There are a lot of challenges in transitioning from being an employee to becoming independent, but the hardest may be the simultaneous process of:
- uncovering the implicit, almost invisible, support infrastructure that you benefitted from, and
- the design of the infrastructure you need for the journey you're undertaking.
The core challenge is that you're really exploring two threads at once, and both will take an indeterminate amount of time to resolve. This process is an intellectual mess and an emotional energy drain.
When you are joining a company or team, you're primarily focused on fitting into a pre-existing system for how you set the strategy and priorities, the cadence of how you collectively work, and much more. There are mechanisms around accessing help and support. Someone else has done the hard work of setting the direction and defining the milestones. If there gaps in the system–areas in which you're under-supported–the act of adding your own rituals, processes and habits is an incremental one, which is significantly easier than building from scratch. It's the difference between making an incremental change to a recipe, versus building a recipe (and its set of ingredients) from scratch.
The second thread is designing the infrastructure that you need. This is everything from having a morning routine to how you set goals to how you reflect and review your work to how you and your collaborators continually improve how you work.
And, the challenge within this challenge is that you may not know exactly what the journey is that these you need to undertake. This is a bit like walking through a dark forest with no illumination. If there was broad daylight, you could sprint through. But, if that were the case, it probably wouldn't be a journey you'd want to undertake.
What this ultimately requires a substantial amount of patience, and a willingness to entertain circular, interminable conversations as you examine and re-examine all the pieces. It also helps to take small steps, so that it becomes easier to change direction. The same discipline that goes into designing and iteratively building your product is required for your infrastructure.
For simple tasks and projects, everything I'm describing is likely overkill. But, the more ambitious the journey, the more you need to be deliberate about the design of your infrastructure. It's like a boat. A small dinghy will only get you so far, but it may be all you need in the short term. As you start to uncover that you're headed into deeper waters, or more turbulent seas, you're going to need to upgrade from that dinghy into a vessel that will do a better job of keeping you afloat so that you can continue your journey.