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Freelancer's diary: doubt

I will hold my hands up right now and admit that I don't have the confidence of the contestants on The Apprentice. You know the types, they shout about their successes, claim they have always been winners in life and produce resumés with questionable achievements and sometimes even typos. The fact is, I suffer from doubt and while I know deep down that I have some good skills to offer, I don't boast about them. But when you need to pitch for work as a freelancer, a bit of boasting is kind of necessary.

Here are a few things that can cause that debilitating doubt to creep through: doubt about whether you are doing things well, doubt about how much money you might earn, doubt about what you should be charging, doubt about your ability to secure business, doubt about the merits of networking ... and the list goes on.

In essence, being a freelancer is precarious. Sure, it's flexible and this is one of its biggest perks. Say 'freelancer' to someone and their mind probably flits to someone sitting in a cafe in front of their laptop or padding down to their kitchen/office in slippers. But there is considerable risk to striking out on your own, so doubt is a natural reaction.

Unfortunately, doubt is not something freelancers and small business owners talk about much, at least not in my experience. My social media feeds are filled with posts about #MondayMotivation and #WorkWins. If there are doubts out there, they stay mostly out of view. I sometimes get the impression that everyone else is on some sort of winning streak I'm not part of.

So, I'm here to correct that impression. It can be a struggle and if you don't put time into your own freelance business and creating leads, the work can suddenly dry up. If you have a huge, reliable network, maybe this isn't a problem. But for many of us, a bit of hustle is necessary. That might mean joining networking groups, telling everyone who will listen what you do, frequently commenting and posting on LinkedIn, pitching for work all the time, and building a business brand. But this can be a bit exhausting and it's okay to give yourself a break.

There is some consolation if you want it. I recently read in the New York Times that it's never too late to reach your peak. A study in the journal Nature found that 90% of people will hit a 'hot streak' in their career - a point in time when they are at their most productive and effective. The researchers studied about 30,000 careers (artists, film directors and scientists) and found that the hot streak could last anywhere between two to five years. Here's the good bit: it could come at any point in a person's career, whether you're 25 or 55.

The person who led the study sums it up like this: 'As long as you keep producing, your best work may be yet to come.' And that's the moral of the story: just keep working hard at what you're doing, put your best into it, shout about it if you have to, and hopefully that will lead to a hot streak that will make you wonder why you doubted yourself in the first place.

I asked some freelancers how they deal with doubt and this is what some said:

  • Stop fixating on all the things you can't do and focus on what you can do.

  • Go for it - what is the worst that can happen? Rejection, criticism, embarrassment, failure? You will live and hopefully learn something too.

  • Have a stiff drink at the end of the day. Wonderfully restorative. Unfortunately, you then have to deal with the morning.

  • You are your own worst critic, so it's not likely to be as bad as you think it is.

  • Meet up with other freelancers from time to time. If nothing else, you'll get a coffee and some conversation out of it.

  • I talk to my cat. I find him wonderfully positive.

If you have some tips for dealing with doubt, I'd love to hear them. Or if you would like to add anything about freelancing, I'm all ears as they say.

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