of your time (and then some) doing that, and just that has been the advice we've taken for years. Be a specialist, not a generalist, in medical terms, they say. It works just fine, until your specialty is no longer needed. Pneumectomies are not really performed anymore, now that we have antibiotics to fight tuberculosis, and no one is looking for a leper colony warden these days, if you know what I mean?
Going for broke, or putting all your eggs in one basket also means, essentially, going broke if your one project, your one source of income, your one pie in the sky dream burns and shrivels (or is healed or solved or made noncontagious).
Julie over at Cuaderno Inedito talks about this here, a sort of a follow-up to David's write up on Matador's Notebook after National Geographic Adventure announced its last issue, and in the wake of Chris Gray Faust's firing from USA Today where it seemed she served a million and one roles, but all for the same employer, and muses in this piece on Huffington Post, "These freelancers-slash-entrerpreneurs are smart. They are nimble. And now they are my role models, as I join their ranks."
There is more than one lesson to be learned here: adapt or lose your niche, print publishing is fading into obscurity, Julie and David are super smart, I work with a crack team of people over at Matador, and Chris Gray Faust is a tremendously graceful recent firee, and has trained herself to do what she needs to do and now gets to do it without a boss. I think we all expect her to soar.
But on a personal note, I learned something else. I don't have a schizophrenic workload, or an inconsistent professional presence. What I have is a diversified income stream. Oooh, pretty words, lauding my own hoppity personality which has driven me to work at several different things at the same time. This both satisfies me personally and professionally and means that if one project fails or lays low for a minute, my income stream keeps flowing. This is something that happened quite by accident, but it works for me, and most importantly, it insulates me from disaster if one of my clients or employers chooses to go another way. So think about it: not inconsistent, not unfocused, diversified. It's all about the spin.
And for the record, and those of you who may be wondering I: do behind-the-scenes work for Matador, write for a few websites, edit scholarly writings, do some photography, translate from Spanish to English, teach English at a University, make an eensy bit of ad revenue on the blog, teach private English classes, and do interview prep. It's like a big over-crib mobile, which sways in the breeze. All the pieces are always present, but they bob up and down and minimize and maximize their importance throughout the seasons. And that is a freelancer's dream.