What to do when friends and family don't "get" your freelance career

Aug 26, 2019

So they told you not to freelance. Anyone else hear something along the lines of “... but how will you make any money?” Or, “Why would you give up the security of a 9 to 5?” Or, “What in the world will you do for health insurance?”

Yep. Me too.

If your experience of striking out on your own and building your own business was anything like mine (and hey, I’ve done it twice now), then you probably had at least a couple friends or family members doubt you. Maybe they told you to your face that they think you’re crazy, or maybe you just picked up that vibe when they got quiet or tried to mask their reaction.

No matter how this doubt was expressed to you, I’m willing to bet that it stung a little. For some, it’s just a friend or two who couldn’t wrap their heads around why we’d want to venture out on our own. For others, it could be a massive guilt trip or feelings of frustration or shame coming from a parent or a partner. At best, this can be confusing, and at worst, this can cause hurt, conflict, and self doubt.

Let me start by saying: you’re not alone. And let me follow that with what might be even more reassuring: I’m going to share with you some ways you can lessen the negative impact that this lack of support is having on you.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

1. Accept that you can’t change anyone but yourself

Alright, we’re starting out with a big one here, but trust me on this.

Think about it -- what is our #1 default reaction when someone else behaves in a way we don’t like? We think, “Man, I really wish they’d change.” Sometimes we even convince ourselves that we’ll be able to make them change. “If only I have this conversation with her…” “If only I can get him to see…”

As a life coach, one of the very first things I teach my clients is that you can’t make anyone else change. You can certainly influence others! But you can’t force them to be different — that’s their choice, and their choice alone.

This idea probably feels frustrating upon first hearing it. It was for me too! But once you start to accept it, it’s actually incredibly empowering. Why? Because when we expend so much energy trying to change other people, if we can recognize and accept that it is impossible, we save ourselves the mental and emotional exhaustion of trying to do something we can’t. This is such a huge gift we can give to ourselves.

So if your approach with the person in your life who hasn’t been supportive of you has been to think, “I bet I can make them change” — take a deep breath and accept that you are only ever in control of your own thoughts and feelings, no one else’s. Let that free you of the pressure you’re feeling.

2. Reframe their lack of support as their own fears

When I had people doubting me as I transitioned to freelance life, my first reaction was disappointment. Then a little anger. Then just plain old hurt. It left me confused, wondering, “If you really love me/care about me, why won’t you be supportive of my choice?”

It took me a while to figure out the answer to that question, but here it is: if they’re not supporting you, it’s likely because they’re having their own fears come up.

You may be feeling nothing but confidence as you start up your own business (the dream, right?! And yes, it’s possible.) You’ve probably either done a good amount of planning, or you trust your own capabilities and know you will make this work. But the person who’s doubting that this choice is right for you is experiencing fears that you may or may not be experiencing.

If it’s a parent, consider that they may be a product of their generation, which valued stability and company loyalty. Consider also that their role for a solid chunk of your (and their) life was spent looking out for you and making sure you were set up for success. Freelancing may be a very unfamiliar concept for them, and what comes off as them choosing not to support you may actually just be their own fear that you won’t land on your feet (even if you know you will).

If it’s a partner, perhaps what comes off as doubting your abilities is actually a concern about your joint finances, or how much time you’ll have to spend with the kids, or your happiness or stress levels. These are their own fears bubbling up, and you can share your plans to address them with your partner! Not to mention, you’re way more likely to come out with a better result from your conversation if you’re going in with understanding and empathy, instead of resentment and frustration.

How does this shift your perception of the other person’s response?

3. Uncover your deeper WHY.

One of the most powerful things you can do for your life and your business — in order to maintain motivation, grow quickly, shift from imposter syndrome to genuine confidence — is to start practicing what I call getting to your deeper WHY.

When there’s something you want to do (in this case, building your own freelance business), ask yourself, “Why does this matter to me?”

Then take your answer, and ask again about that response. “Why does this matter to me?”

Then again. And again. And again.

Keep asking yourself until you get several layers deep, and you’ll start to notice a shift in how you’re thinking about this thing you’re doing. Maybe it goes from “I’m starting my own business” to “I’m creating a life of freedom for myself so I can achieve happiness, feel fulfilled, and live in alignment with my values.”

Once you uncover your deeper WHY, it will fuel you. Especially when others are doubting you — and even more especially in those moments when you’re doubting yourself. Use this deeper WHY as your reminder when things get tough.

And better yet, share it with others! Both the ones who are feeling nervous about your choices, and the ones who are your biggest supporters.

From now on, when you come up against resistance or doubt, you’ll have the tools to let go of the pressure on yourself to make them change, reframe how the other person may be thinking about it, and stay grounded in why it is that you’re doing this in the first place.

What comes up for you in all this? Feel free to share any stories, thoughts, or questions!

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send us your blog post.

Sarah Brody

Sarah Brody is a life coach and founder of the Authentic Confidence coaching program. She has also been a freelance digital marketer for the past 5 years.