The Invisible Mallet

She reached down and picked a crab out of a bucket. As it came up it turned out that three more were hanging on to it.”
“A crab necklace?” giggled Juliet.
“Oh, that’s crabs for you,” said Verity, disentangling the ones who had hitched a ride. “Thick as planks, the lot of them. That’s why you can keep them in a bucket without a lid. Any that tries to get out gets pulled back. Yes, thick as planks.”
Crab bucket, thought Glenda as they hurried towards the Night Kitchen. That’s how it works. People from the Sisters disapproving when a girl takes the trolley bus. That’s crab bucket. Practically everything my mum ever told me, that’s crab bucket. Practically everything I’ve ever told Juliet, that’s crab bucket, too. Maybe it’s just another word for the Shove. It’s so nice and warm on the inside that you forget that there’s an outside. The worst of it is, the crab that mostly keeps you down is you… The realization had her mind on fire.

A lot hinges on the fact that, in most circumstances, people are not allowed to hit you with a mallet. They put up all kinds of visible and invisible signs that say ‘Do not do this’ in the hope that it’ll work, but if it doesn’t, then they shrug, because there is, really, no mallet at all. Look at Juliet talking to all those nobby ladies. She didn’t know that she shouldn’t talk to them like that. And it worked! Nobody hit her on the head with a hammer.

— Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

Do you live in a crab bucket?

Last time we talked about finding customers when you first get started, and who you should tell about your business. I argued that you should tell everyone you know, so that they could in turn tell everyone they know. And if that advice sounded fine to you, and you’ve already carried it out, then you can ignore the rest of this post.

But for a lot of people, that doesn’t sound very comfortable. You may not be ready to tell your parents, your pastor, or your party-all-night friends. But I’d like you to at least look inside and answer honestly, What are you afraid of?

You may have a legitimate fear. The Juliet in Unseen Academicals couldn’t tell her father about her new job because he would have taken all the money and spent it on alcohol. You may be in a similar situation, or worse. In that case, do the safe and sensible thing.

If you aren’t going to be robbed or beaten for setting out on your own, then what are you afraid of? That you might be wrong, or incompetent, or not good enough? It’s possible, but the only way to get through those problems to become right and competent and good enough is to try it and see. Remember that the definition of failure you learned in middle school doesn’t apply here, and you’re not in it to make money.

Or are you simply afraid that your peers will disapprove? That your parents will give you a surprised “Oh!…. Ok…” when you tell them? That your friends will think that you’re looking down on them? Are you living in a crab bucket where everyone you know will try to pull you down to their level?

Dealing with the crab bucket

There are two ways to deal with crab buckets: the slow way and the quick way.

The Slow Way

If the disapproval of your peers is too much to face, then don’t tell them. Talk about your other interests when they ask what you’re up to, and stay vague or change the subject when they ask about your job. Find another group of peers at a networking group or a meetup that can help you with your business. And when you’ve been a freelancer for a few years and you’re more confident in yourself, you can come back and tell your current friends when it’s too late for them to say “It won’t work”.

This is less painful in the short run, but only because it spreads the pain out over months and years. You’ll be uncomfortable every time you hang out with someone you haven’t told, and the “Oh, by the way, I’ve been kind of misleading you for a few years” conversation won’t be pretty either.

It can be the best route, however, when your self-confidence is already low. If you’re just barely able to overcome your own doubts, you don’t need other people’s doubts piled on top.

The Quick Route

Or, sit down and write out all the reasons you want to be your own boss. Talk about freedom to control your schedule, and the right to do things your way, and the excitement of doing work you care about.

Talk about the reasons you thought about not making this change, and why you decided to proceed anyway. Talk about the inconsistent income, and the savings you’ve built up for that. Talk about the long hours, and your time-management plan to help prevent that.

Re-read and edit it a couple of times until it’s as clear as you want.

Then take a deep breath, say a brief prayer if you’re so inclined, and post it on your Facebook page.

I promise, no one will hit you on the head with a mallet.

Resources for Further Reading
Join the Bureau of Idea Approval and get a free certificate!
Crossing The Red Line
Why Your Loved Ones Want You To Fail
Insubordinate: Free ebook
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