One of the core teachings in Buddhism is to walk the path as it appears.
This is about relaxing and understanding expectations, as well as working with emotions, obstacles, and options as they present themselves in your life.
On the other hand, having a plan for your life and career is certainly encouraged. It’s seen as a sign of someone who has it all together (if there is such a thing).
Our society moves at an incredible speed. Companies, the stock market, trends, and people – everything is constantly changing. Still, we all seem to believe that if we make a plan based on what we know and have now, we know what to expect in the future.
So what happens when plans don’t work out? If maybe you don’t get that raise you were expecting? Or if your company suddenly goes under? Or if the partner you were planning to marry breaks up with you?
Freaking out is one option. That’s always the place I like to start.
But after the initial panic attack subsides, flexibility is the best way to move forward.
My friend Lisa Danaczko did just this when she decided to leave her job. She’s managed to find both personal and financial success by going with the flow and not being so attached to her “plan” that she couldn’t take advantage of other opportunities as well.
Going With the Wind
Last summer, Danaczko was working in development for a large university and had been thinking about making a career change for several years. When circumstances changed at her job, she decided it was a sign that it was time to leave.
Danaczko didn’t know what was next, but left her job with the aspiration to finish writing the novel she had begun in graduate school, and the intention to explore different career opportunities.
Leaving a full-time job to find one’s passions might seem daunting for most people, but Danaczko managed to relax and follow the opportunities that presented themselves.
“I saw it as the universe giving me a chance to play. I didn’t scramble and launch into a job search,” said Danaczko. “I gave myself the time to explore different career paths and figure out what makes me happy. I’m just letting things fall into place.”
Surprisingly, those opportunities have turned into a budding freelance career doing development and communications consulting for non-profits.
A few months before she left her job, Danaczko had been going to informational interviews at various non-profits as a way to try to figure out what kind of career move she wanted to make. It was through one of these that she got her first freelance opportunity to do communications and marketing work for a startup that supported family and maternity wellness.
From there she continued to explore her options by going to networking events for education and arts non-profits – fields that she’s interested in.
Danaczko wasn’t making hard sells or pitching herself as a freelancer. She simply expressed her excitement about the industry and mentioned her writing and grant writing experience. After one event last fall, she was approached by three different organizations with freelance consulting contracts!
Those clients then recommended her to others, while personal connections offered introductions, and another freelancer even created a connection for her. The work has continued to come in at a regular rate.
“I seize opportunities that come my way without too much concern about one step leading to the next, and creating a new career. If a project excites me, that’s what I go after,” says Danaczko.
Attitude Isn’t Everything
A big part of Danaczko’s ability to relax and explore is supported by her savings. For two years before becoming a freelancer, she consistently saved 25% of her salary, plus any bonuses she received.
Initially the savings were intended for a house or another big-ticket item. But after she finished graduate school, Danaczko decided she wanted to eventually use the money to take time off to write full time and finish her novel.
When she resigned from her job in July 2015, she had eight months’ worth of salary saved for her new ventures. Her freelancing gigs rolled in by October of last year, so she hasn’t had to dip into her savings much.
“Now, I am making less than my former monthly paycheck, so I am not adding to the savings. But I also have enough to not worry about paying the bills,” says Danaczko.
“My living expenses are pretty modest with the bulk going to my rent. I save money by cooking at home a lot, limiting my travel, and not shopping much anymore.”
Even though she had been saving in preparation for not working, freelancing had never been part of that vision.
“I was really saving for a pie-in-the-sky chance to write full time,” said Danaczko. “I always thought I would either be working full time or writing full time. Freelance was never part of the plan. But as opportunities came up, I said yes to them.”
This freelancing venture is quite uncharacteristic for Danaczko. She says she’s never been a risk taker or very spontaneous.
The risky lifestyle of a freelancer didn’t appeal to Danaczko before, but being able to network and get contracts has now boosted her confidence.
She also feels like she can be much more discerning about the full-time jobs she considers. Her experience and skills have expanded so much that she can’t imagine committing to just one aspect of her freelance work.
Of course, freelancing comes with its own set of difficulties. Danaczko’s time management is under a microscope because her clients know exactly how long it takes her to complete a task. And there’s the constant worry that the work will disappear. She feels vulnerable, but likes having complete ownership of her work.
For now, she has one foot in each camp.
“I’m still picking up freelance work, still going to informational interviews, still networking and still looking for a job. But, I have very high standards and am being very picky about the jobs I go for,” said Danaczko.