I get asked this question A LOT. It comes up when I am mentoring freelancers, whether it’s in a formal capacity or, just a quick chat with someone who has reached out to me informally.

“What should I do?” “How should I find work?”

Much as I have a mountain of knowledge and experience about building a sustainable freelance career, the answer is I can’t tell you what you SHOULD do. And there are two reasons for this:

The first reason is that if I tell you what to do, then I’m doing you a disservice. I am not always going to be around to solve your problems, so I have a responsibility to guide you to find your own way to working it out.

And the second reason is that what you do, is entirely up to you. You must find the right path for you based on your skills, your interests and your personal situation.

My role is to help you, by asking you challenging questions, offering new perspectives and providing observations that help unlock a way forward for you.

But that word SHOULD is, for me, a dangerous word. It builds a negative thinking pattern – my psychotherapist friend, colleague and co-trainer, Sarah McCaffrey from Solas Mind describes it as a cognitive distortion – and it can contribute to feelings of guilt and failure. When someone uses the word should they put unreasonable demands and pressures on themself.

I know this personally. I’ve been saying, for more than a year now, that I really should sort my wardrobe out. It’s got loads of old clothes in it – many that I haven’t worn in several years. But I haven’t done it, and every morning, as I get dressed, I look at it and feel guilty and note my failure. I still haven’t tidied out my wardrobe – I should have, but I haven’t. And for as long as I keep saying, I should tidy my wardrobe I know there is no way on earth I will do it. It will only happen on the day I wake up and say, “today I am going to tidy my wardrobe”. And that day I will do it, I know I will, because I have made a positive commitment to doing so.

So, when I’m working with a freelancer and I hear them utter the words, “what should I do?” It worries me, because they are going to be stuck where they are, in worry and guilt about what to do, as well as piling pressure on themselves to do something. And worst of all they are not going to achieve anything. They aren’t going to make any strides forward with their freelance career.

My challenge, at this point, is to find a way into the conversation, to see what building blocks they have in terms of skills and experience, where their interests are and start gently to point to possibilities. Then we’ll look at how to break these down into small, achievable tasks so that they can set themselves up with a positive mindset, where every small step forward is celebrated as a win.

It’s amazing how good it feels to celebrate each small step. The more it makes us feel good, the more we want to achieve that one more small thing … and bingo we are off and running.

So next time you think to yourself, “what should I do?” the answer is to drop the should and ask yourself “what am I going to do today?”