Trusting Your Gut

June 27, 2016

If you Google “Freelance Skills” you get more than 30 million results filled with everything from actual skill development to business management. Many of these links share information that can help guide you in making your business more successful while keeping your clients happy. We study hard and do our best to implement these skills hoping to be successful. But what if I told you that one of the most important skills can’t be learned from any article (even this one!)? It’s a skill that can keep you from making bad decisions and can reassure you when you are on the right path. The neat thing? You already have it. You just have to learn to use it.

What is that feeling?

I’ve been running my own business for the last 7 years and attended business school as well as design school. I’ve learned an incredible amount about what to do – and what not to do – to run a business, but there is one skill that is far more valuable than many of us give it credit for and it’s not learned in school. It’s the one that will tell you if that “increase your sales funnel” pitch is too good to be true. It’s the one that tells you to walk away from a business deal when the guy across the table won’t make eye contact. It’s the one that says the egg salad sandwich you found in the fridge may not be good for you to eat. It’s your “gut feeling”.

Your gut has been passively cataloging all of your experiences into your subconscious for your entire life. From your first trusting steps to the bicycle crashes and failed exams. That uncomfortable feeling in your gut is your subconscious guiding you to make the right decision for YOU. True success in life – and in business – is taking the time to listen to this feeling and learning to trust it.

A test of my gut

The reason I am writing this is it recently became very clear to me how important my own gut feeling is. You see, I had the opportunity to join an exciting project that would financially secure me well through the summer. After initial talks, there was something inside me waving a warning flag so I turned to my friend Paul Jarvis’ tool for Qualifying Clients. Surprisingly, the project scored well above 100, so I considered disregarding my gut. This project met all of the “practical” criteria; the budget was good, the people I’d work with seemed awesome, and I would be able to do some really great work…

…but the thing with gut feelings is that they don’t listen to practicalities. Even if all the numbers add up, no amount of money, time, or redefined scope is going to make it feel right.

I talked about this feeling with a friend who said, “If you’re dating someone and it doesn’t feel like love, don’t ask them to marry you.” I think that hits the spot pretty well. You may not necessarily dislike the person – there’s just no chemistry. That’s how we should approach our business – with love, happy thoughts, and an eagerness to just hang out all the time. In the end, I decided to decline the project because my gut told me something the numbers couldn’t. It wasn’t the right project for me.

Ups and downs are natural

When my wife and I got married, we had a friend of ours perform John Legend’s “Stay With You” during the ceremony because the lyrics were very honest about how all relationships work:

“Oh I’ll stay with you through the ups and the downs

Oh I’ll stay with you when no one else is around

And when the dark clouds arise

I will stay by your side

I know we’ll be alright

I will stay with you”

Every relationship, even business ones, have their ups and downs. Sometimes you just have to pull together and do the hard work just to get it done. That’s great if both sides are in for the long haul and incredibly unfair if they aren’t. That’s where listening to your gut becomes one of your most valuable skills. Your past experiences – your subconscious – can tune into all those factors and help you judge if it’s worth it. Sometimes hard work (and money) are better than having no work (no money). Sometimes it’s not. Trust your gut to lead the way.

It’s honest, authentic, and accessible.

I love sharing my experiences working in design and what’ve I’ve learned along the way. Join a community of thousands of designers, developers, and product professionals by signing up to my newsletter!

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