You win some, you lose some, and why boundaries matter

… and it’s nearly end of 2017.

What a rollercoaster year it’s been. With 3 clients under my belt, this year was considered pretty busy and yet I’ve ended up poorer and a little unhappy.

 

 

You win some …

Yes I got a number of contracts, and they’ve all been long term contracts +6 months. By the 3rd month, I started to feel my interest fade. So I’ve made it clear that going forward, I will try to wrap up projects quicker. And ongoing work will be considered as additional. Building an online shop, and creating virtual products has helped me clarify the types of services I offer, the price I expect to charge (for a reasonably sized project), and what the clients can expect of me through writing my terms.
This has also helped me clarify to myself boundaries both to set the client’s expectations, and for me to set my boundaries from the beginning. Such as making it clearer going forward how many rounds of editing to do, and agree on a project end date early on.

These are some fantastic lessons I’ve learnt. They’re really going to come in handy in the future.

You lose some …

In the process of inadvertently shifting my focus on doing the work, I’ve put aside music. And it ended up a lot more severe than I had thought and had planned. I wanted to still practice music on a regular basis, but once the projects started rolling, the client demands were incessant. I couldn’t get a break, and I kept worrying. And not knowing when the projects were to end, meant my stress levels were constantly through the roof. See setting up boundaries above.

Because I was so distant from myself, I was easily stressed and I was getting quite depressed! Considering how far I’ve fallen in the past, I heeded the warning signs this time, and took some time off in-between. Unfortunately, without those boundaries that I now realise are so utterly critical to my sanity, it only slowed down the build up but didn’t prevent or remove it completely.

But I’m still standing. And I’ve made my needs heard, loud and clear. And before this year end, I will have made further progress in the music aspects and lead me one step closer to my goal.

Things are in the works, such as my next podcast episode and some new music I’ve been working on … and if you want to support me on my journey, I’d love for you to do so via my Patreon page:

UX Writer? Marketing? Me?

My bedtime routine involves scrolling through social media feeds, while noticing the slow drool from my mouth  as my eyelids fall heavily.

Last night was no exception, that is until I stumbled on this uxbooth post on being a UX writer.

UX Writer wah ?! The words immediately resonated. I read and nodded through the entire article, chanting ‘yes yes this is what I do … I’m no longer a  Marketer!‘ followed by internal crying of relief (no disrespect to Marketers).

I’ve been writing procedural articles, designing email content and generally writing user friendly documents since the 2000’s. If a procedure wasn’t user friendly enough, or a training guide full of jargon, I’d be the first to jump at the opportunity to re-write it. But as far as a consultant role goes in corporate, that’s about as far as I could take my skills.

Fast forward to 2012 and I started work with Saasu in Client Services, within about 6 months I was promoted to Manager. I was delighted at the ability to design canned responses, FAQs, host one-on-one client calls, do customer satisfaction research, and train new staff. The great thing about a small company is that you can really get your hands in everything. So when the marketing team went looking, I came knocking.

Combined with a love for writing at an early age, experience writing for The AU Review, and all the Financial documents I’ve written in corporate, I pretty much hit the ground running. My only weakness? I had little care for advertising, or PR, or media, or events. I know. m.a.r.k.e.t.i.n.g.  oops.

Anyway I took a shot. Because why not. And I found that I still loved interacting with customers because I’m always asking ‘why‘ and ‘how can this be better for you‘.

That’s what I care about. Why do things? Who will it serve? How will it benefit us and society? Can people understand it? What do they need help with? etc.

Going back to the uxbooth article, there are 3 common responsibilities that define the role of a UX writer: research + writing + collaboration.

Basically those words live in my hood. They jive to my groove. They put the cream on the donut. Haha I made that last one up, you like?

Today, I’ve worked with Menuplicker developing copy and UX writing for their website and mobile app. I’ve helped 1Cover develop their internal training program as an Instructional Designer. And I’m currently spending regular parts of my week improving Squirrel Street’s community presence.

There’s a twist to this story …

I don’t hold a communications/media/journalism degree! I finished with a Bachelors in Business, and a post graduate degree in Art & Design where I honed in on my creative writing skills.

Just the other day I was rejected from Scripted for not meeting their editorial guidelines. I didn’t pass their 40 minute test, which frankly made me so nervous I apparently made some grammatical errors. If that’s their game, I don’t want to play.

The morning I received that email, I woke up feeling sorry for myself, and thinking loudly ‘OMG see? I’m not a writer. I should give up now.‘ Then later that week – bless his golden eyeglasses – Seth put out a post that basically said you either a) blame yourself, b) blame them for rejecting you, c) learn from your mistakes, d) learn to refocus on a more suitable area. Both c) & d) takes grit and resilience but they will take you where you want to go.

And also, hi, I’m Shasha, part UX writer, part musician 🙂

A lesson on mistakes and back-ups

So, at some point in time I decided that I needed a storefront to sell the content services I offer. People like to know upfront what they are in for and how much to budget for. And since I was sick and off work, I decided to give it a shot. And VOLA! Here is my >SHOP<!

shasha gong shop

Ok Ok … as you can see everything ended well. But what you don’t see is how one little code change had completely stuffed the server around and the entire shop just collapsed into a void … a void I couldn’t access!

I spent a good part of a whole day working on the site, and I was so pleased with myself. Everything looked good and was working. So like what everyone who’s in this position would do, we try to spruce things up a bit. Add bits here and there. That’s where things went wrong for me.

I read an article on how to change the eCommerce system’s default after purchase screen so that it’ll show my customised page. But I changed the code in the wrong PHP directory. So that messed it. Then when I went back to undo the changes … the whole thing just kinda died with the 500 (error code).

Recently I got my boyfriend to watch Halt and Catch Fire with me. I’ve been following it since it came out in 2014. And after just coming off the buzz from season 3, my boyfriend basically had no choice. He likes it anyway.

Anyway … there’s a massive story at Cardiff, where Cameron loses her program and all her back-ups weren’t working (without giving much away). That was basically how I was feeling by the end of the night. It was almost midnight and I was exhausted and feeling like a huge ass for not backing things up, and knowing I’d wake up the next day having to deal with re-writing everything.

I tried to clone the directory. Didn’t work.

I installed a new directory, copy and pasted some folders across. Didn’t work.

I tried pretty much all I could think of and nothing was working. So I raised a ticket with my hosting provider, see if they have a restore point I can use.

Thankfully, I opened my mobile and I had a cached version of my terms page (have you seen it? its hideous). So I quickly copied it and emailed it to myself, just in case I had to rewrite everything.

Then I fell asleep. Had some horrible dreams as expected.

But somewhere between my panic and sleep … and the reply I got from the techie … I got an idea. The techie said ‘I disabled your theme and the site is now working’.

I know, no major revelation. But … then I remembered how I deleted the theme folder in my clone directory and how I reinstalled it back. So I thought I’d try that with the actual shop directory.

BOOM! I fixed it, just like that.

What have you learnt Shasha?

Well … I made sure everything was working. I triple checked all my directories. And now I’m carefully going in, getting rid of all the trash, and about to backup all my directories. Always takes a lesson like this to learn what not to do! I’m afraid I’ll always remember this mistake, even though things worked out in the end and I don’t have to rewrite anything (thank goodnesssss!!!). But it could have been a disaster.

Also, panic gets you nowhere. Like, I know this, time and time again I know this. But for feck’s sake it just keeps getting triggered.

Clean up and back-up regularly folks!

And …

Mock Logic Games image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out my professional portfolio here.

As a freelancer newbie I made the biggest mistake

When I was about 15, I took the Nikon SLR for a spin one night and got some damn good pics of the moon for a first timer; I should scan the films. 15 years later, I’m still taking pictures of the moon, but with better equipment and more focused outcomes. And more understanding of photography too.

I also loved writing as for every job I had, my favourite activity was to write stuff.

I knew I loved these things and pursued them for a while, and grew from those experiences.

And experiences help you grow > gain new experiences > make mistakes and learn from them > grow some more. It’s a big long cycle.

As this year unfolded, I found myself handling a number of different projects as a freelancer newbie. And of course I had to make the biggest mistake a freelancer newbie can make.

What’s that you say? Allow me to explain.

The last 6 months hasn’t been easy. Reality didn’t match up to theory. In theory, taking on some new projects was going to free up a bunch of time for me to work on my music. In reality, I was so busy at times I had forgotten to breathe. How did it happen like that?

Well, I made the mistake of charging for project work at an hourly rate. It’s not about the money but about expectations. Charging hourly is literally telling your client ‘I’m at your disposal until whenever …’. And I ended up feeling like being owned, being on call, without any of the benefits of a permanent employment situation! Not cool.

And realistically speaking, just because I was working from home didn’t mean I could switch on/off to work on music. In reality, I was stressing over the projects a lot longer than I thought I would. My sense of accountability rang high and loud and I couldn’t unwind from the projects to focus on music. Because I would be distracted.

The only times I could focus on my music was where I knew I could get a day of peace, where I didn’t need to check emails, make phone calls, talk to people. And those days were not the same days I was working from home.

In theory, charging by the hour sounds great at the start. I have a lot of flexibility around how and when I work, and the mentality of “you think you can make big bucks because of your hourly rate“. However I think this only works if you have a very high rate (which I didn’t). I found that I was getting more efficient and the hourly rates were not on my side, I had to work longer and that always end up meaning doing work that isn’t covered in my initial rates!

Plus there’s only so many hours you can work in a day.

Not to mention the stress that comes with working on multiple projects for multiple companies that left me feeling completely flat and thin.

Addition: Research to prove that charging hourly rates commoditise time!

So after I published this blog post, I started reading Wait by Frank Partnoy, who pointed me to some research by Sanford DeVoe (the full study is here). And basically the old adage ‘time is money’ seems to be reality. The fact that I’ve commoditised time meant I started thinking about how I was using my time (at work, outside of work) and started to calculate missed opportunities to earn more money. That’s crazy! That’s why I couldn’t relax or even focus on other things …

What I’ve learnt

There were some huge learning curve and through discussions with my business advisor, I learnt about package pricing.

There is all the benefits of freelancing, plus the right expectations. I’m sure the first few goes I may inaccurately calculate my time, but once I get going I can’t imagine it to be worse than hourly rates.

Projects that freelancers pick up are often short term, and you need to set very clear boundaries around what you will and won’t do. Self preservation is important! And knowing an end date helps with sanity; you know when it’s due and you can plan ahead.

All the frustration helped me put together a contract template and a package pricing template to be used next time. And most importantly I put in place clear boundaries for my current projects so I am not so overwhelmed.

It also helps to find a third person to talk to about issues and ideas, to bounce things off and get some perspective. It was during those sessions that I got very clear about what I was and wasn’t doing right, and I made the opportunities to change things for the better.

Next step: making the time to meet my music deadline at the end of this year! I think I’m getting there slowly … with my latest track.

Check out my professional portfolio here.

How respect and trust underlines everything … but begins with rest and peace

So here I am, at my first band gig this year (Jan). Urgh why did I choose shorts that day … so unprofessional! Oh yes I remember … it was that looooong dragged out summer where every 5 days mother nature gave us a 40 degree day. That’s 104 degrees imperial folks!

And I do not handle myself very well in heat. My ideal temperature floats around 20.

I did a few more sweaty shows that month, and while I was amazed I could still sing … my clothes were amazed at how much I could sweat.

Yep. I created some unforgettable memories. I think anything I do in relation to music gets seriously tattooed to my brain. I LOVE IT!!!

So anyway … yes I write this with an intentional topic in mind: RESPECT and TRUST.

Flashback to Dec 2016. The world was freaking out to Trump being elected. Massive crazy extreme weather creating chaos. The Syrian refugees. Women’s rights. Holy golly. I couldn’t help but wonder at the chaos of the world, and how the chaos of my personal world were somewhat on par.

There were illnesses in the family. I was struggling to breathe in my career. My stress levels weren’t calming down. And I wasn’t practicing enough for my shows. My thoughts were a constant negative mess. And my emotional state was just wobbling all over the place. I headed straight for a nervous breakdown.

So I took some time off. Told the world I needed alone time (more than usual). And really seriously contemplated my future, and how my (then) present got to be so chaotic.

Folks, I gave myself permission to rest, to say no, and to just back away from everything. Because I needed it. My body was aching. And so was my mind. I didn’t feeling guilty like I used to, like I owed the world my presence (or some bullshit).

And in retraining my brain over the last 2-3 years, I’ve realised that, yes there are bad time, yes I will feel down and find it difficult to get out of bed … but no, they don’t define me anymore, and no, I won’t subject myself to unrealistic demands, mostly created by me. Treating myself with respect, and trusting in my own abilities to get through the tough times, I choose me and put myself first.

I worked out what I needed to do, and change the things that were no longer working for me. It took well over a month worth of planning and thinking, and a heck of a lot of uncertainty to put my foot down. But I trusted me, and I respected what my body was telling me, thus I was able to make decisions that were healthier for me.

This is why I think the concept of respect and trust, for yourself, for others, need to be taught. And talked about.

It is the foundation where self confidence stems from …

It is the framework for healthy relationships …

Without which you’ll lead a stressful life, unhappy relationships, difficulties at work, high levels of self doubt … I’m sure you’ve read and experienced a number of those.

When I took on the guitar in my late 20’s, I wasn’t only learning about how to play the guitar. I was learning about myself, and getting to know who I really am and finally acknowledging myself. I didn’t have the guts before that. For some, that ‘guitar’ might be exercise, yoga, travelling …

This is an example I keep referring to, because like what they teach in mindfulness (not the pop quiz kind), I found my flow and peace in playing my guitar. I was essentially giving my mind a rest and focusing it on the one activity.

It starts here. Acknowledging yourself. What your body is feeling at this very moment. Because this is quantifiable. Your stress, the chaos out there, that stuff is endless, where do you begin and end with it?

So you must do what you can … which is tuning in to yourself. And you owe it to yourself to find what that tuning in technique is. I bet you already know it … but because you haven’t been thinking about it, it’s currently out of reach. But it’s in there, waiting for you to dig it up.

Guess what you need to do that? Yep. Rest.

Respect and trust yourself, you are important and what you feel is absolutely valid, true and deserves to be heard. When you let yourself feel these things, over time, you’ll understand how others feel and feel connected to people. Connection builds trust, and trust leads to care and love. Out of that grows respect. Oh yeah, it’s a cycle, but such a healthy and sustainable one don’t you think?

I have no idea what I’m doing

Yep. This much I am sure of.

I know this year began in a dramatic turn of events for the world, but the build-up was there. The fact that we’ve spent so long either in silence or in a quiet debate meant our choice of inaction led to this point. Now we know, and we’re beginning to wake up and realise that silence always takes the side of the oppressor.

But after living in silence for so long, our rebuttal comes erratically and violently, or uncertain and insecurely. But yes it comes. Finally, it comes.

My personal struggle this year comes with a few losses too. A loss of direction, a sense of greater purpose and drive. And a loss of confidence.

I released my first single out into the world, having not a clue how to do it. I pushed it live via posts on social media and a few streaming services like SoundCloud and BandCamp. But I didn’t know how to build publicity nor did I plan a strategy. I just wanted it out and I wanted feedback from others, who turned out to be mostly my friends. I’m thankful. But I want to grow.

My band played our first show at the end of January. It was a good turnout and we had fun. But the work doesn’t stop for us.

I’m finding a lot of challenges in balancing a part time steady gig and trying to expand my freelancing network so I can score more paid projects. It feels like monkey bars, I’m afraid to let go and make the jump to the next set of bars, yet I know if I want to grow I need to make the leap eventually.

Yet I need the financial stability to ease my anxiety about finance.

I have also started to have a steady stream of market gigs I’ve been performing at, but the heatwaves have proved a real challenge physically. I’ve had to reject a few gigs for this reason.

All of this adds up, to this point where I feel like I have completely lost my shit and whatever I do I just can’t get it right. But logic tells me that I won’t feel like this forever, and I should just focus on what I can achieve right now.

It’s times like this that I honestly wished for some guide or mentor to tell me that everything will be alright and that I am doing the right thing. But the truth is, I don’t think I’d believe them anyway.

This is my thing. I’ve chosen to take on all these roles at once. And now they are overwhelming me, little by little.

But at least I am no longer silent. I am pursuing music, in however many possible ways as I can, until I get onto something bigger.

While I truly have no idea what I am doing and writing this I realise just how lost I am feeling, I’m still going to dust off the dirt and continue this journey. I am not going to give this up despite wanting to every day because giving up is not an option I’m willing to take. I am not ready to give up. The journey only just started, and if I can get through this then I will only become stronger and more experienced to deal with it in the future.

Yep. This much I am sure of.

A Fine Night – my debut single release

So it has finally started!

I shared my debut single, ‘A Fine Night’, a couple of weeks ago online and I got some amazing responses. I’m so grateful!

The song is about recognising that there is always a choice, and finally finding the courage to make a potentially life changing decision. It is about empowerment, creating a healthy, loving, supportive dialogue with yourself, written from a female perspective [mine].

Listen here:

Lyrics:

This fine night
Where it began
Under the darkness
Between the lights

Down by the water
Down by the sea
Under the moonlight
She set it free

It’s alright, freedom is in sight
Between the spaces, into the night

Oh what a feeling, oh tonight
It’s gonna be alright, under the moonlight

Oh it’s alright, it’s your right
Under the moonlight

Oh it’s tonights, it’s for life
Under the moonlight

Backstory:

Looking back on my personal journey through my late 20’s, I reflected on how I put myself last to pursue a career, a relationship, and friendships all detrimental to my health. I became very ill and my immune system suffered under the stresses and I could no longer continue in that way. Because all those things took away my energy and time, and gave me little in return. Instead of feeling nurtured, I was starving. I was feeling spent all the time, and my heart kept breaking.

Instead of pursuing insanity by repeating the same patterns – asking the same people to give me things they couldn’t – I decided to ask of myself those things instead: love, trust, honesty, integrity, respect, care, patience, gratitude, kindness, openness.

And once I started to hear myself, to listen to my intuition, I recognised and were attracted to others who ‘spoke the same language’. My choice was to pursue music as my form of self expression and meditation (a term I use loosely). And I saw the wonder of self expression in others too, as many forms as there are human beings on this planet.

I was inspired by the stories of courage and self growth amongst my peers. And the common themes were always about bringing the focus back to themselves, instead of giving in to something external, or out of their control. It being anything such as an illness, an addiction, an ex or current partner, colleague or friend, a job etc.

Acoustic Version:

Heart is out of plunge

I would like to end this year on a good note. Well actually it’s been a pretty interesting year. I have been very productive and despite some setbacks, I’ve felt that I’ve been more ‘on course’ this year than ever before.

But first thing’s first. Giving thanks.

I finally wrote that thank-you to Anaïs and yep, I feel foolish about it but nothing I can do now. Her manager was so kind to have replied. What a bunch of genuinely lovely people. I would be the first one to buy tickets when she tours here.

I also finally recorded my cover of Anaïs’s song Young Man In America, one of my favourite songs to play – whether it’s warming up, or warming down, it’s such an enormously beautiful ballad.

Here is my cover (along with wilderland intro, the tie-in is just superb):

Some new tracks are in the works, along with re-workings of old tracks. I do feel closer to completing my EP, but there is still a fair way to go.

Part of introducing new stylings are new challenges, and the discomfort of looking to the past. Because if you want to evolve, you want to know where you came from and where to change. So I sat down, had a good think, and decided to record myself singing the very first song I’d ever written as a whole, two years ago.

This was important to me. I am grateful for my life experiences, all the good stuff and all the shit stuff … it’s the unique combination that makes them unique, and I don’t want to hide that. I want to acknowledge what the past taught me, thereby acknowledging myself, past and present.

And so, here is me singing my very first song that I wrote early 2015, called Heart Out Of Plunge, the title I think gives away my state at the time:

in the darkness, look to the light

An old adage, but I’ve seen it applied over and over in folk lore, stories and songs. I firmly believe that the nature of humans require something to believe in, to aspire to, that is bigger than us. Without which, we cannot hope and dream. Without which, we will struggle to look forward to a better tomorrow.

What a tremendous year it has been. There has been some great losses, and big battles that have just started. The world is turning over, I can feel it. And change isn’t going to come easy to all of us, but it’s starting now and there is nowhere to run. It stares you in the face.

It is also such a great and powerful time to create and be inspired, driven by the energy that is flowing around. And I’ve been even more motivated to write, through the words of Leonard Cohen (via brainpickings):

Before I can discard the verse, I have to write it… It’s just as hard to write a bad verse as a good verse. I can’t discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.

Indeed Mr Cohen is right. The process serves to clear the path to clarity, and arrival. Without seeing the words come out, you cannot begin to rearrange or curate or even to understand what is going on. The act of keeping a journey, or writing a poem or a song, I feel, is very similar. And I’ve been writing ever since I can remember.

Also I’ve learnt to be open to anything, especially serendipity – a word I used to associate with fate, destiny. I don’t so much believe in fate or destiny as an avoidant form of passivity. I do believe in meeting experiences (people and places) in the eyes, fully absorb what is presented to you, and being thankful in return for the experience. What comes after, well that all depends on whether you left the door open or closed.

A recent article I read by Courtney E. Martin, mostly about people working for themselves finding new opportunities, warns against seeing these relationships as transactional, like that person at a mixer who works the room collecting business cards. It’s more about knowing lots of people and leaving room for serendipity.

I think the biggest mistake people make with networking is when they think it’s a separate mode from just being a kind, generous, curious human being

Absolutely!!!

I’ve not made hundreds of contacts through the few networking sessions I’ve been to, but the connections I have made that have lasted, has turned into new opportunities. Not because I had only the intention of gaining something (everyone in some respect is looking to gain something), but my attitude was relaxed, and I was more curious about the people and I cared for them. Friendship is the key for me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This is what I believe in. I believe in forging strong connections through genuine and mutual interest over time. I believe in the goodness and kindness in people, and I give the benefit of the doubt always. I believe in second chances, and to a degree, a third. I believe in forgiveness and kindness. And I believe in connections, while temporary, serves to teach me and help me grow.

Yeah I might get hurt, and situations change. But I’d rather this than not knowing. I’d rather the full-fledge spectrum than being in the dark. Although I do appreciate the greys deeply.

And so I’ll leave you now with a new track I’ve spent the last week thinking about … and it really drove me a bit insane when I started to work on it. It is still in the works, but I appreciate your time: