Getting out of our own way can be tough. You have the confidence in what you do and the skills that you have to become a freelancer. However when it comes to calling yourself an “expert” or “podcast host” or “writer” when you are a developer or design, you fall flat. Even when there’s a big company or well-known person that finds you for some potential work, the thought creeps into your mind that maybe your not good enough. It’s a fear that we all have, especially as a freelancer. It’s probably a fear that’s found more often than the fear of heights. It’s a classic case of Imposter Syndrome.
For those that don’t know, imposter syndrome is a term that didn’t pop up until the late 1970s that refers to folks who internalize their accomplishments and skills and have a fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
I’ve been in many conversations with freelancers over the years where I hear “I just don’t know if I know enough” or “I can’t charge that rate, I’ve only been doing this (insert time period)” or “I’ve never written a blog post before what if no one sees it or hates it” or “I can’t do a podcast, what if I suck?”
Let me address all of these and whatever other excuse you can think of right now—get over yourself and stop making excuses!
It should be Excuse Syndrome to be honest. Because that’s what all of us do when we have it.
Yup, the reason I’ve heard all of these excuses is because I had it myself. So I know them all. I either said them to someone or to myself at some point in time.
Even when I first started saying these things it was I was at a point where I had plenty of business. Yet I felt that my business was getting a bit stagnant. It was about 2 years into me being a full time freelancer when I didn’t know if I was going to find myself going back to sit at someone’s desk or do something that drastically changed my business.
I couldn’t grow any more than I already had without hiring someone else to take on the work or find another way to build a revenue stream within my business. As a WordPress developer my choices were to build a plugin or theme and sell that. But I honestly felt that there were many more folks out there doing a great job and didn’t want to dip my toes in that pool. I enjoyed doing custom work. I just didn’t know how to scale it.
I reached out to some folks that I trusted both in my family and friends, but also in the freelancer space, for some advice and guidance.
I went looking for a possible mentor and found one. The reason I looked for a mentor was to be able to pick the brain of someone who’s been down the road a bit more than I have and knows the path that I’m on.
When I came out of college, I was working for Cablevision and there was a senior developer on my team who took me under his wing to teach and guide me. Not just from a coding perspective but from a business perspective as well. This was invaluable to me, so I thought maybe I could find another voice like that.
Drew Poland became that voice I needed. He basically laid it out simply to me. He brutally told me what I needed to do. Basically told me that I’m not the first to hit this “wall” of self-doubt. He said that in order to scale what I was doing I needed to up my rates, plain and simple.
As someone who tells it like it is, I appreciated this candor and direct-ness.
He also suggested a few other folks that I could get work from and also sparked the idea in my head that I could productize my service. He didn’t say it directly, but I remember that he said “if there’s a way that you can market yourself and your services in a way that is directly to your target audience, that’s what you want.”
That was the starting point to my journey for building the business I have now.
Ways to Get Over It
There are quite a few other people who have suffered this that you may recognize.
“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.” – Tina Fey
“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” – Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “ – Maya Angelou
I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind being in the same breath as these folks.
However this is a stumbling block that we as freelancers need to get past. The first thing to do is get over yourself.
Oddly enough when I was drafting this article, that was my first step. Mainly due to my nature of being a bit blunt, I need that kick in the butt sometimes. Then I thought, let me just take a look around the web and see what other folks are suggesting to do. The vast majority say the exact same thing. So in that sense…
Get Over Yourself
You are human as is everyone you deal with in business (or so we think). Ego, self-doubt, fear, confidence, all these are things that we share as humans. So relax, take a deep breath and realize that you aren’t any more special than that person sitting across from you. And that person isn’t any more special than you. Putting this undue pressure on yourself is a form of perfection that you think you should have. No one has it. Everyone has faults, weaknesses, and downsides. Everyone also has their strengths, assets, and upsides. Focus on those. Let go of obsessing about what you are not as strong in. Remember that person across the table is weak in what you are strong in, that’s why you are there talking.
Focus on what you do best
You are a freelancer because you have a skill that is in demand. Whether you are a designer, developer, writer, blacksmith, whatever your skill is, it’s in demand enough that you can write your own ticket as a freelancer. Remember this each and everytime you start getting that doubt in your head. You have a skill that someone wants to pay you for.
What nice things have people said about you?
If you are so focused on what others think, than focus on the good things that people have said about you. Go read your testimonials. I really don’t know why it is in our nature to obsess about the negative or want to convince people of things that they don’t want to, but stop it. If you start feeling like you are a fraud, go ahead and pull up the testimonials on your site and read them. They’ll tell you how great you are at what you do.
I’m not a designer. I tell my clients and potential clients all the time that I’m not. “I know what looks good, just haven’t a clue how to get there” is what I usually say. I don’t hide the fact or try to come off like I know design at all. It’s a weakness I have that I do read up about, try to stay current with what the latest is in the design space. But I don’t stand idle and let someone else find out that I know nothing about design when I say I do. It’s ok not to know something.
When I don’t have a skill that someone wants, I hope to be able to provide some value in referring them to someone else. Remember in the last point about exposing yourself, well this is a way to provide value where you are weak. If you connect two people that have a need, you instantly become someone those two people see as providing value to them.
Stop comparing yourself
I’d love to be able to play baseball like Ken Griffey Jr, but it’s just not ever going to happen. You can’t compare yourself to someone with an entirely different skill set. The reason Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the greatest baseball players of all time is because he didn’t play football. He knew what he was good at and did that. You do you. Just worry about what you are doing and how well you are doing it and don’t look at what someone else is doing.
Quite honestly imposter syndrome in freelancers is much more common than you realize. Being a freelancer means that we do enter a world that our skill shines, but our deficiencies shine as well. If you were hired full time to sit at a desk and design logos all day, that’s exactly what you would be doing. Nothing more.
Running a freelance business on the other hand, you need to do much more than that and sometimes it puts us in an uncomfortable position. That’s when this Imposter Syndrome takes a hold and stifles us from getting things done.
FREELANCE IMPOSTER challenge for you
Leave a comment below stating one thing that you stopped yourself from doing because of Imposter Syndrome. For everyone who makes a comment I will reply with one thing that stopped me as well.