It’s no secret that our brains try to protect us from harm when we’re striving beyond our comfort zones. Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. And one way resistance shows up is by convincing us that we don’t actually know what we’re doing; that we’re an “imposter.” If that’s happened to you, you’re not alone (upwards of 70% of people experience imposter syndrome). Which begs the question: How does one overcome imposter syndrome as a freelancer?
First, let’s identify the driving force behind imposter syndrome: Fear. Fear can be extremely useful to humans. But in this situation it’s actually irrational and illogical. Look at the facts:
- Have you learned and practiced and prepared so you can serve your clients?
- A true imposter hasn’t done any of those things.
- Are you afraid that you’re ill-equipped, inexpert, and insufficient?
- A true imposter doesn’t fear it, they know it.
Let’s address some of the most prevalent ways this pesky form of resistance shows up for our students.
How Do I Know for Sure That I’m Qualified to Be a Freelancer?
If you were truly unqualified, you wouldn’t be walking this path. You wouldn’t know where to find the path!
Do you have to be an expert to provide value to your clients? No! You simply have to know more than your clients do and be able to help them solve a problem.
You’ve learned from prior careers and life experiences. You’ve honed your skills. You’re working towards mastery.
Overcoming imposter syndrome as a freelancer is, in part, about acknowledging that “knowing enough” doesn’t mean you have to “know everything.”
I’m Still Nervous Sometimes. Does That Mean I Won’t Ever Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Freelancer?
Nervousness is a completely natural part of the pitching/discovery call/review process. And it’ll likely be part of your experience throughout your career. (Even those of us who have been freelancing for over a decade still get nervous sometimes!)
Rather than viewing nerves as proof you’re not good enough, try to reframe it.
Nervousness proves your commitment to doing your best, and your excitement about the opportunity.
You are smart enough. You are good enough. And you certainly know enough. (In case you were worried: you are enough.) We know it’s true because you’re here, learning and striving to grow in your career. That’s what freelancing is all about!
I’m Afraid I’m Going to Mess Up. What Happens If I Do?
The subtext of this question is: “Only true imposters make mistakes. Therefore, if I don’t perform perfectly or know everything, I must be an imposter.”
But you know the truth, right? All humans make mistakes.
Imposter syndrome in particular (and resistance in general) will try to protect you from all pain. Even growing pains. And learning from mistakes is a painful part of growing.
In truth, you don’t actually know what will happen in the future. The “what ifs” circling your head are not serving you.
What if a client asks me a question I can’t answer?
This is bound to happen at least once and probably many times. No worries! Respond by letting them know you’ll think about it and get back to them by a certain time.
What if a client isn’t completely happy with my work?
This scenario also happens to everyone. As a freelancer, you’re collaborating with your client, so it’s completely reasonable that a certain amount of back-and-forth be part of the process.
Find out exactly what your client needs changed, make sure you understand what they’re looking for, and revise. Simple.
What if a client calls me stupid? Or a fraud? Or they hate me?
This is just straight-up not going to happen. Professional humans don’t act like this. So scrub that fear right out of your brain with the power of human decency!
What if… I’m really good at this?
You’re offering an incredibly valuable service to your clients. You know more about your craft than they do (that’s why they’re hiring you!). And you have the skills to back it up.
Overcoming imposter syndrome as a freelancer involves putting yourself out there. Even though you might trip up, make a mistake, or need to revise part of the project.
Avoid worrying about the future by focusing on the action you can take right now.
The #1 Way to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Freelancer
We’ve established that, while imposter syndrome feels very real, it’s simply a hoax your brain is playing on you. Now we can get down to the business of pushing past it.
It’s very simple. But not necessarily easy.
Face the feeling. And do the work anyway.
It’s backwards to think that you must first overcome imposter syndrome and then become a freelancer.
Instead, you overcome imposter syndrome by doing the things freelancers do.
- Send the pitch
- Meet with the potential client
- Send the proposal
- Complete the project
- Get feedback
- Ask for referrals
Face the fear underlying imposter syndrome, and get to work anyway.
It’s so important to understand this concept. If you wait until you feel ready or feel confident or feel like an expert, you will literally wait forever.
Those feelings don’t show up on their own. They are all byproducts of taking action.
Wallowing in the fear will keep you stuck exactly where you are. And even though your brain might think that “here” is safe and perfectly good enough—you know better. You’re ready for something more.
To overcome imposter syndrome as a freelancer is to stand up for yourself and enable your own success. So get out there! Do the scary thing and build your career your way!
Your turn! Has Imposter Syndrome ever come up for you? How did you handle it? Or how do you WISH you’d handled it? Let us know in the comments below.