At first bite, going freelance seems like a very attractive option. Not only do you get to take control of your career, but in many cases you will also be able to work from home. Sounds much better than the standard nine-to-five, I’m sure you will agree. However, it’s not all roses. In fact, working freelance offers a lot of challenges that a normal job doesn’t and you need to make sure that you are capable of overcoming them.
While the problems you’ll face in attracting new business and ensuring you provide good service are obvious, the mental toll that freelance work can take on a person is often overlooked. This is often compounded by the people around you talking about how lucky you are that you are able to work for yourself, without giving any consideration to the fact that there are a lot of taxing challenges that you need to take on that others don’t even have to worry about.
Here we’ll take a look at some of the mental challenges that you will face when going freelance and how you can counteract them.
Motivation is an issue in any line of work and umpteen hours of research have been poured into figuring out how to get employees motivated to ensure they stay as productive as possible. In essence, motivation is often closely linked into how much you enjoy doing what you do. It is a safe bet that you like what you do as a freelancer, otherwise you wouldn’t have chosen to do it in the first place, so that mean lack of motivation shouldn’t be an issue, right?
Wrong. Your mind will have to focus on everything from running your business, through to marketing and actually delivering your service. It’s a lot to take on board and the workload is likely going to be heavier than you may have expected, which can sap motivation immeasurably.
So how can you counteract this as a freelancer? The first thing I’d recommend is getting into a good work routine. It can be all too tempting to stay in bed for an extra hour or two if you can pick your own hours, but doing so too often can actually drain your energy and make you less likely to start working when you do get up. Whatever your routine is, try to stick to it as closely as possible.
Actually taking breaks every once in a while is crucial too. Many freelancers struggle to remove themselves from their work, which can make even the best jobs feel like a chore over time. Schedule time off into your working week and take occasional holidays. Granted, you will lose a little money in doing so, but you’ll also keep yourself energized, motivated and ready to deliver.
Dealing With Setbacks
Any freelancer who has been operating for a decent amount of time will know that setbacks affect them more than they did when they worked a “normal” job. After all, anything that goes wrong has an effect on your entire business and it can be hard to deal with the mental strain this places on you.
The first thing to keep in mind here is that everyone makes mistake. There is likely not a single freelancer here who can’t point to a moment in their careers as the one where they messed up. It happens, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Learn from it, by all means, but move your focus on as quickly as possible so that your mind doesn’t get consumed by self-loathing over the mistake.
Of course, that’s all well and good for long-term thinking, but what should you do in the immediate aftermath of your setback? If you answered “wallow in self-pity” then a freelance career is probably not for you. Things will go wrong at times, some of which you control and some of which you don’t. When this happens, your first instinct should be to find a way to fix it. Your problem-solving skills will come to the fore here so apply them. If you don’t, you risk damaging your mentality to the point where you give up on your freelancing career.
Nobody likes to talk about it, but fear will almost always play some part in your freelancing career, especially during the early stages when it’s all new to you and you’re struggling to find new clients. Fear can act as a force to drive you towards success, but it can also cause you to avoid taking the risks that you need to take to bring your work to the next level, resulting in your career stalling out.
Being able to handle fear appropriately is vital to your success. That little voice in your head that tells you not to do something because you might fail needs to be ignored, but you also need to recognize the importance of considering the risks you take and how to mitigate them as far as possible.
The point here is that failure may happen, so fearing it is a pointless exercise. Instead, you need to focus on preparing yourself mentally for any possible scenario. What happens if you do fail? Do you lose a client? Does it affect your bottom line? How do you bounce back? Find answers to questions like these and you should find that the fear that may be holding you back from trying new things as a freelancer starts to evaporate.
What Other People Think
The way others think and interact with you can also have an effect on you mentally. In the best cases, the people you speak to will offer advice and encouragement, which you can use to bolster your self-esteem and push on in your career. Or they may offer constructive criticism that highlights areas where you might be going wrong or things you need to work on.
However, no matter how good you are at what you do, there are almost always going to be people that tell you that you can’t, or shouldn’t, do it.
This is most damaging when it comes from somebody who is close to you. A friend or family member may not want you to take the risk of going freelance, or may feel the need to constantly remind you about the “real” jobs that are out there and how you may be able to earn more money, or at least enjoy a more stable income, in one of them. Enough of that and it can be easy to start doubting yourself, so you need to be certain of your aspirations in going freelance and not allow yourself to be swayed by people telling you that you can’t do it. Be wary of anybody who comes out with stuff like “so are you thinking about finding another job yet?” when you start out.
Trickier is what you may encounter in the business community. As helpful as many of the professionals you meet will be, there will also be some who don’t believe in what you’re doing or just don’t give you the time of day. If you receive criticism it is important to take it in and consider how you can use it constructively, but you also need to recognize that some people will criticize without any real substance. Ignore the latter and keep plugging away.
Now this is a mental issue that you may not have even considered when you started freelancing, but it may become a problem over time. All of that office camaraderie that you enjoyed back in your old job is gone now. Instead, you will spend a lot of time on your own, often at a keyboard, with your main interactions being with your clients.
Those little things, like a colleague asking how your weekend was, or the office chipping in to grab cakes or breakfast is something that you are going to miss, which may catch you off-guard a little at first.
This is a difficult one to deal with, as it’s not like you can materialize work colleagues out of thin air. The best way to deal with it is to keep your friends in mind. Maybe take a break out of your working day to chat with somebody for a bit, or make sure that you have plans ready for when you finish. Loneliness can become a real problem if you follow your working day up with sitting at home alone later on.
Finally we come to the biggest mental issue that freelancers will face – dealing with pressure. You will have likely faced pressure before in your previous roles, but there is nothing quite like the pressure you deal with when working on your own.
Clients will often want their work done yesterday and it takes a smart mind to schedule work properly so that you hit all of your deadlines. As work piles up you may start to feel the weight on your shoulders a bit and it is crucial that you are able to carry it to succeed as a freelancer.
Outside of actually delivering your service to alleviate this pressure, you should also keep in mind that increased pressure usually means that you are doing something right. If your work is in demand, that means that you are succeeding as a freelancer. Remember this whenever you feel like the pressure is too much. Clients like what you do and want more of it, which gives you some leeway when it comes to dictating deadlines and terms. Use this to relieve the pressure a little and enjoy the fact that you have achieved what you set out to do.
The Final Word
Dealing with the mental issues related to freelancing is crucial if you are to find success over a sustained period of time. The six main takeaways from this are:
- Find some way to keep yourself motivated, even on days when you don’t have much work on.
- Learn from setbacks but don’t dwell on them.
- Control your fear and take the risks you need to take.
- Learn from other people, but don’t be discouraged from your work by them.
- Understand that freelancing often means spending a lot of time alone.
- Pressure is good because it means you are succeeding, but be wary of it building up.
Keep all that in mind and don’t give up. Success is in your hands as long as you keep your head in the right place.
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