The uncertainty of being a solo creator
“So what title do you want me to put on your interview video?” One of our housemates was finishing a testimonial video for the co-living house we were staying at. It was a breezy Thursday evening on the beautiful Canary Island when I was thunder-struck by this question. My mind went blank. It was the first month after quitting my job at a fitness studio in Taipei and starting a nomadic journey with my husband. The dark green leaves of beautiful palm trees were wavering under the bright blue sky. And I have absolutely no clue who I was.
When I first became a solopreneur as part of going nomadic, I dreaded when people would ask what I was doing. I used simple labels like “I’m a podcaster” or “I’m a community builder.” These titles seem cool (or at least, that’s what I hoped people felt), yet I felt insecure when saying them. When my friends from school thought I was doing something exceptional, I hid that I felt clueless.
The self-doubts raced through my head in those coming months. “I create a podcast but don’t make money from it. Can I still call myself a podcaster?” “I built a community but don’t have a business model for it. Am I really a community builder?”
Later on, when I had some success selling an online course to help people learn about weight training theory, the title “course creator” became a life raft. For the first time, I could call myself a legit creator. But this didn’t last long. I soon started to compare myself to other creators who were more successful.
Almost two years later, I’ve gotten more comfortable with the uncertainty. I’ve started proudly listing the wide range of projects I am pursuing. I still feel the pressure to prove myself, but as I connect with more people on unconventional paths, I’m more comfortable owning my unique interests. I’m now freelancing for course creators, helping them improve course experiences and communities but also doing many other things. For example, I’m learning how to use watercolor to capture the beauty of sunlight shining on the succulent by my window. I’ve sat on the balcony overlooking Lisbon memorizing Portuguese grammar rules. I love experiencing the energy flow throughout my body when I practice Capoeira. I spend hours in local coffee shops writing my life reflections for my blog.
But if you ask me what I’m really doing these days? The REAL answer is, “I’m learning how to commit.”
The freedom and curse of being a solopreneur
Not having a 9-to-5 job was liberating at first. Every day, I woke up without an alarm and worked whenever I wanted. When I got tired of editing videos, I went on a bike ride. When I took a spontaneous trip into the mountain, I paused my podcast interviews. There was no boss telling me what to do and no one setting any KPIs evaluating my success.
I thought I would never trade this newfound freedom for anything. When I felt guilty about not making my own expected publishing deadlines, I made excuses. I told myself I was recovering from the bureaucratic machine and kept biking along the coastline of beautiful beaches.
This freedom was great until it was not. My life became so unstructured that I felt like I drifted through my days with nothing to hold onto. I prided myself on being super curious and a fast learner, which became a handy excuse any time there was a new shiny object that distracted me. I started to dread waking up, not knowing what I should work on out of a hundred creative things I could do each day. I have unfinished articles stacked up in my Google drive, unpublished Instagram posts that I promised my audience, and batches of online courses that I impulse-bought but never started.
I tried to shame myself into working. When I should have been resting, I thought about the unfinished projects. When I was creating, I regretted not exploring the exotic streets of Lisbon, the beaches of Las Palmas, the lively local markets of Puerto Escondido, or whatever city I was living in. I was never fully alive creating, yet I was never fully rested. Sometimes I used public commitment to force me to ship or complete my work, like sharing sales pages before I was fully ready as a way to work hard to create my products. As someone growing up in Chinese culture, the fear of letting down others and losing face can be effective for me in the short term. However, it’s an unhealthy strategy and one that only led to unbalanced periods of burnout and idleness.
I became paralyzed with this freedom. I was afraid of returning to the mundane work routine of my past work experience, yet I also had the sense that I was not living up to my potential. Instead of liberation, I felt a deep sense of powerlessness. Being a digital nomad running my own solopreneur business had been my dream.
I wasn’t aware of how this lack of commitment to any routine or project was holding me back until I joined Write of Passage in 2022, It’s an intensive five weeks online course. It frightened me at first knowing the course required such a great time commitment, which meant I would have to give up my perceived freedom.
But what happened was quite different from what I expected. Although I did feel stressed catching up between live events and publishing, I committed to writing and experienced flow states I hadn’t experienced consistently. More importantly, I experienced what it was like to create independently but work towards my goals with other curious creators. These experiences completely transformed my identity and have helped me gain the courage to make deeper commitments.
Learning to Commit
After Write of Passage ended, I started to pursue working with other creators who were building online courses and communities. For the kick-off call of my first freelance project, I had to set an alarm to wake up early for the first time in three years. I thought I would be upset, but I woke up with excitement. Now, I am finding joy within these commitments, structuring my days around freelance work, and leaving space for hobbies and rest time.
This embrace of structure has coincided with other changes in my life. In July, I found out I was going to be a mother to a baby girl, which meant I was no longer making choices for only myself. When I commit, I am helping create the world I want for myself and my future daughter. I want her to believe that she can live a fulfilling life where she can create, connect, and thrive. I want her to know that she can be silly, fun, and playful while building great stuff in the world. And she wouldn’t able to live that life if she saw me struggling to find meaning or drifting day to day.
This realization has also led us to pause our nomadic journey and make Austin our current home base. Learning to live with a familiar routine in the same location is new. For some people a nomadic life is scary, but for me, stable life in a fixed location is the scary thing. I thrive on uncertainty and the discomfort of adapting to different cultures. I loved traveling to new countries and being able to be a new person, embracing new identities, and starting fresh in each place. This pushed me and helped me grow for a long time, but it was hard to build long-term relationships. In Austin, a city with so many people on unconventional paths, I can make build those relationships and commit to an interesting future with those people too.
Will it work out the way we want it to? We don’t have an answer to it. We are taking a leap of faith.
So what am I doing these days?
I’ve come a long way, but I’m committing to trying to support my husband’s creator journey while also making progress on mine - all while working to build a bigger and flourishing family life. I’m committing to exploring this uncertain path. I’m committing to spending time on the things that I claim to care about. I’m committing to walking toward the vision of myself where I can thrive.
I won’t be roaming around the old streets in an old European city. I won't have the option to stop a project or miss a deadline because I'm now responsible for more than just my own creation. But committing has given me so many opportunities at the same time. For the first time in a few years, I will be staying in a city long enough to see how it changes through different seasons. The constraints I set for myself in work hours enable me to make progress on finding more freelance work and being able to be proud of the work I do with other creators. I will be able to see the relationships I have been making in Austin deepen and grow.
As my favorite writer Paul Millerd said about the “pathless path” creatives like us are walking on, it’s about committing to:
“experiments in new ways, to remix your own path, to develop your own definition of freedom, and to have faith that it will be okay.” and “ To thrive on the pathless path, we must ignore the shiny objects and distractions and strip away the stories that are not our own to remember who we are.”
There’s no one right answer to live a creative life. And by making these commitments, I know I’m creating spaces for a flourishing life to come, whatever forms it might be in.