Something strange happened to me the last few months: I’ve stopped stressing over work. Not work, specifically, but waiting for it to come.
In the beginning, I got the strong notion that freelancing life would be tumultuous, filled with emotional ups and downs that would leave me fishing desperately for jobs one day and drowning in a tidal wave of work the next. I would feel lonely, isolated, yet elated at pursuing my passion at the same time.
And, for a while, it was like that: a horrible psychological bipolar effect where I was always worried about the next downer moment, so much so that I could never fully appreciate the enjoyable here and now.
Freelance life still is full of ups and downs, but I have a different attitude about those waves than I did before. Before, I was floundering, drowning and gasping as I fought the currents, determined to maintain my elevation even if the tides I sat on were emphatically uncontrollable.
Now? I’ve learned to work with the waves, riding my awesome surfboard of freelancing happiness, bobbing up and down with the tide as if its nature’s very own roller coaster ride.
In the middle of a recent panic, I started to wonder if it — the stress, the failure to get clients, the gaps of time without income — was all a product of my own (rather false) expectations about how freelancing life is. If, in all my stress and attempts at “growing my business,” I actually got in my own way. If my expectation for hardship at the close of a contract actually created a bubble of hardship at the close of a contract.
And my wonderings led me to realize I indeed was doing all of that. Me. I was drowning myself in freelance misery!
The Very REAL Power of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
First, let’s go over what, exactly, self-fulfilling prophecy is. Study.com says
“A self-fulfilling prophecy is when a person unknowingly causes a prediction to come true, due to the simple fact that he or she expects it to come true.”
Let’s say I, a freelancer, have just finished my latest project. There is nothing on the calendar for new work. I have a desert of emptiness ahead of me.
I need to find a new contract.
I immediately start looking for more work — say, through online marketplaces like Upwork — and at the same time begin to, even unintentionally, think to myself, ‘I hate this part. This is so hard. So nerve-racking. The market is way competitive. Look at all those other guys bidding on the same job! I’m going to apply for a ton of jobs and not get any of them, I just know it.’
Then — BAM! Guess what? I didn’t get any of them.
Why do I think this way? Maybe it’s because it’s been my common experience, and that’s perfectly valid. Stereotypes are, after all, molded from grains of truth.
But that’s only part of it.
I’ve come to believe it’s also because when I was mentally prepping to become a freelancer I read a ton of articles about how finding new work is one of the hardest parts of the being a freelancer. In a short time, I was convinced. After that, I gritted my teeth, preparing for the daunting task of finding work.
And what happens when we go into a task, teeth clenched, stressed out, forcing ourselves to do it (albeit reluctantly)?
As the Study.com article states,
“Our actions toward others impact their beliefs about us, which dictates their actions towards us, which then reinforces our beliefs about ourselves. This, in turn, influences our actions towards others, which brings us back to the beginning of the cycle.”
So I expect not to be hired for anything, therefore maybe I
- Rush through bid writing just to “get it over with.”
- End up not putting my best work forward and
- I come off as either cocky or unconfident in my abilities as a writer/illustrator/etc.
- And nobody wants to hire a cocky or uncertain freelancer (duh!), so
- I end up not getting hired for anything.
And the cycle starts again.
See Farther Beyond Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
I’ve written how just saying “yes” (with enthusiasm!) in 2016 really blew away previous years’ business. I said yes to anything, with very few exceptions. It was tiring and overwhelming, but I got a lot more done in a lot more ways than I would have ever expected.
And “getting things done” isn’t just about raking in the money, but about experience, knowledge, and opportunity. Specifically, opportunities that would prove useful — and even profitable — in 2017.
(I know, I know… You’re thinking, “That just means you didn’t make any money.” Not true: I did make money. I just didn’t bring a lot of it home because I ended up reinvesting that income into MOI (marketing, ads, web development, etc.). So, while I didn’t put many numbers into the Owner’s Pay column of my accounting books, there were a lot of extra numbers being recorded elsewhere.)
Having a motto — a short phrase I could say to myself to help me to maintain focus — was just the catalyst I needed to enhance my freelancing experience.
As a result of this motto success, I adapted “See Farther” for 2017, which means I’m taking my “Yes” a step into the future and trying to envision how that automatic yes will effect me and my business in the long run.
Now we’re not only talking money (worth), but VALUE. The worth of a contract is the monetary sum you’ll receive for doing the work. The value of a contract is its worth PLUS what that contract can offer non-monetarily (e.g. free marketing, networking, more contracts later on).
Ideally, each job will offer both worth and value. But, sometimes, they have more value than worth (say, a low- or non-paying gig that offers a lot of positive exposure to potential future clients). An example is taking low-paying jobs to build up your resume.
Establishing value in a project with a client requires forethought, insight, even a little business politics and suave. So an immediate “Just say yes” policy doesn’t always work.
Therefore, establishing value into my work means saying no sometimes. Even to myself.
How Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Effects “Seeing Farther”
There are two kinds of self-fulfilling prophecy: negative and positive. Most of the time, people get disheartened because they’re trapped by negativity. The funny (yet not so funny) thing about negative thinking is that it comes on fairly automatically; we don’t have to teach ourselves to be negative or to doubt ourselves. It just… happens.
On the other hand, positive thinking actually requires practice. You literally have to actively stop yourself from thinking negative thoughts and actively replace those with positive ones. Positive thinking can become habitual, but it’s a much more difficult habit to pick up than negative thinking.
So, if I fall victim to a pattern of negative thinking, that creates a bubble around me of self-fulfilling prophecies that will negatively impact how successful I am, how good I feel, and how the world interacts with me personally and in business.
Speaking specifically on moments of waiting for work, if I hold fast to the idea that bidding for jobs is a horrible experience and I expect not to get work from it, it will be horrible and I won’t get work.
But a freelancer can’t simply not look for work. So what’s a girl (or guy) to do?
Considering worth versus value, I know I have to judge when to say yes to what may seem initially like a great job. But, if I can’t see that job taking me beyond the limits of the contract, it provides much less value to me than it would otherwise.
If I give in to negative self-fulfilling prophecy, that in effect will shut down any positive growth MOI has looking forward. There is no “seeing farther.” That negativity has built a wall, blocking my view.
There are things you can do to stop this cycle of harmful self-prophecy in your life, and I’ll touch on those in a later article. For now, take time to recognize merely when you’re trapping yourself by these thoughts. Remember: You can’t fix a problem unless you first identify it!
Take a moment to analyze WHY you’re feeling negatively: Self-doubt? Fear of success? Fear of rejection? Someone told you you should feel that way (as was the case with me when I read articles about how I should feel about looking for work)?
Acknowledgement is the first step to finding freelancing happiness and true value in what you set out to do when you decided to become a freelancer in the first place:
Change the world, and your life, with your craft!
Has negative thinking impacted your freelancing career? Share your story with MOI in the comments!