For almost 30 years, this 12-year-old boy has been one of my biggest sources of inspiration.
In fact, I credit him for my being the person I am today.
He was born and raised on the Spanish-speaking island of Puerto Rico. He had never lived anywhere else. And at the time of this story, he could barely speak English.
A few months before his 13th birthday, he and his family moved to the U.S. for the first time. Not to California. Not to New York, Ohio or Illinois. (Those would have been much easier cultures to adapt to.)
Instead, they moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. Right in the heart of the Deep South.
Sure, he had learned some English in Puerto Rico. But he had never heard a southern drawl before. Plus, it's one thing to understand some English. It's quite another to communicate fluently.
Yet it was in this new, strange environment that this young man experienced one of the biggest defining moments of his life.
It happened when he visited his new school to register for the following year's classes. One of his future teachers asked him a very simple question, to which the kid replied, "I'm from Puerto Rico."
The teacher looked puzzled. Not because of the boy's accent, but because he obviously had no idea what he'd just been asked.
"Well, that's great! But that's not what I asked you. My question was 'What grade are you going into next year?'"
That's how bad the boy's English was. He couldn't even understand a basic question.
Mortified and deeply embarrassed by his inability to communicate, this young man made an immediate decision to do something about his language deficiency.
In fact, he had never been so determined to improve himself.
On the way home, he asked his mother to take him to the local library, where he came across the Hardy Boys book series. The stories sounded interesting, so he checked out five books from that collection.
He read them all by the next day.
To accelerate his progress, he also asked his parents to speak only English at home. And he went out of his way to make friends around the neighborhood.
Kids would often tease him. They thought his accent was funny. But by the end of the summer, he had read more than 100 Hardy Boys books. He was completely fluent in English. And he could even speak "Southern"!
The improvement was dramatic.
He pressed on. During his senior year of high school, he went on to write a series of essays that earned him over $5,000 in scholarships. And while in university, he honed his writing skills even further. Friends would often come to him for help with their term papers.
He didn't really aspire to write for a living. But at 32 he began moonlighting as a freelance copywriter. Two years later he quit his day job to write full time. And today, he makes a great living writing marketing copy for software companies.
If you haven't already figured it out, that kid was me.
You Have to Take a Stand
That's right, English is my second language. But I don't share this story to impress you. Or to prove that anyone can learn a second language.
I share this story to make a very important point. You can make incremental improvements in your life or your business. And that's cool. Good things can come from applying a steady and incremental effort.
But if you want to create real, fundamental change in your life or in your business... you have to take a stand.
And you have to focus all your energies on getting what you want.
The nature of self-employment is such that some people will always be struggling. Right now, many solo professionals are blaming their woes on the economy. Or the president. Or Congress. Or the national debt. Or Wall Street. Or the "rich."
Bullshit! The problem is not "out there." It's within us. All of us have the power to transform our situation starting RIGHT NOW.
That is... if we're willing to take a stand and do whatever it takes to turn things around.
I'm not suggesting it's easy, I'm saying it's within our reach.
Of course, it's a lot easier to take action when you're sick and tired of the "feast or famine" cycle. Which is why it's OK to be dissatisfied. It's OK to be sick and tired. Because it's that kind of intrinsic motivation that will often drive you to make the changes you need to make.
Just like it did for me when I was 12, when I couldn't understand a word the people around me were saying.
It's Not About Working Harder
Fortunately, creating a real transformation in your business is not all about working harder. That's a common assumption, and it's what drives so many to burnout.
In many cases, transformational change is more about changing your strategy than anything else. For instance, changing the way you position yourself in your market. Or how you prospect for clients. Or which target markets you go after. How you structure your fees. Or what services you offer.
I was really mad when I realized how poorly prepared I was to live in an English-speaking culture. But rather than spending all summer studying flash cards, I read over 100 books. I started speaking only English at home. I made friends who didn't speak a word of Spanish.
In other words, I changed my strategy.
When I was learning the art of copywriting, I didn't just spend more time reading about how to write better copy. I spent time copying and analyzing great copy. I spent more than 100 hours handwriting some of the best-performing sales letters in direct mail history. I filled more than 10 yellow notepads doing this.
When I launched my business and couldn't seem to land even the most meager client, I got help. I worked with a coach who helped me make just a few simple adjustments to my strategy. And before I knew it, I had more business than I could handle.
Again, I'm not telling you any of this to impress you. Heaven knows I've made more mistakes than I care to remember. And I've definitely struggled more than I've succeeded.
I'm sharing this with you because the biggest successes I've experienced came about only after I took a stand and said, "That's it! No more!"
So here's my challenge to you: Take a stand today. Take a look at your business and name one area where you're underperforming and where you're sick and tired of getting poor results.
Accept the fact that you can overcome that challenge - that the solutions are within your reach. And that you DESERVE to do better!
Above all, do whatever you have to do to get fired up about it! Let that emotion drive you to find and implement a solution to that challenge.
International Freelancers Academy is all about offering solutions that will transform your solo business. But transformation can only occur when you're truly driven to make it happen. When you draw a line in the sand and say, "I'm going to start doing something about this TODAY!"
I'll leave you with this beautiful poem by Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
he glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us;
It's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
Hey, gang: Playing small doesn't serve you or anyone around you. It's time to get it done. Time to start changing your business for the better.
Because you can do more. And because you deserve more!
Are you ready to take a stand? Ready to unleash the ambitious 12-year-old kid in you?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Feel free to comment in the area below.