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February 27, 2018

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome as a Freelancer [Pt 1]

Written by Jack Lewis

This is part-one of a multi-part series on Impostor Syndrome. We have created this series on overcoming one of the most frequently raised issues by freelancers. It’s a very common experience which can have a real impact on freelancer earnings. This series aims to alleviate the impact that it can have on freelancer’s lives.

“I’m a fraud, and they’re going to find me out; any moment now.”

This is what runs through the head of anybody intensely experiencing Impostor Syndrome. It is precisely what ran through my own mind as I sat in my new clients office eight years ago. It was my first ever day as a freelancer. I had recently left full-time employment where I had delivered good work as part of a whole team. That team itself was part of an established company with departments and rules and processes.

However, here I was, facing a real paying customer alone. A customer who wanted me to deliver that knowledge and expertise. It didn’t matter that the scope of the project was well within my skillset and experience. There was still a nagging doubt in my mind. A doubt trying to convince me that my past successes had been nothing more than a fluke. I was convinced that this was going to be the project that ‘found me out’.

By the end of the project everything had gone well and there had been no ‘finding out’. Yet I still couldn’t shake that feeling. Years and numerous happy clients later, there were still so many elements of this impostor feeling at play. Especially as technologies move so quickly and one must continually evolve their skills. There the voice remained; “Who am I to be doing this? There must be people they could get in so much better than me. I’ve been lucky with everything so far.”

Impostor Syndrome sits on the opposite end of the same scale as the Dunning-Kruger effect. One’s myopic view on the full scope of a topic leads them to believe they must already be an expert in it. Where Dunning-Kruger is short-sighted, Impostor Syndrome leaves its sufferer long-sighted. They can only focus on distant comparisons. Comparisons to other people or on things they think they ‘should’ be able to do. So they become unable to really see the direct value they offer in the here and now.

This sense of doubt manifests in different forms and severities. For freelancers however, it can can have a real detrimental effect on their income. A leading outcome is the lack of confidence to charge one’s true worth.

So what do we do about it? How does one overcome Impostor Syndrome? It is known to be most strongly felt in two circumstances. The first is when people are pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone. The second is when they have recently been successful in something. This becomes a challenge for a freelancer who is continually developing personally and professionally. We have written this series therefore, to help you to both recognise and deal with Impostor Syndrome. To help you ensure that you can confidently charge We kick off with the first two today.
1. Realise that you’re not alone

Impostor Syndrome is horribly self-fulfilling. It convinces you that everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing and you are the one who’s going to get rumbled. You start to believe that you’re the sole person who doesn’t belong where they are. It turns out however, that almost the exact opposite is true.

It is in fact so prevalent among successful people, that Professor Pauline Rose Clance who first identified and wrote about it in the 1970’s has herself since stated that she would rename it to ‘the impostor experience’. This is simply because so many successful people have experienced it at one time or another (up to 70% of them according to some estimates). But within the world of freelancers, it appears to be even more prevalent.

According to a poll answered by 145 freelancers in the popular freelancers group Freelance Heroes, 96% of them have experienced Impostor Syndrome at one point or another in their freelance career and a staggering 90% of them find they still do. With some of those polled commenting:

JW – Photographer:

“I’ve been freelance for over a year and I still feel it. The major difference is is accepted it’s there, acknowledged it and moved on. It does help to have a mentor or business buddies who cheer you on and remind you how awesome you are.”

RN – Proofreader:

“I’ve been doing it for 4 years and I definitely feel it!”

NL – Game Artist:

“I get it a little every couple of weeks and properly get it at the start of a new project or in a period of ‘resting’ time.”

So when you start feeling that nagging sense of doubt, particularly if you’re finding that you’re comparing yourself to others, know that it’s almost certain that those other people have experienced exactly the same thing that you are, and are quite probably experiencing it right now too. It’s entirely normal and simply a process within your own personal and professional development.
2. Track and celebrate your own achievements

One of the most common traits of Impostor Syndrome is the feeling that your successes have simply been down to luck. It makes you start to question if they could actually be repeated again. This is you can gain a lot of value from your successes. Make a note of the things that led to that success, no matter how small or large the success may be. It could be anything from simple positive client feedback or winning new business.

If you’re not someone who keeps a journal or diary this may feel un-natural at first and a hard habit to keep. However, this success log becomes an hugely valuable tool to refer to in terms of self-validation and understanding. It allows you to actually see that are recurring patterns that lead to your successes.

In fact this method has been recommended by someone within Google’s own research departments. Ultimately what you want to be able to tangibly see is that successes in the professional world are very rarely luck. Success is usually earned and down to patterns of behaviour. If you’re able to identify and acknowledge what you’ve done to achieve your successes, you’ll find it much easier to see the repeatable value you provide.

This practice is particularly recommended for freelancers in creative fields. In these fields there is a less fixed external standard for measuring deliverables. Things are much more subjective and this is why Impostor Syndrome is most commonly reported by creatives.
More to come
There are many more things to cover in the plight against Impostor Syndrome for freelancers, but hopefully this has given a useful introduction to overcoming it. Check back in a couple of weeks for the next instalment in the series.

About Jack Lewis

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