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In 2005 I began puzzling over the success of some elite professionals I was fortunate enough to meet. They did not match any of my categories and yet they were more successful than anybody else in their field.
I solved the riddle two years later after reading Harriet Rubin’s book, Soloing. Rubin defines soloing as a higher development stage of freelancing. According to her, a soloist is a professional who left vocational and social categories behind, went for solo career and became matchless representative of his or her profession.
Every soloist is unique. But we can often distinguish them by common patterns such as an informal approach, significant influence and exceedingly high income. Some soloists indeed may resemble heroes from novels by Ayn Rand.
Rubin writes mostly about soloists who went freelance the same way as she did – leaving some top corporate position already fed up by narrow-minded corporate environment.
But the other way of gradual professional progress is in my opinion more common. It is not that straightforward, of course. It turns over time as some imaginary spiral of personal evolution, which leads us back to similar things, enriched by new experiences.
From Amateur to Soloist
Particular stages of progress follow after each other. Although these are merely simplified examples, we can describe them as succession from Amateur to Freelancer to Professional to Soloist:
- Amateur has already gone through certain development. He or she may have became interested in some occupation, explored it through personal experience, felt good about it and eventually contemplated doing it for living.
- Freelancer is any beginner who has already set off for a professional career, but is still far from self-conscious entrepreneurship. His or her ideal is to become an impeccable professional. It may be the primary motivation for the first few years, which can only be good, after all.
- Professional is the opposite of an amateur. His or her business is polished, often formal and fairly profitable. For some professionals, work ceases to be fun and becomes a mere routine of adult life. Professional status can lead to extreme tidiness and stability. An overwhelming majority of professionals linger on this level, certain that their own development has reached its final stage.
- Soloist is a professional who made the ultimate turn-around by relaxing and releasing the bonds of professional status. He or she often expresses themselves freely and frankly as an outstanding expert, yet approaches work in a similar fashion the way only artists (or amateurs) do. Soloists work eagerly with deep interest on diverse projects, sometimes not even related to their original occupation.
The exceptionality of soloists in comparison with freelancers could be also illustrated by the following table, included in Harriet Rubin’s book:
[table id=1 /]
Obviously, the advance to each next level takes even greater personal effort. The amateur has to take courage to leave his or her present job and learn a whole business alphabet. The beginning freelancer struggles to find a way to greater professionalism and has to overcome many of his or her own deficiencies along the way. And finally, the professional has to realize that formal professionalism is nothing against the living freedom of the soloist.
That is also a good reason to leave the quiet harbor of professional safety and sail off into unknown waters. Everything changes – those who do not evolve and who are stuck in a place will eventually loose their position and will have to start all over again once more.
On the contrary, a soloist is not afraid of the unknown anymore and accepts constant change as the fundamental principle. Thanks to this attitude, he or she is able to reach contracts that are beyond the level of common freelancers. The soloist partakes in unprecedented projects for fabulous rewards.
It pays off for a big company with high turnover to hire a soloist, because they bring longstanding experience, original ideas and the courage to say things that are taboo for others.
Soloing as a Vehicle of Evolution
Every soloist is different and there is no simple formula for a solo career. There are unlimited ways to become a soloist, each representing one personal story. But because every soloist is an original, basic prerequisites could be rightly linked with this personal sincerity.
A soloist is a professional who towers above the grey average and must be ready to bear not only success, but also criticism. Many pros are not able to sustain such concentrated attention, while a soloist is a bearer of powerful visions that are sustained by themselves. A soloist escapes categories by constantly taking unexpected turns and always being at least one step ahead.
Many artists have these qualities, in contrast with very few professionals. One needs to go deep, to the very foundations, for something to be changed and it must be understood that formal professionalism is indeed binding one’s true potential. The trick is that we really need that professionalism in the early stages. But later we should discard most of it and keep the best elements from both the professional and the artist. Personal business is not an A-to-B kind of journey; it is a vehicle for one’s growth and evolution.
Do You Know Any Soloists?
Do you know somebody in your field who has these exceptional attributes?
- great reputation for delivering on a promise of quality and results
- broad influence and accorded the status of an authority by other experts and media
- high prices, at the top margin of one’s profession
- independence, authenticity and inner consistency of professional opinions
- profound insight and reserved attitude to popular myths and mistakes
- informal behavior and language, courage to speak and act
- fewer projects or contracts and more leisure time
- wide scope of interests and knowledge, enabling a sophisticated approach to problems
- excellent results and phenomenal professional success
Are there any attributes you would add to the list?