You may have stumbled across what is commonly known as the “Serenity Prayer” and attributed to American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The earliest published version really came from Winnifred Crane Wygal in 1933:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Some things freelancers can change and control. Some things we can’t. Much of our serenity (and sanity) lies in discerning the difference.
- You can control how you vet clients, but you can’t control whether they will continue to be fair, reasonable, and respectful for the duration of the project.
- You can control whether your personal budget and business operating budgets are up to date. You can control whether your freelance prices cover your immediate needs and move you toward your long-term goals. You can’t control when unforeseen circumstances cause your spending to scream out of sight like a bottle rocket.
This happened to my family in 2022 when we bought a house built in 1941. It turns out that what people call “character” or “charm” in an old house really means “lots of things may break all at once.” Splendid.
I couldn’t control the dishonest electrician, having to pay the movers twice, the HVAC unit going out within two weeks, the dishwasher we repaired but had to replace anyway, the old cast-iron pipes and Orangeburg sewer main that constantly got backed up.
I could only control my own reactions to those events, and I had a choice to make: grumble about our situation and gnash my teeth at the onslaught of repairs and replacements, or hire people to make the fixes and calmly figure out how to finance them all. (I’m imperfect so there was a bit of both.)
We waste significant heartache and headache on trying to hold on to things that are inherently uncontrollable. (Of course we do! What could be more human?)
Take your freelance pricing, for example. What does it look like to focus on the controllables?
- Clarity around immediate needs: What do you need to earn in gross revenue but in gross pre-tax income each month to pay your business and personal expenses and not go into debt?
- Clarity around long-term goals: If you were to earn a surplus, what would you spend it on? What is the extra income for?
- Up-to-date budget: How will you know when you’re making progress on financial long-term goals? What’s your plan for your monthly business and personal spending?
You can’t perfectly control your spending or earning. Those bewitched feet will trip you up sometimes. You can’t control how a new prospect responds to your prices.
I once had a call with a CrossFit trainer who told me a sales deck would be worth $100,000 to the company if they landed only one new account with it. I gave him a couple of packages and prices for the strategy and copywriting—$2,275 and $4,125.
I knew that my price was reasonable based on my research into what various agencies were charging—$5,000, $6,500, and $9750. They had longer timelines too!
His response showed me that he was more focused on the price than on value: “The main hold up will be the price tag. Just to be transparent, it seems inflated, when the artwork and heavy lifting will come from us.”
Knowing that I wasn’t likely to change his paradigm, no matter how many examples of more expensive “competitors” I shared, I stopped pursuing the opportunity.
- What person or situation are you trying to control right now, with poor results?
- How can you change your position so that you have more options?
- What clients or projects do you need to release so that you can receive better?
If you keep a bottle rocket in a clenched fist, you get burned. Serenity says open your hand and receive the lesson, not the blister.
(Please note: Extended metaphors will continue until morale improves.)
One competency freelancers must develop to thrive is knowing what they can and cannot control and when to hold on or let go. Serenity ain’t a bad compass, my friend.