How Did You Go From Teaching To Writing?

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Several readers asked if I could share how I transitioned from teaching to freelance writing. In many respects, the journey of change applies to anyone in a life transition with finding your strengths, setting goals, and planning action steps.

Leaving Teaching

I left full-time teaching when AJ was born. When some financial challenges hit, I considered going back to the classroom but knew I didn’t have the stamina to both teach and parent. But, what would I do instead?

What Are My Strengths?

I read the book, Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath and published by Gallup after a friend recommended it. The premise of the book is we should build on our strengths instead of trying to strengthen weaknesses. The Clifton StrengthsFinder™ very specifically defines strengths, or talents, in ways I hadn’t considered before.  For example, you’re not just “good with people” – instead it’s more detailed – you’re good with communication, woo (building rapport), empathizing, or including others.

Here are the 34 talent themes in the context of leadership:

Strengths-Based Leadership (Gallup Press, January 2009)

After I read the book, I took the test and discovered my five strongest talents which frankly surprised me such as “intellection”. (I didn’t realize how much my curiosity to learn new things motivated me!) Looking at my strengths helped me to discover that I really wanted to be a writer.

Make and Implement an Action Plan

I set very specific goals for myself and action steps to achieve my goals.

Goals: I would get an article published in three months and make money in six months.

My actions steps to achieve these goals would be:

      • Read books / websites about freelancing
      • Read books / websites about the craft of writing
      • Read books / websites about being an entrepreneur
      • Create a website
      • Use LinkedIn to the greatest advantage
      • Attend networking events
      • Take classes to improve my writing (Lighthouse Writers, Mediabistro)
      • Network with people in my classes, in my address book, everyone (- thinking always what can I give them? not what can they give me?)
      • Start a critique group with other writers
      • Join entrepreneur groups (I joined Ladies Who Launch and an Entrepreneur Mastermind group.)
      • Get business cards –for the first time in my life

One thing I knew for sure, I wanted to make money. Writing wasn’t going to be a hobby. Having an entrepreneur husband, I knew I’d need to work hard, lose sleep, and give it 150%.  There are tons of great writers in the world. The only way to be competitive would be to focus on both 1) the craft of writing and 2) building a strong brand and business.

I’ve met many people who say they want to be writers. Do it. But don’t say you’re going to do it, or you’re thinking about it. Do it or don’t. The best illustration of the difference between trying and doing is from Anthony Robbins as told by Michael Hyatt

Recently, I watched Tony Robbins [Warning: rough language] give similar advice to a woman who was struggling in her marriage. She stood up in one of his seminars to ask a question. She complained that she had “tried everything” to improve her relationship with her husband but nothing had changed.

Tony went on to make a distinction that I think is vitally important. He asked the woman to try to pick up the chair she was sitting in. She turned around and picked up the chair.

Tony said, “No, you picked it up. I said try to pick it up.”

The woman looked confused. Tony reiterated, “Try to pick it up.” The woman just stood there, not knowing what to do.

Tony continued, “No, now you’re not picking it up. I said try to pick it up.” Again, she picked up the chair.

Again, Tony, said, “No, you picked up the chair. I asked you to try and pick it up. You either pick it up, you don’t pick it up, or you try to pick it up.”

You either do or you don’t. You have to decide if you are ready for a huge amount of work and commitment because that’s what it takes.

Work Your Hardest, Learn Every Day

So no matter what your business, you work like heck to learn how to market yourself and how to improve your craft. On Twitter, I followed writers and bloggers and clicked through to their blogs, read everything I could and learned so much — all for free. In fact, I learned best practices in social media by reading tweets, blogs, and Googling what I wanted to know. I Googled everything from — “how do you set up a Facebook page?” to “how do you program a blank space in your blog using CSS?” to “best writing portfolios.” I also checked out stacks of books from the library which I read, took notes on, and applied. I spent money only on writing classes, and business necessities like a website and business cards.

The information is out there. All you have to do is Google it. And be teachable.

Listen to other people.

Give what you can to others, it will come back to you someday.

Find your tribe online or in person.

Show up.

(And, I’ll be honest, I’m done having coffee with people who want to learn about blogging and “pick my brain.” Everything you need to learn is on the Internet. Look it up.)

Ignore the Inner Critic

Enough said.

There will always be better writers. Oh, well. I can still be good, improve, and make a living. I tell my inner critic to shut it and move on. There’s only one me.

What transition have you gone through in your life that required taking a look at your strengths and setting new goals?

READ NEXT: Becoming a Writer, Part II

Next, I’ll cover the basics of freelance writing, new goals, why it’s important to focus on your expertise, and my photoshoot for Parenting magazine.

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  1. WOW! Great information…I’ve never thought about it in that way. Thanks!