Whose Baby Is It Anyway? (Hint: Not Yours)

I once had a photographer friend who was trying to break into full time freelancing. He got a few gigs here and there but wasn’t making enough to leave his day job. I never quite understood it. He was a talented photographer. Then one day, he was telling me about a client who he had taken head shots for. She was a small time actress and she wanted retouching done to the photos. Nothing major. Just remove a zit and soften some fine lines. “But I’m not doing that,” he said. I asked him if it was too hard or if she didn’t want to pay the fees for retouching. “No. I just don’t believe that I should make my work into a lie.”

Suddenly I realized why he didn’t have a freelance career. He still hadn’t learned to let go.

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If you want a baby, go have one. If you want to freelance, learn to detach

Detachment is an important quality in freelancing. Sure, you give birth to the work and you deliver it. But it’s not your baby. It’s the client’s baby. They paid for it. They own it. And they can do anything they want to do with it. Learn to detach, people. And learn it quickly.

I learned this lesson early because I had an editor in college who would basically turn your article into a whole new animal by the time it hit the presses.  I also started freelancing with ad and marketing copy, so I had to get used to writing things that I might not necessarily want to say in a way that I might not necessarily want to say it. I still struggle with it when I really, really love a project or gig. But I always tell myself “It’s not your baby. It’s theirs.”

[Insert Anecdote About My Hair Here]

I have horrible hair. I hate it. It has tormented me all my life. If I were brave enough and not married to man who is not attracted to bald women, I would shave my head and call it a day. But I’m not brave and I am married to a man who isn’t attracted to bald women. So I keep it short and I get regular haircuts where I give very detailed instructions on how to cut my hair so that I can live with it.

I tried a new hairdresser once. She flat out refused to even listen to my instructions and then told me she doesn’t let clients face the mirror when she cuts them. “Because I’m the hairdresser and I’m doing the cutting. And if you knew how to do it, you would do it yourself.” Of course, I got up and walked out. Because she may be the hairdresser, but it was my hair, not hers. I was the one who had to pay for that service and I was the one who had to walk around with it on my head afterwards. I was invested in the results than she was.

Freelancing has a lot in common with surrogacy.

The client is actually far more invested in the results than you are. They’re one that has pay for it, both literally and figuratively. The client is the one who has to wear your work. If it sucks, no says, “P.S. Jones really messed up that web copy.” Nope, they say, “ABC Company has a terrible website. I don’t know about working with that company.”

So I never wonder how a surrogate mother can carry a baby for nine months and then let it go. It makes perfect sense to me. Freelancers do it all the time. We take the client’s specifications and concepts. Then we create something with it suit their needs. We nurture it, tweak it and finally deliver it to its new home. But then you have to let them take it from there, wishing everyone the best.

What about you guys? Do you have trouble letting go of your work? If you don’t, how did you learn to let go of the baby? 

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Princess Jones

Princess Jones is the mad scientist behind Diary of a Mad Freelancer. For more talk about freelancing, writing, and selling yourself for a living, follow her on Twitter.

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