Watts Your Problem?

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“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.”

— Alan W. Watts1
The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

Let’s just say that my early days as a freelancer were a bit of a struggle.

There were lots of reasons for that. But simplest explanation is that I lacked two things that are kind of a big deal for a freelancer — things that people sometimes refer to as clients and income.

To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how we managed to keep covering rent and food without going into debt. And to say that we were living paycheck to paycheck was an understatement.

Anyways, in the midst of that struggle, I had the opportunity to talk to an experienced (and successful) writer. And I got to ask him questions like…

  • How do you search for potential clients?
  • Where do you find people you could contact?
  • When talking to prospective clients, what questions do you use?
  • How do you project confidence?
  • What is your system for generating referrals?
  • And so on…

Pretty logical things to ask, right? If my problem was that I didn’t have clients, then it makes sense that I’d need to know how to get clients.

However, what this copywriter quickly helped me realize was this…

I was asking the wrong questions. My real problems actually had very little to do with the “how to” side of getting clients.

Really, my obsession with the “mechanical” elements of freelancing was a distraction. It was a clever tactic for avoiding my actual problems. I was just trying to make myself feel better by creating more certainty.

What I really needed was to change the mindset I operated from. I needed to shift who I was being as a person. And above all, I needed to go out there and take action — to embrace the chaos and take honest-to-goodness emotional risks.

Or to say it another way…

What I thought was the problem wasn’t the problem.

This isn’t to knock general how-to advice though. Or the value of systems or tactics.

Because a big part of achieving success is purely mechanical. There are certain steps or actions you need to take. And if you do those actions, you’ll solve your problem. This is true of freelancing. It’s true of growing an audience. It’s true of getting featured in the media. It’s true of building wealth with investing. And I could go on and on.

Buy a course. Read a book. Talk to someone who’s already solved your problem and ask them what they did.

Yes, you still need to sift through and find an appropriate strategy that works and that’s right for you. But a lack of knowledge is something that can be solved relatively easily. (And cheaply too. Don’t tell me you can’t afford a library card.)

From there, it’s all mechanics. Take the right actions in the right order. Execute on the strategy.

This highlights the core point though.

Because if achieving whatever you’re trying to achieve “just” means following a step-by-step system… and you’re still struggling with your problem… then there’s something else going on.

For example…

What if you have a whole bunch of false stories or beliefs that are keeping you stuck? What if you’re just avoiding certain work because it’s hard? What if the very strategy that’s made you successful to this point is now getting in your way? What if you’re afraid?

I can’t say what the specific issue is for you.

But my challenge for you is to closely examine whatever big problem you’re dealing with right now.

Ask yourself…

Is it really an issue that you don’t know what to do? Do you really only lack clarity or knowledge?

If so, then get whatever you need to move forward and take the next step.

But if not…

If this is a problem you find yourself dealing with over and over again.

Or if you catch yourself saying things like, “Yeah, yeah, I know what to do, I just need to do it,” or “I should have solved this by now,” or “Once I figure out X, then I’ll be good to go.”…

Then those are clues that you need to look deeper.

Those are signs that the solution isn’t just something you can list out step-by-step… that you’re going to need to do hard work, be creative, or take an brutally honest look at yourself…

You’re going to have to actually face the uncertainty.

Only then can you move forward.

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