I’m sure that just about everyone struggles with self-doubt from time to time. I’ve experienced lots of self-deprecating moments throughout my adult life. I’ve questioned my judgment on everything from my career path to parenting to relationships.
Hell, I’ve beaten myself up over a decision as simple as a coffeemaker purchase. Most of these moments are fleeting, and an internal pep talk gets my self-esteem out of the gutter and back to reality pretty fast.
I gotta say, though, making the choice to build a freelance writing and media consulting business and be my own boss has really put my confidence to the test. I have had more “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?” episodes in the past six months than I’ve had in all my prior years on this planet.
In my heart, I know that I have the talent and skill set to be really, really successful. I’ve got 15 years of hard-won experience under my belt. And my parents, friends and even my son have been my biggest cheerleaders as I have slowly put the building blocks in place to go out on my own.
But at the end of the day, the only opinion that really matters is my own. And I am my own worst critic.
Here’s how it’s gone so far: First, I land a client or a story assignment. I’m excited. I map out my strategy to get it done. I do interviews and/or research. Then I spend a little bit of time wallowing in irrational paranoia, worried that I have missed something crucial. I take a hot bath or drink a chai latte, and the feeling passes.
I sit down to write.
I panic for a few minutes as I stare at the blank screen, take a deep breath, then dive in. I write, rewrite, step back for air, then return to revise again.
I experience a paralyzing moment of panic right before I file the story or e-mail my finished copy to the client. I freak out a little bit afterward, questioning what I could have done better or differently.
I hyperventilate periodically while anxiously awaiting the client or editor’s response.
The client or editor writes backs, either with minor edits or no edits at all. I’ve even had several responses extolling what a great job I did. The flood of relief and euphoria that follows becomes my assurance that I DO, indeed, know what the hell I am doing. (I am good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.)
The above scenario has ensued on nearly every freelance assignment I have taken since September. Up until recently, no amount of validation on my past work could staunch the flow of self-disparagement on future assignments.
What persistently undermined my confidence was the (very) few setbacks I've experienced since I started my little business:
The prospective client who didn’t respond to my e-mails requesting a meeting. The client who still has not paid me for work I did for him in December. The story I wrote that went to press containing a sloppy error (a source’s name was MacDonald, and I erroneously spelled it McDonald, like the restaurant).
That’s the stuff that I have kicked my own ass for, over and over. That’s what has caused the chatter in my head to scream, “Give it up, Amy, you’re in over your head. You’re a total sham.”
But over the past month or so, I’ve noticed that my negative internal dialogue has gotten pretty quiet. It hasn’t shut up completely, but it’s much more “inside voice” (in contrast, of course, to backyard holler) than it was at the beginning.
So, as my successes continue to outweigh my failures, and the closer I get to leaving my full-time job and going totally out on my own, the more assured I feel. Thank God.
Oh, I know I’m not done screwing up. I am far from perfect, so it’s gonna happen. But I am starting to sense a little more balance, and I’m not seesawing between extremes as often. Today, I actively believe that a failure does not make me a piece of crap, and a success does not make me king of the world. It took awhile to get there.
It turns out that it’s not just the financial side of a new business venture that takes a year or more to even out. For me, it’s also my own thinking that’s a work in progress. Approaching a new career as my own boss is exciting, but it’s clearly going to take some getting used to. I can’t think like an employee anymore and rely on outside validation to feel worthy of success.
Bottom line: No one will ever be able to convince me that I am outstanding at my job if I don’t first believe it myself.
On a good day – like this past Saturday, when I landed two new, awesome clients – it’s easy for me to believe in myself and my ability to get ‘er done. My true test will be to keep it up on the occasional bad day.
Wish me luck!
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.