I’m sure many people who work freelance or otherwise are familiar with the concept of impostor syndrome. Instead of confidently asserting oneself at work, or another important life situation, the fear sets in. The fear that actually, you’re no good at this and it’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out.
Freelancing is prime territory for impostor syndrome. Of course, for me it can manifest itself in literally any situation from friendships to education, but I like to live my life on the edge.
Do I feel like a fraud?
Of course I do. What an easy question! As a newcomer to freelancing, my credentials aren’t exactly world-class. Despite having successfully worked on projects according to briefs, which is the basis of my freelance career, I’m still waiting for the catch. As I’m still trying to build up a client base, I’m protected from a lot of things that would cause me to feel like an impostor. I don’t have to deal with many rejections, and my ignored pitch emails don’t feel like personal attacks (yet).
My social media presence is small and I don’t deal with random criticism online. Despite the glaring issue of not having an awful lot of steady work, my freelance life is quite rosy. I don’t have a series of people telling me I can’t do anything or I’m not what they’re looking for.
Why would I need that when I can do it myself?
The more you do…
I do apply for different freelance projects, and even part or full time roles should they come up. Universally, it’s been like shouting into the void. The one opportunity I have was offered to me without me doing anything other than some previously good work for a company.
The more I expose myself to, the more the impostor syndrome sets in. I’ve pitched for projects I know I can do and heard nothing back. Is there something wrong with my pitching style? Am I unskilled? Is it that somehow, the person on the other side of the computer screen has figured out that I’m not the real deal?
A lack of success reinforces a sense of worthlessness. It’s difficult to take it on the chin when every success or failure is down to me as an individual. I can’t blame it on the team, the company, whatever. It’s all on me.
Of course, there are several reasons I’m not getting regular work. The time of year. My newness to the field. The competition. To me, though, it’s probably because I’m actually not supposed to be doing this. It’s easy, even understandable, that in my current situation I’d feel this way.
What happens, though, when you do get some success? Surely the underlying impostor would quiet down and let me get on with things? In my experience, sadly this isn’t the case. I know I don’t speak for everyone, but impostor syndrome doesn’t seem to discriminate between success or failure.
I’ve been successful in roles I didn’t think I’d ever be capable of, and quietly fought the idea that it was all going to come tumbling down at some point. It never mattered that I was the best person for the job.
My ideas of fraudulence have been reinforced, though. I’ve lost jobs, and I’ve taken it personally. As though it’s something to be expected, something deserved. An inevitability caused by my evident incompetence.
Should the time come, then, that I build up some clients and make a real go of this modern, new-fangled freelance malarkey, the impostor will still be there. I could have a positive response from every client and still be waiting to be found out.
The uncertainty of freelancing offers both fuel and respite from the impostor. Fuel comes from rejections, ignored pitches and emails, a dearth of opportunity. The respite comes from these places, too. I can hide behind the lack of success, comfortable in the knowledge it’s because I’m a fraud.
The impostor lurks, and casually drops the idea of giving up into my head more often than it ought. Success breeds neither comfort nor validity. Failure provides validation, an ‘I told you so,’ proof if it be needed.
I’m sure I’m not alone, but feeling like an impostor can be a lonely place. It impacts my confidence and adds a battle that I could do without. I’m a very anxious person, so I’m not surprised that I feel this way. What I don’t want is for to impact the work I (presumably) eventually get.
I don’t want to buy into the idea of fraudulence so much that it creeps out in my work. That it leaves me merrily waving off weeks-late invoices for fear of being reprimanded or found out should I try to track it down. Mercifully, there is a small part of me that’s aware I can do the things I say I can, and that I’m not too proud to chalk up some learning curves on the way.
I feel like it’s unwise to open up about struggles in finding work, or struggles in how I’m feeling. That could be true, or it could be part of it. I’m choosing to ignore these thoughts, and proudly display my vulnerability. I’m a human. The human behind the words. I need not hide away, and I’m proud to discuss things that haunt people far better equipped for life than me.
If I keep it up, perhaps the human will grow larger than the impostor.