Three unexpected traits that help me thrive as a freelancer (part three)

The final part of my three-part series on unexpected traits that help me thrive as a freelancer  (find parts one and two here) may be the most unexpected. It is the ability to let go.

You may wonder what this ability has to do with a healthy freelance practice, but it’s surprisingly important. Not to mention, the list of things you need to release is unexpectedly long.

The first item on the chopping block is the perks of full-time employment. That may sound strange, since many people compare quitting their 9-to-5 to winning the lottery. But it’s not that simple. In my experience, the inability to let go of the benefits of being an employee is one of the most common reasons people quit freelancing. These benefits include:

Financial security – this is the most obvious and for many the biggest loss of giving up full-time employment. For the first year or so of self-employment, I regularly woke up in the middle of the night in a panic, wondering where my next paying job would come from.

The camaraderie of co-workers – I’ve always really enjoyed the social aspect of work and working from home was initially very tough. Some days, it still is. While co-working spaces and working in clients’ offices can help, nothing replaces the close-knit friendships you make with co-workers.

The feeling of belonging – love or hate your job, feeling like you have a place in the world is important. When I first quit my job I felt unaffiliated and bereft. How was I supposed to fill my days now that I wasn’t accountable to anybody for what I accomplished during work hours? How do you go from being invested in the well-being of an organization to creating your own thing?

These things become less critical as you get invested in your own practice. But here too, you have to let go of things to progress. In fact, there’s a whole new list of items to release:

Your insecurity about never working again – it’s fear that the phone will never ring again that makes consultants take on projects that aren’t right for them or undercharge for their services. You’ve got to know that the practice that you built is standing on a solid foundation and make the choices that support it.

Your self-limiting beliefs – every time you stretch yourself beyond your current experience level or skill sets, the inner alarm bells ring. You’ve got to learn to keep going anyway, and prove yourself wrong. Nothing alleviates imposter syndrome short of actually doing the thing that initially makes you feel like an imposter.

The outcome of your efforts – The harder I hold on to my hopes of winning a certain project, the more stressed I get. This stress impacts my other work, which then makes me feel worse. Similarly, worrying about whether or not the effort to speak or teach will be worth it just makes the process taxing instead of enjoyable. Challenging as it is, you have to learn to put forth the effort for the experience as opposed to strictly for the results.

Your mistakes – It can be harder to make mistakes as a freelancer than as an employee, since it directly affects your bottom line and you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. But mental flogging only brings bad energy to your other projects. You’ve got to learn to let go of the mistake while keeping the lesson.

The fear and grief associated with letting go is natural, but as you slowly untether from society’s security blankets, you’ll also start to appreciate how much easier it is to act with integrity and in a manner that is true to yourself. For me, learning to let go began with my personal effects – after following The Minimalists, I began a year-long de-clutter of my home. The repeated act of assessing which things to keep and which to release eventually prompted me to re-assess everything in my life, from my relationships to my habits to my beliefs. Start small, and question everything. If it’s not absolutely essential, it’s expendable.

This post was originally published on November 14, 2017

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