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Any day now, they are going to realize that I’m just not that skilled. I don’t deserve to be writing for this client and it’s all going to go catastrophically wrong. I couldn’t possibly raise my rates, because my copy isn’t good enough. I’m not capable.
If your train of thought at work goes something like this, you might be suffering from imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the name given to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and fear of failure in people who are outwardly successful and talented. It can make you feel like a fraud in your job as a writer, as if you’re playing a role undercover and could be found out at any minute. It’s not a nice feeling and one that can start to affect your work and mental health if it gets out of control. Here’s what to do if you start to hear that little nagging voice inside you that says you’re not good enough...
How are freelance writers affected by imposter syndrome?
If you’ve ever experienced imposter syndrome, you’re not alone. All writers can experience this feeling, from new writers to published authors, as most people will experience it at some point in their working life. A study reported in Time magazine estimated that it affects up to 70 percent of us. Freelance writers can be particularly vulnerable to imposter syndrome because it thrives when you are isolated from others, have to work solo and are under pressure to complete projects to perfection.
If you are new to freelance writing, you may still be finding your feet, searching for clients and this may cause you to question if you are up to the job. On the other hand, if you are a published author, you may still live in fear that you are a ‘fraud,’ feeling that you were published out of luck rather than skill.
Don’t try to ignore the feeling
Trying to ignore the feelings of imposter syndrome when they arise might only make things worse, as you find yourself fighting your internal monologue all by yourself. One of the most powerful things you can do is to acknowledge the feelings and give a name to them (reading this article is an excellent first step!). Then, when the thoughts pop up, you can say, “Oh, hi, imposter syndrome,” and quickly counter them with some rational and positive oppositional thinking: “I’ve never failed at completing my task on time,” “This client has been happy with all my previous work,” “I do deserve to be here because I’ve worked hard.”
Talking to others about your feelings can also help, whether that’s friends, family, or other writers. Chances are they’ve felt the same way at some stage. They will also be able to point to other examples of your earned successes or be able to give you some perspective on how work isn’t everything.
Relish in your successes
What do you do when you finish a project? Just move on to the next thing on your to-do list? This could unwittingly be feeding the imposter monster. Taking time to celebrate and enjoy your successes is an important part of job satisfaction. And when you’re a freelance writer, you don’t have a boss or manager there in the background to praise you when things go well or help you see what you’ve achieved in an annual review. You have to be that cheerleader for yourself.
Make sure you’re shouting about your successes on your website and social media — whether that’s new contracts won, projects completed or featured in the press. Sometimes writing it down and publishing it can make it seem more real. Develop a ritual for jobs well done. This could be a treat like a coffee at your favorite cafe, finishing the day an hour earlier so you can go on a walk, or going out for a bite to eat with a fellow writer. If you live with other people, like roommates, partners, or children, try to involve them in your successes, too, and have them celebrate with you. Alternatively, you could join a freelance community, so you have like-minded people to share your big wins with.
Fake it until you make it
You know those people who come across as so confident, charismatic, and self-assured? The people who always seem to be smiling and relaxed, no matter how much pressure they’re under? Don’t you wish you could be like them? Here’s a secret: You can! Here’s another secret: They don’t feel that confident all the time. They just got good at faking it until it became a reality for them.
Smiling is key here. Smiling gives off the impression that you’re happy and not the bundle of nerves that you feel like inside. It wins people over. But most importantly, the act of smiling in itself has measurable, physiological effects on your body. It releases feel-good hormones like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, and neuropeptides, which reduce stress and slow your heart rate. Smiling tricks your body into making you feel more relaxed and confident. Over time, all this faking confidence becomes second nature, until you realize ... you’re not faking it anymore! You’ve become that person — the confident, in-control role model.
Let go of perfection
Perfectionism is one of the most common traits of writers suffering from imposter syndrome. As a writer, you will naturally hold yourself to a high standard, making sure that your spelling and grammar is perfect, free of typos and that the message is clear and concise.
Striving for perfection can leave us feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and still unsatisfied because no piece of work we did could ever meet our exacting requirements. One useful technique here is to try to step outside and externalize the problem: What would you say to a friend or another freelancer who was experiencing the same feelings and worries? This can help you take a more objective perspective and realize that it is just work — it’s not life or death.
Indeed, one of the most inspirational figures and role models during the recent Olympic Games in Tokyo was Simone Biles. We know she is capable of some jaw-dropping, record-breaking gymnastic performances, but she stood out for her ability to say “no” — to choose to protect herself and her mental health against the weight of expectations. It’s a good lesson for any of us that ever feel pressure to perform consistently at a level of perfection. It’s not sustainable all the time. We’re only human, and sometimes we need to put our health and well-being first. Our clients — the good clients, the clients we want to keep working for — will understand.