When I was a kid, I used to sit down one morning every December and read my father's collection of Christmas letters. He started writing them before I was born, so it was a compelling snapshot of a life in progress ... not only mine, but of each member of our family. If you could turn each paragraph written about you into a single image, stack those images like a deck of cards and flip through them, you could see an animated representation of your character, and the pattern and trajectory of your life.
Having entered my fifth year of self-employment, I now have a new "Christmas letter pattern" in the works. I don't mean my own family Christmas letter, which I model closely on my father's. And I don't mean the family photo I take every year in front of our house on James' birthday (that one is to literally create a flip book one day that will show James growing and his parents shrinking). I mean these digital thank you notes that I started writing on January 15, 2009.
Before writing this one, I went back and read the three previous entries. The flip book pattern that I see emerging is a combination of fear, shock and wonder. I will never forget the day (really the middle of the night) when I decided to "go it alone." I will never forget the odd combination of fear and liberation that ensued the moment I handed in my resignation letter a few days later. I will never forget the shock of having people offer me advice, office space, free services, and (most important) paid work in that first year. And I continue to be filled with wonder at where this whole thing is leading me.
As a writer, I should avoid cliches. But I can't avoid the metaphor of walking a tightrope with no net. That's still how this feels, and I think it always will. But rather than using that as an image of panic, I now realize how much that feeling focuses you. With so much at stake, you have to figure out what you can and can't do. Or, to use another cliche, you have to know what you know, and know what you don't know. You have no choice but to leave what you don't know to other people, be as confident as possible about whatever talent you do have, and strike a balance between the two.
Most important, I find new and surprising avenues of gratitude each year. Friends become clients. Clients become friends. And I experience unexpected support for other endeavors (I can't get through this without vaguely referring to "Memorial Day," nee "Souvenirs") that have gone farther than logic or probability would dictate. I sometimes feel that this tightrope has taken me into a strange land filled with the realistically impossible, or the pragmatically fantastic, or some other clumsy oxymoron. And I'd just like to say "thank you" to everyone who has gone there with me, and formed the invisible safety net below.