Advice Overload (And How to Get Over It)

In my latest freelance adventures, I’ve come across the phenomena of advice overload.

Warning: This post focuses on freelance writing and only mentions Korea toward the very end in an attempt to stay relevant. Feel free to click away if this seems boring or like some kind of cop-out that betrays my brand.

BW Collage 2

Doesn’t this look like advice-gone-wrong? (Collage, 2014)

In the freelance writing world, there’s an overwhelming body of resources available. Everyone wants to share their tips on running a freelance writing business.

Because everyone in this business is a writer, maybe there’s an unusually large overflow of writing on this topic.

I mean, if you’ve started freelance writing and experienced some success, presto! You’re qualified to write about writing!

 

Where the Problem Lies

Obviously, what works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. As I’ve become further saturated with freelance writing advice, I’ve started to find more and more advice that contradicts other sources.

Don’t use job boards — Do use job boards.

You MUST choose a niche — It’s okay to not have a niche.

Cold pitching is dead — Cold pitching works!

 

Well, now what?

Laid out before me in striking clarity, I could see the dark spiral I was destined to take if I continued on this path of never-ending, contradictory advice.

Each turn of this spiral would be laden with flashy, tempting, helpful resources to help aspiring or young or downtrodden freelance writers.

Eventually, I’d become trapped, purchasing more and more resources while making hardly any money from freelancing at all.

 

But is there a solution? Didn’t I promise one in the title?

 

Yes, yes there is. And I’ll even spoil it for you right now.

Pick what works for you, and do it.

An Anecdote

I’ll give an example.

I recently went to a job fair. (Although I wish I could say it was part of my strategy to network and find new clients, alas, I was looking for a job that could pay the bills.)

I’ve gone to several job fairs in the past, but this time I attended a job fair workshop beforehand. Why? Because workshop attendees get priority entrance.

But all the advice they gave (and my lack of preparation according to their advice) started to stress me out. On the day of the job fair, I sat in my car for a good five minutes, wondering if I was really prepared and if I should just go home. (I kid you not.)

What was happening?!

I’ve been to job fairs before!

I can turn on the (professional) charm!

I interview well!

I’ve successfully landed jobs from job fairs before!

But here I was, sitting in my car with second doubts (and third, and fourth). I eventually steeled myself and went in.

The information I’d received from the workshop wasn’t bad. It was good advice. I’m sure it’s helped lots of people. Hey, I even used some of it. But because I didn’t follow all their steps, I felt underprepared.

I’d begun to fall into a trap. I’d begun thinking that their way was the only successful way of doing things. And while their way had a high probability of success, it wasn’t the only way.

(Side note: If I’d just followed the advice from the workshop, I’m sure I would have felt perfectly prepared. But then I’d have no anecdote to share with you.)

I got so caught up in the advice I’d been given that following the advice became more important than actually accomplishing my goal. Attending the damn job fair.

 

The Freelance Lifestyle

I’ve run into the same problem with freelancing.

Except that it’s probably multiplied by a thousand. There is far more than just one workshop’s worth of advice available on freelance writing. There are pages and articles and blogs chock full of FREE freelance writing advice.

The Beginning

At first, this seems awesome. There’s so much free information out there – I can learn anything! I can do everything!

The Rise

Then hopefully you begin your freelance writing business and follow some advice. You find more resources as you need them. It’s going pretty well.

The Rut

But somewhere along the way, you become a little dissatisfied. You’ve kept going. You still read blog posts from the greats. But you’re not seeing the level of success you expected.

(Well, maybe I should stop projecting onto you; it’s clear by now that the “you” is actually “me.”)

I wasn’t making much progress. That’s never a fun thing to realize, but it starts to become frustrating when you’ve willing inundated yourself with articles with titles like “Finding $1K Clients!” and “How I Doubled My Salary in 3 Months!”

The Spinning Wheels

Then came the pressure the buy, ironically, more resources. Even though there was all that great stuff online, available for free. But don’t feel bad, if the writers you’re following are any good at what they do, you should feel pressured to buy. It helps them make a living.

So I broke down and purchased access to an e-course. This course had a few gold nuggets of information, but also a few letdowns. It didn’t get me out of the rut.

The Light

It hit me after seeing advice from another freelance writer that directly contradicted what I was being taught.

Freelance writers mostly agree that:

Job Boards = High Competition & Low Pay

But this writer had gotten her start on writer job boards, as well as the confidence boost she needed to keep going.

Job boards worked for her.

 

Money Talk

I had a similar experience when reading about freelance writing rates and what I should charge clients. One writer had a hard minimum rate that I decided to stick with too.

The work I had at the time was severely below that rate. Less than half actually. Even though I was learning a lot through my work, the advice telling me I was extremely underpaid permeated my mindset. I became both extremely underpaid and extremely unhappy.

But now I have experience writing blogs, articles, guides, product descriptions, and several online genres. I’ve written on the topics of health & fitness, pets, gardening, beauty, technology, economic trends, and probably more that aren’t coming to mind.

That low rate client that gave me steady but wildly-varying assignments worked for me.

 

I’m still discovering what works for me.

I’ve been freelance writing long enough to realize what makes sense and what doesn’t. Yes, I need to make more cold pitches, but it’s also okay to use the job boards.

The advice out there is good, but it’s also trying to convert me into a sale. Making me feel bad about supposed lack of progress helps them close the deal. So I need to maintain a healthy distance from too much “advice.”

 

What Works for You

What’s in your comfort zone works for you. But stay there, and you’ll never try anything new or see growth.

However, the opposite’s also true.

Get so far outside of your comfort zone without any conceivable link to where you started, and you might be too overwhelmed to grow.

Push yourself outside of your comfort zone, but don’t leave yourself stranded.

 

Korea Relevance

For current or aspiring ETAs, DO push yourself to do new and exciting things. But don’t do it at the expense of yourself.

There’s a temptation to push and push because the ETA grant is just for one year (or 2 or 3 if you renew), and while that may be do-able, it’s not healthy.

If you don’t have a good handle on teaching or classroom management or coteacher relations, don’t take on similar roles outside of school. If you’re lacking “me time,” forget the extracurriculars, take a sick night, or pass on your friends’ weekend travel plans this time.

The FOMO won’t kill you.

Probably.

Sick: Dealing While Abroad

Last week I was hit with the double whammy of a bad head cold immediately followed by the stomach flu. Fun.

sick-in-bed-illustration

On the bright side, everything looks better after you’ve recovered from a cold.

And while I was stuck in bed, thoughts in a haze, I remembered that I’d been sick in Korea quite often. In fact…

I spent my first Christmas in Korea sick in bed with the stomach flu.

I threw up the morning of Christmas eve and missed the last day of school, which was also the day of the school festival.

I continued throwing up anything I ate, including medicine, which came in the form of light green liquid in a little pouch.

My second year in Korea, I had frequent stomach problems too, although those were mostly anxiety-induced.

I know a thing or two about being sick in Korea. And so why not talk about it?

Fulbright Health Insurance

Teaching in Korea through Fulbright, you have health insurance. Sort of. It was more of a reimbursement system that I never took advantage of.

If you could make it to Severance Hospital in Seoul, great, you’re covered. If not, you had to save your receipts and prescriptions, fill out a bunch of forms and wait quite a while to be reimbursed. Even then, there was a minimum copayment of something like $25 (don’t quote me on this), and I never went above that amount.

The good news is, health care in Korea is extremely cheap!

Healthcare in the ROK

Whenever I caught a cold, I found that people in Korea would tell me to go to the hospital. What?! I’d exclaim, usually internally, go to the hospital for a cold? How silly! But then I caught a more serious cold and my host mom took me to the biggest hospital in Gimhae.

The doctor examined me and told me things I already knew – duh, I know I have a cold. Then he prescribed some medicine. The whole visit was brief and it cost…

…7,000 won!

That’s less than $7, with the exchange rate.

I was shocked. My insurance back home would have required a minimum of $50 for a simple doctor’s visit, not including any tests or special procedures.

I was even more shocked when my host mom noted that it was expensive. With health insurance, she said, the visit would have cost only 2 or 3 dollars.

What gives, America?

Medicine in Korea

After paying my expensive health care costs, I went with my host mom to pick up my medication. It came in a simple paper packet and included five or six different pills I had to take with each meal.

Cue another what?! moment.

Each pill treated a different side effect, which I guess made sense.

Despite the medicine being intimidating it was still cheap, although I can no longer remember the price.

American medications come with a miniature pamphlet of fine print instructions and side effects and commentary. All the information I received on the Korean medicine fit onto one packet about the size of a half sheet of paper.

Although I’ve heard foreigners complain about the lack of information on medication, it seemed to me that all the basics were there: purpose, dosage, side effects, and warnings.

Later on, I did become more savvy and got my medicine directly from pharmacies.

meds1

I took a lot of pictures of my medicine, so I’d know what to get next time. This is a typical cold medicine and a sort of traditional health drink.

Hospital Communication

I’ve visited Korean hospitals for colds and stomach problems. But I’ve always gone with either a member of my Korean family or host family.

In most cases, I explained my symptoms to the doctor in my rudimentary Korean and it was enough to be understood. Sometimes the person accompanying me explained my symptoms again and answered additional questions from the doctor.

Once the doctor surprised both my host mom and me with a slew of medical English. We both listened amazed as he communicated with in perfect, although rather technical, English. I found myself having to listen a little more carefully in order to keep up with his jargon-filled way of speaking, but it was a bit of a relief – and a source of amusement to my host family and me later – to have the person in charge of my medical care understand.

Korean Ideas Around Sickness

Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for some of my coworkers. It wasn’t the English department’s English ability that hindered the understanding between us, but a cultural difference.

When Americans get sick, they call in and get a sick day.

When Koreans get sick, they medicate and persevere.

That Christmas Eve when I had the stomach flu? When my host mom called my coteacher about me being ill (as I lay groaning on the coach), he initially said to come in for the morning and see how I felt. Later, he saw and dismissed me.

Another time I was at school with a strong cold. It was sixth or seventh period and I didn’t have any more classes to teach. I drifted off to sleep in my office chair, since napping in the teacher’s office is an acceptable practice, and kept nearly falling out of my chair.

My department chair finally came over and told me I could go home for the day – but quietly, so no one would know.

That same department chair once caught the stomach flu and didn’t eat for three days. She came to work as usual on each of those days.

All the Hospitality and Care

Despite what I view as unrealistic, unhealthy views on work culture and sickness, it was the times when I got sick when I became aware that the people around me really did care deeply for me.

During my second year, there was a period when I worked in an office where all my fellow teachers were my mother’s age or older. I ate really healthy that semester, and we never seemed to run out of fresh fruit and other snacks.

When I fell ill, they forbade me from drinking coffee or eating apples – which are a “cold” fruit and not good for people with colds (this article on traditional Chinese medicine explains the idea behind hot and cold foods).

When I went through a period of frequent nausea, a couple of coworkers took me out to a juk (rice porridge) restaurant, which is easy on the stomach and the go-to sick food in Korea. It’s like chicken noodle soup.

chicken-and-veggie-juk

Actually, just kidding. Samgyetang is Korea’s version of chicken noodle soup. And it’s delicious, cold or no cold.

samgyetang_chicken soup.jpg

Being sick in Korea wasn’t so bad, and at times I felt more cared for than I did on my own in college.

So if you’re sick in Korea, I’d say:

  • Don’t shy away from a hospital visit.
  • Brush it off when someone tells you not to get sick or to take better care of yourself.
  • Do hang out with and accept any gifts of food from any ahjummas you know.
  • Be open to different types of medicine and different beliefs about sickness (but you don’t have to end up believing them yourself).

Pro-tip #1: You can go directly to the pharmacy to pick up cold meds like 화이투벤 or just explain to the pharmacist that you need 감기 약  (cold medicine).

meds3

The same cold medicine from earlier on the left, and cough drops on the right.

Pro-tip #2: Theraflu exists in Korea.

meds2

Here’s the proof. And a packet of pear extract and root I received from a coteacher.