There were many times I didn’t think I’d make it through.
I had two children by the age of 21, their father wanted no part of it. I was on my own. I was working full time and returned to college when my oldest two were still in diapers. I took a full load of courses and picked up a work study job on campus. Minimum wage then was $4.25/hour. My two bedroom mobile home trailer was tiny and cheap, but it was mine.
I spent my days working and my nights doing bath, commuting between home, daycare, work, school, and then doing homework, and bedtime for the kids and then hours doing my homework or trying to figure out which bills I could pay that month.
I earned my degree, and graduated cum laude to boot, but it sure wasn’t easy. I also managed to morph that work study job into a full-time position, although it took almost ten years to work my way up to $35,000 annually with benefits.
It was going to be more money than I’d ever made in my life.
Life throws a hand grenade
That was the same year my gallbladder decided to rear its ugly head. After nearly six months of not knowing for sure what was wrong, it finally required removal which everyone said should have been no big deal.
But for me it was.
The surgeon screwed up, unknowingly I guess or maybe because he was leaving for vacation the next day, he sent me home. Two days later I was back in the ER and then was admitted, requiring emergency surgery.
I almost died.
I spent two weeks in the hospital, my kids were shuttled from family to friends to coworkers. Thank God for all of them who stepped up. It took much longer to recover because I had no choice but to go back to work at least part-time. My income was all there was.
Starting over and over…and over
I had to start over to build what I had. I started freelancing in 2003 for extra money. The job I relocated for and thought would be long-term turned out to have a manager who forced me out but then was indicted for embezzling federal funds.
I started over again but determined this time that I would figure out how to not be so dependent on employers for my income.
I had two more children, born when I was thirty-five and then thirty-nine. Their father turned out to be an addict which brought a whole new host of hardships to deal with including the long-term impact of his addiction and abandonment on my youngest daughters.
I started over again and again. Each time it felt like five steps forward and three steps back.
It’s been a long, complicated, difficult, stressful road. But it’s also been filled with family, surprises, new skills, new people, challenges, and most of all, love.
As I sit here today, I’m fifty-three and grateful for those hardships. I’ve learned so much and it all helps me now to have the flexibility I love.
It’s the fact that I’ve had those hardships and overcome them that’s made me stronger and made me capable enough to run my own business from home.
My youngest turns fourteen in a few weeks. My children and ten grandchildren are healthy. I spend time with them often and can help out when needed.
I enjoy my steady work-from-home job teaching tech and freelancing. My coaching business is growing rapidly. I have multiple income streams. My goal is to buy a home within the next year.
There’s truth to that old German saying by Friedrich Nietzsche “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens. — Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker,” which loosely translated is “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”
Key Message: Everything I’ve done gave me the strength, skills, and confidence to do what I’m doing today.
As a single mom, life changed for the better every time.
As a single mom of two and then four children, it was up to me to make enough income to support my family. Long before I started freelancing, I was raising my children alone, no child support coming in. Most days I left the house before 6am and didn’t get home until after 6pm. My kids were being raised in daycare.
There simply was no other choice then.
How it started
I put myself through college using grants, work-study money, and student loans while my older two children were in diapers. I worked my way up from a job as a work-study student at $4.15/hour to a full-time job (yes, that was minimum wage then) to a program coordinator for a local community college at $35,000 annually.
I was on welfare until my two youngest children were teenagers because even though I was working full-time and then some, I still qualified for daycare and medical assistance.
I worked ten years for a Women’s Center of a local community college. I got the job because I went into the center looking for a single parent support group for students at the college. When the director of the center found I was eligible for work-study on campus, she told me there wasn’t one but that I could start one if I wanted and get paid for it.
I said yes
With her guidance I learned to lead
At first it was mostly a social program to support other moms, picnics, movie trips, etc. Later, I initiated a daycare program at the college’s branch location so more moms could attend college courses. Then I started doing special student orientations for moms returning to college.
Many of the moms were struggling with transportation, parenting, personal health, money management. It wasn’t just daycare that kept them from being successful in college. Graduation was a year away and I would no longer be eligible for work-study. My supervisor arranged for me to travel to Nashville be trained as a life skills facilitator to better help the women I was working with to remove their obstacles to college.
She explained I would have learn how to raise funds to cover the cost of my salary every year if I wanted to keep my job and asked if I wanted to stay.
I said yes.
I marketed the program in the community and negotiated agreements with outside agencies such as Head Start, Job and Family Services, and others in order to bring in funds. I started teaching the life skills series for women that were Head Start moms, women in the local domestic violence shelter, in transitional housing, or drug/alcohol rehabilitation. It was up to me to convince those agencies to pay us to provide the program to their clients.
The incentive program I created for my participants was so successful, I was invited to speak at a conference in Nashville. Our program site was even selected as one of the possible sites for a visit from former Vice President, Al Gore. The moms in our program had teens that were struggling too. My boss asked if I would be willing to train as a youth life skills facilitator.
I said yes.
I trained in youth life skills and eventually supervised a young man who was trained to facilitate men’s life skills. The program for youth opened up opportunities to write grant proposals and bring in money to provide the life skills together with entrepreneurial skills to low-income youth during the summer months.
For three years I wrote the curriculum and coordinated that program in the summer, facilitating life skills, teaching entrepreneurship, and supervising other staff who taught the youth how to make their own jewelry.
The year before I left the college, the Dean of my department asked me to rewrite a grant proposal that they paid someone else to write who didn’t do a great job.
I said yes.
The funds were to provide a program that included tutoring, mentoring, financial aid information, and life skills for an entire cohort of low-income 7th grade students in order to get them onto the path to college.
We missed approval for the grant due to the competitiveness. Instead of giving up, I convinced the other agencies in the community to pitch in services and funding so we could operate the program on a smaller scale, with just twenty 7th grade students. I coordinated the community wide effort, called the Higher Education Partnership (HEP) that involved several outside community agencies. The plan was to apply for the grant again the following year, this time with proof our program would be effective.
Unfortunately, just before time to start the proposal writing, I was hit with some major health problems. I had to have my gallbladder surgically removed. I nearly died from complications. It took six weeks to recover enough to return to work part-time.
The near-death experience also had a profound impact on my life.
I wanted more time with my children and to feel more fulfilled in my life. A co-worker asked me if I thought maybe it was just time to see what else was there beyond the college.
I said yes.
And the next two or three years of my life was spent providing direct social service to women and families in transitional housing. I worked two part-time jobs, one teaching self sufficiency as a program coordinator for a housing agency and the other creating a mentoring program for women on welfare for Catholic Charities. I learned so much about how to recruit participants, find and train volunteers, create and publish a newsletter, and much more.
Then a friend I had met through an online dating app asked me if I’d be interested in working with homeless veterans because his employer was hiring.
I said yes.
I moved to the city
The next year of my life I taught job skills to homeless veterans in one of the largest shelters in downtown Cleveland. It was one of the most fulfilling and one of the saddest jobs I’ve had in my life. I was mortified by the way our veterans are treated. I did what I could but the long hours and late nights didn’t work well now that I had teenagers at home. I wanted to have more flexibility in my schedule so I could be home with my kids. A friend asked me if I’d ever thought of starting my own business.
I said yes.
I started freelancing part-time but I knew that to really be effective as a consultant, I needed to know more about business. I had always worked in non profit jobs.
So I went to work for Robert Half International/Office Team where I spent the next few years working as an admin for different businesses including two accounting firms, a telecommunications company, a realtor, a manufacturing company, a hospital system and an orthopedic surgeons practice. I continued to freelance in the evenings and on weekends.
While I was pregnant with my fourth child, I ended up on bedrest for a month. During that time I did a lot of personal reflection, more freelancing, and decided it was time to get out of the city and live life at a slower pace. My mom was separating from my stepdad and she asked if I wanted to rent a 10-acre farm with her.
I said yes.
Life changed completely again.
Things moved at a slower pace outside of the city and we had horses, goats, and chickens. My oldest daughter and her son came to live with us and for a short-time my son, his girlfriend and her son came too.
I worked part-time doing billing for an agency and after that I worked for the U.S. census as a crew member and then as a crew supervisor. The part-time work gave me a lot more time to do freelance work. My mom asked me if I could make enough money freelancing to quit my job.
I said yes.
It took me awhile to earn enough where I was comfortable quitting that part-time job. There were some lean times for sure and I worked some long hours to make ends meet. But by 2015, my father passed away and I had moved again, to my hometown with my two youngest girls. I had three regular well-paying clients and a network of places I could use to take on additional work to fill out my schedule. I was working less hours and making more.
In 2019, I joined Ninja Writers and one of the members asked me to create a course about SEO.
I said yes.
That decision combined with the new income goal I’d set for myself just a few months prior was the catalyst for doubling my annual income over the next year.
It’s 2022 and life is comfortable now. I’m doing what I love with people who understand what it’s like to be a writer. I’m planning to buy a house. And in my spare time, I get to help other freelance writers reach their dream writing path, with fewer mistakes and less time than it took me.
All because I said yes.
Are you ready to change your life for the better?
What can you say yes to today?
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Meg Stewart has been freelancing for nearly two decades. She’s a multi-passionate skill hoarder and the intersection of freelance writing, technology, and teaching is her sweet spot. Freelance Ladderwas founded to help writers get paid and help solopreneurs do business better. Meg and her family, (along with two dogs, two cats, and two leopard geckos), live in Northeast Ohio.
There comes a time in every woman’s life when we realize there’s more to life than what we’re doing. For me that time first happened in 2003. As a single mom, it became clear there was more to life than working and taking care of my children. A friend reminded me to “make time for you.”
I started freelancing, but without guidance and purpose, I floundered over and over again. I was more than capable but it was hard to know what to do and when.
I searched the Internet without much luck. I did some freelancing but didn’t gain much traction. When you don’t have a destination fixed firmly in mind, even a map isn’t much help at all.
It’s possible you’ve spent the majority of your adult life doing what everyone else thought was best for you.
Maybe you’re recently widowed or divorced, perhaps your kids are getting older and you have more free time. Or maybe your kids are grown and you’ve recently retired from your 9 to 5 job.
Regardless of the reason, you find yourself with more time on your hands and/or a desire to do something meaningful with your life for the next couple decades.
It could be you know what you need to do, you have a dream in mind, but the technology you need to learn is overwhelming.
Or maybe you just can’t figure out where to start.
Over the last year, I’ve been coaching other writers and small business owners about how to first identify their destination, then create their map for getting there, and navigate rough waters along the way.
If this sounds like you, I can help. For those who are interested in freelance writing or need to learn the technology to do their business better online, visit Freelance Filter.
What to do when you feel like there’s more to life than what you’ve got.
Do you ever feel like there’s got to be something more to life than what you’ve got now? Like maybe you need to identify your your purpose in life?
I’ve so been there.
For me, the time that stands out was right after my third child was born. It seemed life was just passing me by. I was just going through the motions of work, sleep, and single parenting without any real plan. Each day was a lot like the next. I had no true purpose.
If you’ve ever felt afraid to let yourself dream big, maybe this will ease your fears. I spent ten years working with low income women and youth before I made the decision to relocate to Cleveland and work with homeless veterans. As a case manager for a veteran’s re-employment program, I was assigned to the largest men’s shelter downtown.
There were nearly 400 men there most nights. And sadly, a good number of them were military veterans.
Are you asking the right question?
One of the questions I used to ask students in my job skills class was this:
If you had access to the training and any money you needed, what would you be when you grow up?
How would you contribute to the world?
I asked this question to my first group of veterans in my job skills class. One man, who looked about forty years old, began to get tears in his eyes when it was his turn to respond.
I’m fifty years old. No one ever asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. he said.
I told Steve* he could have some time to think about it as I continued around the room.
When just surviving today is the priority, it’s hard to dream big
These men had all volunteered and served their country, many of them had seen combat. They returned to find they didn’t fit into society any longer. The horror they had witnessed, and in some cases been ordered to participate in, had a deep hold on them.
Without treatment, they grew restless, frustrated, bored, angry, and in some cases abusive and self-destructive. They couldn’t see a way out over all the obstacles.
But what I discovered is almost every one of those men wanted more. They wanted to step into their place in society. I used to arrive at the shelter on Monday evenings and within minutes, there were a line of men, waiting to talk to me and find out how I could help them.
They wanted to dream big.
But they were stuck, just trying to survive one day at a time. All they could see in front of them were obstacles.
Many of them had chronic illnesses including respiratory issues and mental health issues, such as PTSD. Many were recovering from years of substance abuse to dull their memories and pain. Some had been to prison, served their time, only to find society still held a grudge.
There was not time or resources for planning. They had so much on their plate, connecting themselves to resources was nearly impossible.
They needed a way to look beyond the obstacles and see their true potential.
Stepping stones can help you dream big
When it was Steve’s turn again that first day in class, he admitted he’d always wanted to be a chef. We created a plan where he would wash dishes in a restaurant with a goal of working his way up to prep chef and then attending culinary school.
As a result of that plan, a dish washing job which would have seemed to most like a frustrating, dead-end job, now became merely a stepping stone to his dream career. Steve got his dish washing job within two weeks.
He could tolerate it because he knew it was temporary. He knew his destination.
Over the years I’ve found this to be true for myself and for a lot of other people. You will be amazed at what you can tolerate if you know it’s temporary and if you see it as a stepping stone to your big dream.
After just a few weeks in that dish washing job, Steve was smiling every day in class. He was excited to tell us about what he was learning and the people he was meeting.
Steve moved into transitional housing not long after getting his job. Within a year, he got promoted to prep chef and I took him to buy his uniforms.
It was a proud day for both of us.
I ran into Steve right before I left Cleveland. He was still working as a prep chef but the restaurant owner encouraged him to go to culinary school and he was enrolled for the fall semester.
His life had completely changed in just a year and a half.
All because he was able to dream big.
How to dream big no matter what obstacles are in your way
If you feel like you have more to offer the world than what you’re doing right now, it’s time to dream big.
Close your eyes and picture what you’d like to be doing. Don’t let yourself worry about money, time, kids, bills, or health issues that might stand in your way.
What would you do if all those obstacles were gone?
Maybe it’s not a job or career, maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is write it down. Describe how it would feel to be doing that thing.
That’s your big dream.
Can you see yourself? Can you imagine how life could be different once you get to your big dream?
Now create your path
Now, this part is harder. Just like I did with Steve, you need to think about what you need to do to get from where you are now to that big dream. Make a list.
Maybe you need education, training, or to learn how to better use technology. If you don’t know what’s required for you to accomplish your dream, do some research and find out.
Think about how other people get started. Steve knew he couldn’t just walk into a restaurant and be a chef. There are steps he had to do first and those steps take some time. Figure out where you need to start and then what you need to do to start there. Steve couldn’t start culinary school right away, his priority was a job so he could get housing and pay his bills. Survival.
The dish washing job helped him do that and it helped him gain experience and learn more about the inner workings of the restaurant industry. Every day he went to that dish washing job, he was learning and gaining experience.
If you can’t find someone to pay you while you learn the skills that are required, volunteer in exchange for learning the skills you need. Work another job if money and survival is a pressing priority for you.
Start small and create a path of stepping stones to help you dream big.
Just like Steve, before you know it, you’ll look up from that path and find you’re close than you ever thought you could be!
One trick from the 1950’s that you must use in your modern business to avoid failure.
It may come as a surprise to you that a process to set smart goals which originated in the 1950’s could still be effective in your modern writing career or business.
But believe it or not, without this one technique, your business is setup for failure.
The SMART process of goal setting became well-known in the education arena thanks in part to the extensive Professional Learning Community work by Rick and Becky DeFour.
But the concept of SMART goals was originally associated with Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management (1954). Fifteen years before I was born! I first heard about Peter Drucker, when I was an Elementary Education major in 1988.
In the 1990’s, SMART goals was a popular trend for adult learning curriculum to enhance accountability and productivity.
This meant, throughout my decade as a community education instructor, certified life skills facilitator, and program coordinator at the college, the SMART goals process was an ever present focus for me.
Now, SMART goals are used in just about every phase of life, including healthcare, fitness, counseling/therapy, manufacturing, agriculture, HR/recruiting, big business, marketing, and so many others.
What Are SMART Goals?
It should come as no surprise then that SMART goals can be effective for writers and small business owners.
There have been several versions or variations of SMART goals over the decades but for most people SMART goals are ones that are:
S-pecific (clearly identified or defined) M-easurable (something quantifiable that can be monitored, counted, and tracked) A-chievable (under your control or influence) R-ealistic or Relevant (a stretch from current status but not too much) T-imely (they have a deadline or due date)
SMART Goals for Writers
As a writer, it can be very motivating to set and meet an annual income goal but you can take that one step further and set SMART goals for your writing business. These will help you to not only meet your income goal, but will help you to know what your next steps should be.
SMART goals guide the decisions you make for your business at any given point.
You can create SMART goals for your own business. Think about what your goal is for your business for the year. Do you want to launch a course? Or start a YouTube channel? Maybe you know you need to build your email list or launch a website or start a blog.
Whatever your goal is, write it down on a piece of paper.
Make it Specific
Now look at your goal and make sure it’s specific. Will you know when it’s accomplished? Is it something concrete you can do?
Here’s an example:
Goal: I want to build my email list.
Specific Goal: I want to double the number of subscribers on my email list.
Make it Measurable
Now that you have a specific goal, you need to make sure it’s something that you can measure.
It’s important to be able to monitor your progress and see that you are moving closer to your goal.
Measurable Goal: I want to build my email list from 100 people to 1,000 people.
Make it Achievable
Now that you have a measurable goal, you need to make sure it’s a goal you can achieve.
What is required to start your goal? Who will you enlist to help you? Is it doable and under your control?
I want to build my email list to 1,000 people and to do that I need to take an email marketing course, for example.
I used it about six months ago to set a goal for myself of replacing my fixed income with my writing income by December 2020. I’m halfway to meeting that goal already! By the way if you’re not already in the Ninja Writers club, I highly recommend it.
If your current email list is 100, it’s probably not realistic to set a goal of 100,000 in a year. But a goal of 1,000 in six months might be totally realistic for you.
Whatever your goal is, make sure it’s something you have control over and can realistically get done using your own efforts.
Make Your Goals Timely
The last piece of the puzzle for SMART goal planning is the T for Timely. This means giving yourself a deadline to accomplish your goal. By setting a deadline, you give yourself that little push needed to keep you from procrastinating.
This is especially important for writers who are self-employed. Set a deadline and stick to it.
Break big goals into smaller, sub-goals and give those deadlines too.
If you find you’re having trouble making progress toward your goals, it can help to post them on display where you will see them often throughout the day. It can also help to get an accountability partner or group to help you stay on track and keep you motivated.
Now that you’ve got the idea, I can’t wait to see what you accomplish this year!