How to stop fearing the monsters of our imagination and take the action our business needs
Running a freelance business means that you have to do some things that you wouldn’t normally do in a traditional 9-to-5 and that feel super scary. But the more you do these things, the more likely you’ll have success as a freelancer.
Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy…
~Eminem (Lose Yourself)
If the immortal words of Eminem describe you when you’re trying to post an article on Medium (or speak in public or pick up the phone and call a potential client), I know how you feel.
The first time I posted on LinkedIn, I had to ask a friend to hit the “post” button because my anxiety was so bad. And after posting, I didn’t open LinkedIn again for two days because I got panicky every time I thought about what the reaction to my writing might be.
When I finally did get up the courage to look…
There was literally nothing to look at. Zero comments, likes, shares.
After a momentary wave of relief, a new worry took hold - why isn’t there any reaction?
Fast-forward to the present. Posting on social media - be it LinkedIn or Medium - is second nature. I don’t even register an emotional reaction to it.
Now, I also eagerly anticipate seeing what feedback my posts generate because I equate feedback with interest and opportunity, not criticism and failure.
But every couple of months I reflect on how petrified I was four years ago about posting on LinkedIn. It’s a good reminder that the process of how I got over that fear can serve me in other arenas, too.
Habituation and desensitization are our friends.
In fact, they’re so important that they’re part of the basis for exposure therapy - one of the methods psychologists use to get patients over phobias and anxiety.
Afraid of snakes? Let’s take you to the zoo and walk past the reptile pavilion first. Then, let’s walk up to the pavilion and open the door. Then, on a different visit, maybe step inside… Pretty soon, you may be wanting to hold a snake.
Looking back at how I got over my LinkedIn phobia, I now realize that I applied the same principles. First, I wrote a few posts and didn’t post them. Then, I posted and immediately deleted a couple of times. Then, I got my friend to hit post on something that was going to stay.
And then I started posting myself - and kept posting. Through waves of panic and cold sweat.
And here are the two interesting observations I made through this process. First - my confidence grew with every posting regardless of the reaction that the post generated (or didn't generate). Second - it only took a couple of months before posting became a shrug-worthy non-event.
We spend an awful lot of time creating and being slaves to imaginary parades of horribles that are unlikely to come true. Maybe you’re thinking that you’re a “freaky weirdo” whose email “drops in out of the blue” on unsuspecting potential clients who want nothing to do with you (this is an actual fear from one of our early-stage students...who’s gotten over it in about a month).
When I notice something that I’m reluctant to do - especially something about which my worries seem not to be specific, like worrying that I’d offend a particular person - I make a pact with myself to go ahead and do it.
At first, I consider it a win to do it once, on a small scale, without witnesses. Then I do it again, maybe on a bigger scale, and maybe tell someone I’m doing this scary thing. And then I keep going until I no longer associate fear with doing this particular thing. That’s how I’m building resilience.
If you’re looking for a formula to do the thing fear is keeping you from doing - here it is:
(doing a scary thing) X (repetition) = desensitization = no fear
How desensitization relates to freelance writing
The more you do the following activities, the more desensitized you become to them, and the easier it becomes to run a successful, profitable freelance business:
Cold emailing potential clients
Calling to follow up with a prospect or with a client for feedback
Engaging with people on LinkedIn
Sharing a post on a large forum or listserv
Sending out bills
Explaining to clients how you work and your boundaries (e.g., specific hours scheduled for phone calls; at least 48 hours to turn around an assignment or rush fees will apply; etc.)
Speaking of taking action in your business, maybe you could use this: a quick, no-fluff training on getting great clients and starting to bring in revenue. Check it out here.