Trying to prove yourself in an online world filled with thousands of competitors is hard.
It seems everyone you encounter on social media these days is boasting about their latest award win, how they earned five figures last month, or how they just can’t keep up with demand from clients bashing down their door (and it’s really annoying).
It can feel very overwhelming, to tell you the truth, to be bombarded with everyone else’s success.
If freelancers like you and I pay attention to all that boasting for too long, we can get that creeping sensation that we’re not good enough.
That feeling of not being good enough, impostor syndrome, is all too common among freelancers trying to make their mark.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Feeling like you’re a fraud of some kind.
Perceiving any kind of success you achieve is falsely given, or not deserved.
Feeling like you don’t belong.
Wondering how on Earth your clients haven’t figured out ‘the truth’ about your lack of knowledge yet.
Believing that it’s only a matter of time before you’re rumbled and everyone realises what a big fat failure you are.
Impostor syndrome is so damaging.
Do you recognise this harmful pattern of thinking in your own internal monologue?
Stop it right now.
Unless you’re actually lying about your experience and just winging it (you do you, but I don’t recommend or approve of it) then you are not a fraud.
Repeat: You. Are. Not. A. Fraud.
So stop acting like one (I know it’s not that easy of course, but keep reading).
All of us trying to make it as a successful freelancer have moments of self-doubt. During my nine year career as a self-employed person, I have had too many of those moments to count. Moments that have sometimes left me eating a whole family bar of Galaxy between sobs.
But it’s vital that you don’t make it a bad habit.
It’s healthy to challenge yourself at times, but what isn’t healthy for your career or your sanity is being in a constant state of self-hate and low confidence.
You deserve more than that.
Why is Impostor Syndrome harmful to freelancers?
Simply put, if you don’t think your skills, knowledge, and effort are worth anything, why the hell are potential clients going to bother working with you?
Sounds harsh, but in this competitive online world, clients aren’t there to feel sorry for you, or reassure you of your expertise.
Actually, it’s the other way around.
You need to prove to clients why you’re the best choice.
So feeling like a fraud will creep into the way you act, and the way you present yourself.
And if you start showing self-doubt to people who might benefit from your skills, they probably won’t believe in you.
If they don’t believe in you, they’ll probably just find the next freelancer who they feel confident about.
See what I’m saying?
If you don’t start believing that you are worthy of success, you will sabotage any opportunities that come your way.
And that breaks my heart, to be honest, as so many talented people who could create something amazing end up quitting because of their own bad thoughts.
Maybe you have even thought of quitting the dream of being a freelancer — whether you’re toying with the idea of a self-employed life or you’ve been doing it for ten years.
I’ve been there.
But you can stop doing it, with practice, and go on to be who you want and do what you want.
You’re an adult — why shouldn’t you have the life you want?
How to Stop Impostor Syndrome
Prove it to yourself
Next time you hear that ugly voice in your mind singing the hundredth verse of ‘I’m Not Good Enough (Why Should I Bother)’, take a step back and actually assess if what you’re saying is true (hint: it probably isn’t).
We’re often overly harsh to ourselves about what we think we do and don’t deserve, like bagging a dream client or being able to deliver results on a challenging project.
What you need to do here is actually stop and LOOK at your achievements.
Assess the situation that you’re trying to make excuses about, and ask yourself whether it’s actually true or not.
But you have to base the answers on logic and proof, not your emotions.
Did you win a project that you really wanted? Well done! It’s more likely that you won over the other candidates with your portfolio, the results from a trial project you did with the client, or that your work ethic fits their business. It’s less likely that ‘they hired you by mistake’, ‘it was a fluke’, or ‘you explained your skills wrongly’.
Stop overthinking it
When you’re in that state of denying yourself any happiness or success, it could be that you’re spending so much time on focusing on being successful (whatever that means) than actually going out and achieving things that make you happy.
Freelancers are often overworked without realising it, too — although our nine-to-five-working brethren think we sit around in our pants eating cereal out of the box and watching Stranger Things, freelancers find it much more difficult to separate work from home life, and thus work longer hours.
This blur of free time and work time can cause you mental strain; which can rear its head as self-doubt.
Try setting yourself boundaries so your life is more balanced and you may find you start to have a brighter outlook on your freelancing career.
Stop comparing yourself
You know that all the boasting we were talking about earlier is either:
A) Used to sell something (I earn £18k a day! Learn how by buying my course for £1,234!);
or B) A front to make that person feel better about themselves
Six-figure incomes, awards, or massive social media followings don’t tell the whole story of a person’s success. You don’t know what that person is going through, what they’ve had to sacrifice, or even if it actually makes them happy. Or if it would make YOU happy if you had what they had.
So stop comparing yourself to other people. Instead, why not compare yourself to YOURSELF?
Set small goals that you can help measure your own success, whatever that means for you.
Minimise social media
Social media is here to stay but it’s not always good for us.
Spending too much time scrolling our news feeds or wasting time figuring out that ‘one, secret way’ social media will help transform our entire business is only making us more paranoid that we’re not doing it ‘right’.
I understand that social media is often a business tool to help us seek new clients and to connect with like-minded people, but instead of being glued to Twitter when you should be working, set aside specific times to do specific social media tasks, and then GET OFF.
Spend the time you’d usually waste doing something that fulfills you, instead.
I get it; when you’re on a journey to figuring out what you want to ‘be when you grow up’ (if growing up means getting the hell out of that soul-crushing job and into freelancing work you love) it can feel like a test of your personality and authenticity!
But trying to be something or someone you’re not will only worsen those feelings of inadequacy.
Why would you bother trying to act like someone else, when it’s only going to get boring really quickly?
Think about it:
Who would you rather work with?
Someone who isn’t sure of themselves, that says yes to things they wish they’d said no to? Nah, chances are you’ll see through them really quickly.
What about the person that stands up for what they believe in, aren’t afraid to make mistakes or call someone out on their bullshit, and are passionate about what they do?
The second person? Yep, thought so. Me too. People like that are a force of nature.
So be a real person. It’s okay to make mistakes and not get stuff right sometimes. Everyone on Earth has made a mistake because it’s what makes you a human being.
Being imperfect makes you more trustworthy, which is vital in the freelancing world.
Finally, just keep practicing this stuff. Even the most seemingly confident and self-assured freelancer gets struck down with the self-doubt bug from time to time.
And what do they do?
They stop paying attention to what everyone else is doing and get right back to it.