Freelancing makes me feel like a superhero and a loser at the same time
This is what I’ve found in the six months since I gave up my salaried job to go it alone.There’s a strange thing that happens when you are your own boss, and it is the fluctuation in how you see yourself. Some days are great days. I have a pitch accepted, I turn in some work that I’m happy with, I get paid or someone says something nice about me and I am on top of the world. I am Queen of the Self-Employed, a lady who has it going on, a bad ass and master of her own domain who escaped the drag that is the 9–5! I run my own shit! I am doing it and doing it and doing it well! Beyonce and I are basically twins!
And then, there’s the other side, the valleys in between those peaks, the other days. The days where I barely get off the couch (because I can’t be bothered to lug myself to my desk), where I mindlessly trawl the internet in between 5 minute spurts looking for jobs, refreshing refreshing refreshing the page; where my pitches and submissions are rejected or worse, ignored completely; where I have no work to do and no one who wants to pay me for my writing, and I feel like an idiot. A failure who is failing hard, who can barely make this whole situation work, who has only succeeded so far based on luck and a few well-paid gigs that have paid the bills. For now.
This could be what they call impostor syndrome (women do suffer from it more, after all), but perhaps it isn’t. I don’t feel like an impostor all the time — or at least I don’t feel like I’m faking it any more or less than everyone else in the room. It’s more that sometimes I feel like I’m doing everything right and other times, I really really don’t. There’s not much in between, no gray. And this is unique to freelancing.
Impostor syndrome, for those who don’t know, is the fear of being exposed, that any success you come across is undeserved, that everyone is better than you and that you could be “found out” at any moment. It’s a hot topic. But this isn’t really about that. I think there is a difference between telling ourselves that we are worse than we are, or that we are undeserving of a seat at the table — truly suffering from impostor syndrome- and just being insecure in our own abilities because, to be honest, we have no reason to be overconfident in them. More of an over/under philosophy that leaves little space for all of that in-between, where we know some things, but not others, and it’s okay.
Humility is a crucial and appreciated part of being a good human, after all. Who hasn’t worked with a guy who thinks that he knows things that he most certainly does not know? (It’s nearly always a man so I’m going to stick with that pronoun). A little humility in that scenario goes a long way. So when it comes to working for myself, and putting myself out into the world for jobs, I am constantly drifting, sometimes violently between the two, feeling that I am either completely incapable, or the most amazing and clever and insightful writer to have ever tippity tapped on a laptop while sat on her Ikea couch.
This fluctuation isn’t a phenomenon that I dealt with when working for other people. Dealing with it as a freelancer is an emotional aspect of my career that that I never expected, and as far as I’m concerned a lot of the dialogue around the rise of freelancers and the self-employed leaves out this important nugget: that often, you feel very bad about yourself, and only sometimes is it actually warranted. But I wish more people would talk about it. We aren’t all superheros. But becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable is an integral part of working for yourself.