It's okay to be stupid

Jan 26, 2015

As a freelancer, your clients come to you to solve a problem. They pay you to write, design, dream and scheme up a better solution than they could ever create. Every job you accept is an opportunity to grow — and most projects land somewhere between “I could do this with my eyes closed” and “I’ve done this before.”

This familiar territory is perfect for refining and strengthening your current abilities. But every once in a while, a project comes along that falls just outside of your comfort zone.

Your gut might tell you to pass for fear of looking or feeling “stupid”— but this may be an opportunity to learn new skills, try new tools, and explore new techniques. Accepting challenging work is necessary for personal and professional growth.

The good news is, the more you challenge yourself, the better you become at your work. Here are 5 tips to help you push past your fear of inadequacy and develop your professional skill set while you’re at it:

Ask a million questions.

No freelancer truly works alone. Carve out time in your schedule to connect with anyone who has already done what you’re trying to do. Be in the habit of writing out what you don’t know so you can ask someone that does. Don’t be afraid of asking questions or seeking out critique.

Find inspiration but commit to making your own work.

Use inspiration as a platform to get your wheels turning, but don’t settle for a carbon copy of someone else’s work.

Take your inspirational cue from Isaac Newton, who wrote in a letter to a friend, “If I’ve seen any further, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Even the most influential scientist in history knew the importance of gaining perspective and experience from others. Also, the man discovered gravity, so he came up with his own stuff too.

Dig deep and take the leap.

Making anything is a risk. When you admit you don’t know what you’re doing, you become vulnerable to failure and compromise. And halfway in, your brain will tell you that you don’t have the chops. And you're going to want to give up— don't. This just means it's working. You don't build muscle until you push past what is comfortable.

Put yourself in the way of learning.

Remember what it was like to be a high school student? To put yourself in the way learning whether you felt like it or not? If you can’t quite remember (or you hate to think about those days), find new ways to be a student again. Subscribe to a podcast, take a dance class (you know you want moves like Beyonce), or learn HTML for free. Be in the practice of learning in all areas of your life. The world is a big place and you don’t know everything (yet).

Be honest.

Know your limitations and be honest with yourself and with your client. They’re paying you money - it’s their right to know whether you have the time, skills, or commitment to learning to finish a project. If you truly don’t have the skillset or time to complete a project, let your client know up front. It’s essential to set expectations, so no one is disappointed in the end.

Remember— it’s okay to be “stupid.” We’re human, and we don’t know everything. But don’t let the fear of failure stop you from pushing your limits, and learning something new.

Don't forget to check out all the awesome classes at General Assembly around the country!

Bethany Buer is a freelance photographer and content producer at General Assembly, an educational institution dedicated to creating a global community of individuals empowered to pursue work they love. GA offers full and part-time courses and workshops on the most relevant skills of the 21st century – from web development and user experience design, to business fundamentals, data science, product management, and digital marketing.