We live in a fast-paced society.  Human beings are hard-wired to favor instant-gratification.  While this was great for survival when we were living in caves, in modern times it can be a hindrance that finds us getting bored and moving on quicker than we should. Perseverance is required to overcome this natural tendency. Darren Hardy said it best in his book “The Compound Effect”:

“Earning success is hard. The process is laborious, tedious, sometimes even boring. Becoming wealthy, influential, and world-class in your field is slow and arduous.”
― Darren HardyThe Compound Effect

The fact that success is hard and laborious comes as no surprise to anyone, however, one fact that gets discounted is that it can also be tedious and boring.  A good example is the company Vanguard.  The first index fund was created in 1975 and received little fan-fare, even getting called “un-American”.   It took Vanguard 14 years to really start to gain momentum.  Today, most financial advisors recommend low-cost index funds for the average investor’s retirement account. In fact, the Vanguard 500 Index fund is the largest mutual fund in the world!

Progress Takes Time

If success were easy, then everyone would be wildly successful.  This is why you should be highly suspicious of anyone offering you anything that looks or sounds like a get-rich-quick scheme.  Success only comes through hard work and perseverance.  Of these two, perseverance is the factor that tends to trip people up the most.

There is a level of discipline required in every new venture that you start or get involved in.  It’s rare that you’ll get instantaneous feedback in the form of sales or net-positive revenue from day one.   With any business venture, including freelancing, the beginnings are far more tepid and it takes discipline to stick with it until you start to see results.

Perseverance Feeds on Measurable Sub-Goals

Measurability is what separates reality from fantasy.  I have heard of no cases where individuals were able to follow through and see a project to success without having measurable goals.  When setting these goals, it’s important to focus on TIME, QUANTITY, and METRIC.  For instance: “I want to quit my job and be my own boss” is a terrible goal.  Much better would be: “Within 6 months I would like 10% of my monthly income to come from freelancing”.  The key difference is that goal #2 has time, quantity, and a metric (monthly income).

It’s not just having those three qualities that makes the goal good.  Another important thing to do is to break your audacious goals into several smaller sub-goals.  For instance, say you want to quit your job and be your own boss in 3 years.  Your final goal would be “Within 3 years I would like 100% of my income to come from freelancing”, however, it’s going to be difficult to stay motivated for 3 full years with that monster-goal looming over your head.  Instead, you should break that up:

  1. Within 6 months I would like 10% of my monthly income to come from freelancing
  2. Within 1 year I would like 30% of my monthly income to come from freelancing
  3. Within 2 years I would like 60% of my monthly income to come from freelancing
  4. Within 3 years I would like 100% of my monthly income to come from freelancing

Now, these numbers may or may not be realistic for your given situation, and you may have a different long-term-goal that you want to break up into monthly, weekly, or even daily sub goals, but the premise is still the same: by breaking up the larger goal you allow yourself to feed your ego along the way which will solidify your resolve and keep you going until you reach the big goal in the end.

Track Your Progress

This may seem obvious, but it’s so important that it needs to be reiterated.  If you’re not tracking your progress, you’ll never know if you’re meeting your goals.  Also, if you’re not tracking your progress you have no way of improving your situation because you don’t know how good or bad it really is.

Going back to the example goal above, if you have a monthly salary of $4,000, your 6-month goal is to bring in $445/month in freelance revenue.  During months 1-5 you should be checking to see how your progress is aligning with that goal.  If you see that you’re falling short, maybe you should adjust your marketing efforts.  If you see that you’re exceeding it, maybe your goal wasn’t ambitious enough and you should adjust it.  The point here is that managing your success is like steering a ship or flying a plane.  You want to constantly be monitoring and correcting your course or you could end up at the wrong destination.

When to Give Up and Move On

All of the internet soothsayers would have you believe that ANYTHING you dream of can come true with just the right amount of effort and perseverance.  This may be true if you’re immortal or if you have more than 24 hours in your days, however, the rest of us have to deal with the very real problem of opportunity cost.  The main challenge when it comes to deciding to stick with a project is that–consciously or not–you are always questioning whether it may be possible to do something else that offers more rewards for your effort.

It’s important when you go into a project to set parameters.  For instance, “I will spend X months and Y dollars doing Z no matter what and then I will re-evaluate.”  Once you hit your threshold evaluate whether or not you’re meeting your goals.  If you’re not, was it because your goals were just too aggressive or was your original idea a bad one?  You have to be the judge of that, but setting the parameters in the beginning helps you avoid emotional responses.

If you let the emotions of the situation determine your actions, you could end up wasting a lot of time and effort on an unsuccessful project OR you could end up getting discouraged and giving up right before you hit explosive success!


Jonathon Klem

I'm an entrepreneur and tech-enthusiast. I have provided front-end development for numerous award winning websites and an advocate of AGILE development practices. I've also given talks at conferences such as Ohio Linux Fest. In my spare time I am a licensed Ham Radio operator and enjoy disc golfing.


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