Freelancers have all kinds of fears to contend with. We don’t often give them names, let alone address their impact. But working with freelance fears as your constant companion can be debilitating.
That’s why it’s important to look at freelance fears and what their antidotes might be. Especially if we want to avoid procrastination, self-punishment, hits to our confidence or repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
Here’s a little primer on freelance fears and what you can do about them.
1. The fear of work drying up
Most freelancers fear the idea of missing out on work or work drying up altogether. We design most of our marketing to attract work. The most commonly asked for tool are job boards. We live in fear of not being able to secure the work that puts the food on the table.
This fear of work disappearing is easily manipulated. We settle for low rates, poor client behaviour and even bullying. We also invite the disaster that is overworking ourselves through overbooking or overpromising. It can turn us into hyper-competitive jerks with no community to speak of. And sadly, it becomes such a problem that freelancers even (on occasion) attack other freelancers for charging higher rates, not investing in overwork or for saying no to clients.
- Work on your marketing and networking — they’re both the best protection against feeling as though you have no power over your workload.
- Don’t spend time in environments that continuously devalue you. Places that have incredibly cheap rates, are highly competitive or make you feel scarcity keenly will reinforce your fears
- Spend time cultivating a variety of different work channels. The more you have varied work sources, the less precarious receiving leads will seem.
2. The fear of failure
There’s no denying failure hurts. But the fear of failure hurts worse than any failure ever would. Mainly because it consistently keeps us playing small and away from our dreams. The fear of failure is often a heady mix of shame and self-doubt. It’s commonly seen in people who were routinely told they weren’t good enough as a child. This can translate into perfectionism and make for a very risk-adverse internal dialogue.
- Recognise that failure, as painful as it can be, is not a final state. Very few people die from failure. Remind yourself that any failure does not influence everything and is not permanent.
- Actively seek out stories about people who have taken several attempts to get to their goal. You’ll soon discover most human beings take several attempts to master a situation.
- Challenge the shame associated with the perfectionism and the procrastination. Where is it coming from? Is it really yours or is it some voice someone else installed?
- Set yourself up in situations where you fail. Choose sports or activities where you are the complete novice. Get comfortable with the concept of occasionally being on the losing team
- Counter the automatic thoughts and fears with evidence of your success instead.
3. The fear of client rejection
Clients are like having a bunch of different bosses we speed date. And like any speed dating situation, clients can be varying degrees of good and bad boss. You aren’t going to click with everyone. Also, not everyone understands the rules. You will have times when projects fall over or are more stress than they should be. You will encounter clients who do not appreciate the work you do. And you will have times when the work you do isn’t the hit you think.
- Practice learned detachment. Look for the opportunity to fly above your work and view it with the eyes of the client and customer on a regular basis
- Do what you can to connect with your clients. It’s much easier to be a complete arsehat towards someone who is only available and visible during an email exchange
- Maintain perspective. How someone responds to the work you do isn’t some big statement on you as a person. Work is a subjective art and should be treated as such.
4. The fear of online reactions
One of the most interesting side effects of social media is how many people genuinely fear the comments section. A lot of people won’t put their best work out because they are worried what other people will think. These opinions are generally lightweight.
- Focus on higher valuable feedback. Internet opinions are easy to give because of accessibility and a lack of consequence. Most of the time, people don’t even think (or even read) before they offer them. There’s no value in feedback that is so under-educated
- Recognise the customer from the commenter. Humans are wonderfully opinionated. That doesn’t mean we know what we’re on about. If someone wants to dictate the terms of your business, make sure they are the ones who will actually pay money for them
- Don’t equate popularity with acceptance. There are a lot of people out there who are obsessed with how many people fan, follow and comment to them on a given day. How many of the same people would attend their funeral?
5. The fear of time lost / wasted
As deep thinking, creative people, we often struggle with the idea of our own mortality. Only, it comes out in weird ways. Quarter life and midlife crisis situations remind us of societal milestones or the progression of time. Days spent being unable to make progress are felt keenly against a world overtly plonking content and proof of their activities online hour by hour. And the hum of our internal clock, ageism and unrealised potential can be horrendously punishing.
- Spend less time surrounded by milestones and achievements and more time creating them. As cliché as it sounds, we could all do with less time comparing ourselves with other people’s online real estate and more time simply creating
- Forget about what you can’t control. You never know what life has in store for you. You may as well be present and do what works for you now and deal with tomorrow when it arrives
6. The fear of being too visible
Visibility feels like some ungracious grab for attention. We’re taught as women or as modest people that if we value ourselves and the world, our toiling should be delivered quiet, self-reflective and invisible means. Challenging this can be difficult. Especially when there are a lot of people making a whole lot of noise on TV, radio and the internet about a whole lot of nothing. But you are a valuable person. You deserve to be counted. It’s how you do it that matters.
- Understand that beyond a cursory glance, most people don’t look at us and scrutinise as much as we think. People can be quick to judge — not ‘thoughtfully judging over a continued stretch of time from afar’. Once you realise you are a nanosecond in someone’s day, it takes a lot of the pressure off
- Visibility comes in all forms. You can let your work speak for itself. I found out that when my Grandma was alive, she made thousands of toys for kids by hand. She never told anyone she was doing it — it was her secret project. But it means she will remain always visible in the eyes of generations of kids in NSW hospitals and as a Rockstar to nurses in certain hospitals. That’s not a bad thing, is it?
- Challenge the notion that visibility is bad. Many of the people who hate visibility also rail against the systems of oppression in society. Interestingly, they never make the connection between their inability to be visible and that oppression. When we’re told being noticed is bad, it’s usually tied to gender, the Protestant work ethic, or rigid religious morality. The better way to view visibility is to recognise its powerful role in upending misplaced power. Visibility has led to inclusion for all kinds of minority communities for example. It’s a weapon against normalising us and a checkbox culture. Don’t fear being visible. Fear allowing invisibility to fail to recognise many and varied people within society.
7. The fear of dropping the ball
A workday that is full of competing priorities. Sometimes, we end up doing nothing at all because we cannot work out where to start first. It sounds counterintuitive because it often is. The more we leave things, the more the TO DO list grows. We invite this by being overbooked and having too many obligations.
- If you find you suck at time estimation and/or are constantly running late, leaving space in your day for things to overflow can help take the pressure off
- So too can running a MSCW (Must, Should, Could but probably Won’t) style TO DO list to triage critical tasks and move through on priority
- Learning to say no so you don’t overbook or over-obligate yourself
8. The fear of success
As odd as it may sound, freelance fears extend to success. Will it change us? Will we be able to do it justice? Will the time it takes become all-consuming? Will it make us unemployable? Will it be taken away?
Wherever there is opportunity, there is the fear of that opportunity coming into fruition.
- Dig into why you fear success in the first place. Then challenge that fear and the notions behind it. Remove the hold automatic reactions have over you and unpack those feelings.
- Challenge the notion that you are not worthy of success. Or that success will eventually leave you. Take any success you receive from your freelancing endeavours as the fruits of your labour.
- Accept your success. Little by little, moment by moment. Keep telling yourself you are worth the accolades, the repeat business and the days where life feels great.