Fear and Loathing in Freelancing

Fear is a powerful emotion, especially the fear of failure. That fear runs in the heart of every freelancer, we’re utterly terrified of failing.

It’s something I don’t think a lot of regularly employed people understand. Sure, people with regular jobs may be afraid of getting laid off or fired, which sucks, but most of the time it’s outside of the employee’s control. When you lose clients and run out of money as a freelancer, you only have yourself to blame.

What’s worse, you then have to explain to your friends and your family that you didn’t make it. “Ah,” they’ll say, as if they knew what they were talking about, “it’s a tough thing running a business, at least you’ll go back to something more secure.”

Still, no matter how much others may judge you for failing, it doesn’t compare with how hard you’ll judge yourself when you fail.

But let me be clear. In order to succeed in freelancing, you have to learn how to forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself is the only way to deal with the fear. You have to let failure run off of you like water off a duck’s back. Because when you decide to run a business you’ll fail a lot, mostly in small ways, but still, things won’t work out the way you expect.

You have to be okay with yourself if you make a mistake. If you take a risk and it doesn’t pay off. If a client relationship doesn’t go the way you want. If the landing page you’ve spent three weeks optimizing and $600 advertising yields you only two leads.

This isn’t to say you need to act stupidly and ignore fear. But you need to learn to face your fear of your clients, of failure if you’re going to find the strength to do the things to make your business successful.

Fear is what causes us to reduce our rates.

Fear is what causes us to not sign a contract.

Fear is what causes us to take clients that we know are not trustworthy.

Fear is what keeps us from asking for help or hiring on additional contractors when projects are hectic.

Fear causes us not to launch that ebook, product, or newsletter.

Frank Herbert’s Dune, among being one of the best pieces of fiction ever, has an amazing quote on facing fear “Litany Against Fear”:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

It sounds dumb, but when things are dark, when I have to make a hard choice that I’m afraid to make I think about this litany and repeat it to myself.

We all feel fear in our lives, that’s what makes us human. But the true test is what we do when faced with that fear. Do we run and hide and stick to our old ways? Or do we face ourselves and our fears and learn new things and take new challenges to better our situation?

Here’s the thing, we’ve all conquered fear in our lives, and more often than not it’s worked out. Remember those moments when you’re faced with a tough choice.

I’ll leave you with a quote from author Paul Sweeny:

“True success is overcoming the fear of being unsuccessful.”