Even though I’ve never had a canine companion myself, one of my favorite shows on television is The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his program, Cesar is a professional dog psychologist and he helps to rehabilitate problem dogs. While his area of expertise is working with overly aggressive dogs, he has also had episodes where he addressed problems with fear, living comfortably with the family cat, and staying under control while on a walk.
So, what does a dog trainer (Millan says that he trains people and rehabilitates dogs) have to do with the business of freelance writing? After all, we’d assume that freelancers don’t have issues with chasing after postal workers. Well, just as freelancers can learn from John McCain and Barack Obama, there is something to be learned from someone who calls himself the Dog Whisperer.
Rules, Boundaries, and Limitations
One of Cesar Millan’s guiding principles when it comes to rehabilitating dogs is to provide them with consistent rules, boundaries, and limitations. Coming from a pack mentality, all Fido wants is a little structure in his life. Without this kind of guidance, his eyes will dart and that’s how he gets out of control.
Translating this philosophy to the realm of freelancing, it is important to establish rules, boundaries, and limitations for both the freelancer (i.e., you) and the client. Without proper boundaries, the freelancer is prone to burnout, having difficulty separating work from home. The most powerful word in a freelancer’s vocabulary is one way to keep clients within the right set of limitations. Establish exactly what the client should expect from you. Any additional work should not come for free.
Establish Yourself as Pack Leader
The Dog Whisperer has said time and time again that when a dog arrives in a situation where there is no clearcut leader, the pooch will start to assume this role. You don’t want this to happen with your new canine companion and you don’t want this to happen with your freelancing either. Take charge of your career and establish yourself as a leader in your field. This is the road to success, so long as you truly believe in your ability to succeed.
When interacting with your clients, you may want to take on the leadership role as well. You’ll want to put together a collaborative effort, but at the same time, you want to put those clients at ease with your confidence and expertise. Be a leader, not a wallflower.
Calm and Assertive State of Mind
Continuing with the previous point, freelancers should have a calm and assertive state of mind. The Dog Whisperer reminds us of this point when working with dogs, but it applies to freelancers too. Just because you’re establishing yourself as a “pack leader” and setting proper boundaries does not mean that you should be incessantly barking at your clients. There is a distinct difference between assertiveness and aggression. Aggression solicits a negative, defensive response. Assertiveness is simply expressing what you want to happen. That’s why a calm state of mind is also important. Too much excitement can lead to anxiousness for both the client and the freelancer.
Cause and Solution Need Not Be Related
Having trouble with a certain freelance client? Struggling with a particular aspect of a project? Maybe you’re fighting against burnout. Whatever the case, the cause of these problems need not be directly related to the solution.
For example, the way to rehabilitate a dog who tears up the carpet could be just to take the dog on longer, brisker walks. A freelancer who is suffering from burnout may feel a lot better after taking a daily walk around the neighborhood too. It’s amazing how much we have in common with our canine counterparts.
Work with Predispositions, Not Against Them
Oftentimes, it’s simply a matter of perspective. A beagle who howls at everything does so because of his natural instincts. In this way, you may not necessarily want to “correct” this problem as much as you would want to work with it. When beagles howl, all they’re doing is telling you that they found something. They were used in hunting situations, helping their hunting owners find their game. In this way, all you need to do is devise a game that takes advantage of this predisposed behavior. Having had his natural instincts satisfied, Fido will be a much happier puppy.
One of the reasons why I got started with freelance writing in the first place is that I prefer to work independently. I enjoy being my own boss and that’s why it’s unlikely that I will work for the man again. Instead of forcing myself to get a conventional job, I took the risk of starting my own freelance business. I think this decision has worked out quite well for me.
The next time you catch an episode of The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, think about how the principles used to rehabilitate the dog can be applied to your professional career. You’d be amazed with the insights you may have.