I’m not good enough.
My business is doomed to fail.
I can’t ask for that price. My clients would laugh me out of the room.
If you’re feeling like a fraud, then chances are you’re dealing with one of the most common struggles freelancers face: imposter syndrome.
Ready to overcome it and move your business forward?
1. Recognize Thought Distortions
Thought distortions are habitual errors in thinking that negatively impact our ability to succeed.
They cause us to interpret situations in unhelpful ways based on faulty logic and unsupported conclusions.
Thought distortions are the root cause of imposter syndrome.
Thought Distortion Example
For example, let’s look at how two hypothetical freelance writers—Jack and Jill—might handle the same situation.
|Situation: a client asks for a proposal for copy for a landing page, but you’ve only ever written blog posts|
In both cases, the situation triggers a thought. But Jack’s thought isn’t necessarily supported by the facts:
|I’m not experienced enough. They’ll never agree to hire me for this, and even if they did it would go poorly.||This project is a bit new to me, but it uses many of the same skills I already have. It would be great to learn how to write landing page copy. I wonder what the main differences are.|
The thought leads to an emotion. Since Jack’s thought is distorted, his emotion is negative, while Jill’s thought is more even-handed so her emotions are more positive:
|Depression and fear of failure.||Excitement and curiosity.|
Finally, the emotion causes a behavior. For Jack, the behavior is self-defeating:
|Delays for weeks or never sends the proposal.||Does some online research and concludes she can likely learn this skill on the fly. Decides to try, submits a proposal, and gets hired.|
These behaviors typically reinforce the pattern of thinking. In Jack’s case, he feels like a failure which leads to future instances where he delays are fails to send proposals.
For Jill, she concludes that trying new things often leads to positive outcomes, so she keeps doing so and lands more and more clients.
So how do we break out of this pattern?
Identify, Name, and Reframe Your Thought Distortions
One of the tactics pioneered by practitioners of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is to identify, name, and reframe the thought distortion when it happens.
There’s a long list of thought distortions, but some common ones for freelancers include:
- Black-and-White Thinking – I’m too junior, they’ll never hire me.
- Fortune-Telling – That rate is too high. They’d laugh me out of the room.
- Mind-Reading – The client hasn’t responded since I sent the proposal yesterday. They must have hated it.
- Should Statements – I should be working harder.
So when you notice yourself feeling negatively, try to trace back your thought and reframe it.
For example, here’s how Jack could reframe his thought:
“I’m not experienced enough; they’ll never hire me” is an example of black-and-white thinking. I actually have a lot of experience. While this exact situation is new to me, that doesn’t mean I can’t do it.
2. Don’t aim for perfection, experiment.
You may have noticed from the examples above that many thought distortions are rooted in a fear of failure.
For many freelancers, this fear leads to perfectionism.
If you find yourself constantly planning rather than doing or second-guessing every decision, you’re probably doing so because of some extremely deep-seated thought distortions.
One way to break out of this pattern is to think of your freelance business (and your life) as a series of experiments.
Your goal isn’t to succeed in every single situation. No human can attain that.
Instead, you want to treat new situations with unknown outcomes as experiments. Your goal is simply to design the experiment so that, no matter what happens, you learn something valuable.
If you’re familiar with the concepts behind the Lean Startup methodology, all of this probably sounds familiar.
3. Practice Confidence
Finally, it can be helpful to practice being confident in order to become confident.
Researchers have found that you can actually change how you see yourself by changing the way you talk to yourself.
Here are 4 ways that work wonders:
- Own Your Accomplishments – Write down a list of 5 things you’ve accomplished in your life that you’re proud of. Then own those accomplishments by saying out loud: “I’m proud of accomplishing [accomplishment]”.
- List Your Skills and Talents – Make a list of the skills and talents that make. you most proud.
- Recount Times Where You Tried Something New and Succeeded – Make a list of times where trying something new resulted in success. Next time you’re worried, use the list to remind yourself that trying often has positive results.
- Ask Yourself What’s the Worst That Could Happen – In the vast majority of cases, “failure” isn’t really that big of a deal. So what if a client rejects a proposal? So what if a client decides a price is too high?
Finally, I think it’s helpful to remember that everybody feels imposter syndrome to some extent. Even if you’ve been a freelancer for decades, it’s natural to still feel anxiety sometimes.
The key is to not let it stop you from moving forward.
Even if you only know the basics, you can help a client who doesn’t. Or even one who just doesn’t have the time to do it themselves.
You don’t have to be a world-class expert at everything.
. . .
So how about you? Where are you on your journey with overcoming imposter syndrome? What have you found helps best to combat it?
Let me know in the comments!