The “Rage to Master” is killing creative business

Photo by Heather M. Edwards on Unsplash

When I was in 5th Grade, my classmate David got one question wrong on the U.S. State Capitals Quiz.

I knew that because I always knew David’s grades. In some ways, I paid more attention to his grades than my own.

My measurement of academic achievement was not my test scores, but how those scores compared to David’s.

I ran home with a smile on my face and told my mom, “I got 100% percent on the State Capitals!”

She smirked, proud, but knowing what was coming next.

“And David got a 98!”

Fast forward 8 years and I ranked #8 academically in my graduating class.

I wasn’t #1, but David was #36. And that was enough.

I approached him after the ceremony and mentioned that our rivalry was finally over (the subtext, of course, being that I had won).

“Rivalry?” he asked, confused.

I was shocked. David had been my primary academic motivator for a decade and he had no idea what I was talking about.

Psychologist Ellen Winner calls this the “Rage to Master.”

The most successful people from any field… sports, arts, music, and more showed a “rage to master” as children. They were often OBSESSED.

(This is the topic of a great new documentary called In Search of Greatness and if you want to see it in action, watch Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame Speech where starting at 14:46 he details the competitors that motivated him without knowing they were competing.)

I see this in freelancing also.

Graphic designers are obsessed with aesthetics.

Photographers are obsessed with beautiful lighting and framing.

Copywriters are obsessed with words.

And all this obsession gives us tunnel vision.

At the beginning of our career, this is a good thing. You can’t become great without the rage to master.

But later, this obsession with our craft leads to ignoring our business.

The symptoms include missing deadlines, being lax on contracts, and getting behind (or ignoring) our taxes. We think just being better — taking better photos, landing better clients, making better money — will solve these problems. But it’s only half the story.

Through the Freelance Co-op, I’ve worked with hundreds of freelancers and the progression of a successful freelancer follows a predictable pattern.

First, you get the bug. You love learning your craft and you begin to display the rage to master. You buy courses, hire a coach, and practice, practice, practice.

Then, you get your first client. It’s a magical moment when you realize that you can actually make money from this skill. This is where “make money from the beach” promises in sales pitches are particularly effective. You begin to dream of a life of ease working when and where you want doing the thing you love.

And in the 3rd phase, you come to a stark realization. The creative skills and client-getting abilities aren’t quite enough. There’s something else that no one taught you — you have to become a business owner. You have to deal with things like contracts, project management, and taxes.

This is the stage where there’s nowhere to turn. So you fall back on what you know — your rage to master. You try to get even better at your craft.

But the truth is, that won’t fix the business problems.

And here’s where you have a choice. You can blame “bad clients” or regulations, or the IRS. You can find thousands of message boards, FB groups, and forums to complain.

This is how freelancers get stuck. By holding on to what got them in the game, they never become business owners.

For me, that’s tragic. Today more than ever, we need talented, creative people continuing to rage to master. And the only way to do that is to collectively make creativity sustainable through better business practices, more resources, and more connection.

The Freelance Co-op connects creative freelancers with the resources they need to be professional business owners that are in control of their own story and their own success.

Been a direct response copywriter since 7th grade when I wrote a 30-page sales letter asking my crush to the dance. freelancecoop.org