Have you ever seen a dog chasing a squirrel? Have you seen the look of surprise and bewilderment on the dog’s face when it caught the squirrel it was chasing — almost by accident, it seems? Chasing a squirrel, or a dream, is fun. You’re not risking a lot, because it’s not like you’ll actually catch it, right? But then you do… and suddenly you have this squirrel in your mouth, and you don’t know what to do with it, except shake your head back and forth a bit and growl to assert that you really did it. You caught the shit out of that squirrel!
But now what? What do you do with this elusive concept of a squirrel, once you’ve finally caught it? Suddenly, it’s real — and maybe you’re no longer sure you want this squirrel. Maybe a different squirrel wouldn’t be quite so big and scary?
When I was 12, I began co-editing a newsletter with my mom. Although she suggested this as a more appropriate use for my copyediting tendencies than, say, correcting my friends’ emails, I wound up primarily handling the design and layout side of it, while she did most of the copyediting. And slowly, I fell in love. When I was 14, I decided I wanted to be a freelance graphic designer when I grew up.
Fast forward to 2011. My brother bought a farm (his dream), and asked me to help him with the visual identity — the first start-from-scratch visual identity project I ever did. He also encouraged me to start my own freelance graphic design business, helped me brainstorm names for my business, let me squat my website on his hosting plan, and offered to pay for my domain name. In short, he believed in me more than I believed in myself. Since then, he has referred clients to me, and continually encouraged me to follow this dream. Thanks to his help, I’ve more or less caught this
But here’s the thing: it’s scary.
Between struggling with impostor syndrome and being afraid of my own success, it would be so much easier to curl up in a ball under the covers and wait for it all to go away, or at least get a steady paying job that doesn’t involve being a small-business owner.
Even beyond that, when you get up close to a
squirrel dream, you find out that it has teeth and claws its own drawbacks — such as complicated taxes, and keeping track of hours, and generally various shitty paperwork that needs to be done by someone, and that someone is you.
So, when I’m feeling overwhelmed by this dream I’ve caught (which, to be fair, is more often than not at this point), it’s important that I take a step back and think about why I wanted to do this. And that “why” — because it lets me set my own hours, help other small local businesses, avoid “selling out” to a large corporation, and, most importantly, do what I love — is what keeps me going through the shitty paperwork. That, and remembering that I’d probably have shitty paperwork in any job, and at least most of this has a reason.
So go, chase your dreams, and if you catch them — growl a bit, shake your head back and forth, and then remind yourself why you were chasing them in the first place.