“They just weren’t the one.”
That has to be one of the top three tiredest dating clichés out there. Tired or not though, it can still sting…but why does it hurt?
Many people out there, when it comes to looking for romantic relationships, are looking for some level of exclusivity. They’re looking for one person to focus on or center their romantic life around. That’s why someone not being “the one”, their rejection of a potential future, even a short one, can sting.
I think a lot of freelancers take that same emotional approach to their work.
I get to hear a lot of reasons people put off investing in their freelance career. The most frequent that comes up is a fear of rejection. The same thing goes for people who get one really important pitch or proposal turned down and then begin to doubt their decision to freelance…maybe it’s time to go back to employed life. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe freelancing isn’t a good fit. Maybe they just can’t handle being constantly pushed away, especially when an employer offers daily, even if conditional and uncertain, acceptance.
The Comfort of Being Chosen
The root problem, I think, is tied to how we’re raised to deal with careers, earning and being “chosen”.
We’re chosen to join a team. Chosen get into college. Chosen to get scholarships. Chosen as a pageant-winner. Chosen for an internship, for a job, and for a promotion.
By the time most of us get to the point where we can consider freelancing as a viable career option, we’re already deeply invested in the idea that we are a commodity waiting to be selected but some person, board, or institution with more power and better taste.
…one email, one client, one published article doesn’t make your freelance career.
Getting past this is possibly the most difficult thing you’ll have to do as a freelancer, but you can do it. It starts to come after you understand that you are a vendor who sells your work to companies and people in need. You are not waiting to be chosen, you are looking for a match. You are free to reject, accept, pursue, and ignore work as you see fit. That is the beauty of freelancing.
Like I said though, that takes time spent developing your freelance skills and learning your freelance niche…in the meantime, I want to give you 5 habits you can start today to get going on the process of deprogramming yourself and getting to a point where you don’t even notice the rejection anymore.
I keep lists of companies I want to pitch to and contact. Long ones.
I love sites like Manta for finding literally hundreds of companies that might be interested in my work. Let me tell you, when you’ve got 50 companies to send emails to, rejection from one barely feels like a flick on the wrist. On top of that, it gives you perspective.
It’s WAY too easy to get caught up in a gig you think you want, and then have your feelings dashed when you don’t get it. The thing about exposing yourself to a large number of p spects, is that you uncover companies who are excited to work with you. Most of the time, it’s not who you initially set your heart on.
Stop putting your freelance emotional eggs all in one (or two, or even three) baskets (after all, unlike employment, one little “no” won’t kill your income.) Get out there, get past your dreams and assumptions, and find out who you actually work well with.
Have a schedule
This kind of ties to the same emotional point as before, because knowing that you’ve got more coming is a great way to blow past the feeling of finality that rejection brings along with it.
I keep a pretty set marketing schedule. One half day a week is dedicated to marketing and I have small marketing tasks that I perform each additional day of the week. Knowing that I have those tasks to complete, those people to contact and emails to send — that keeps me active and prevents me from over-investing emotionally in that one response I’m waiting to hear back on or that one publication where I really want to see my work published.
I can still want those things, but they’re not near as important as keeping my marketing pipeline flowing so I can hit my income goals.
Side note: This is EXTRA important if you’re like me and are somebody whose bad at marketing and really dislikes it. Making it an item on your task list can help get you past any dread or feelings of inadequacy.
Save Small Victories
A few months ago I read an article that claimed achieving small victories can give you the same emotional boost as large ones.
Ever since then, I started keeping a list of even seemingly unimportant things in my freelance work that make me feel good. I keep a note file on my phone and it’s got stuff like…
- The first time I felt confident describing what I do to a friend
- Finally getting 3 strong references
- Getting to a point where I enjoy using my calendar (I hated it when I was employed)
- The first time a client stopped responding to emails and it didn’t sting at all
- Getting my first paid referral
- Not worrying about paying my bills
These things are all great, but I promise you, I’d have forgotten about each one after a day or so and the feeling would have just disappeared. Now though, whenever I read through that list, I get a huge motivational boost and a reminder of just how far I’ve come (seriously…even writing those out just now felt good.)
Keep Up with Other Freelancers
Perspective is important.
If you’re not connected with other freelancers, it’s easy to think that everybody else but you is breezing by, getting great assignments and clients and you’re left behind. I didn’t get how big a deal this was until I started following fitness accounts on Instagram. Don’t get me wrong…the Black women I follow there all have amazing dedication and put in a lot of work.
After a while though, my inspiration shifted and I noticed I started feeling…disconnected and even inferior. I started looking at people’s year 10 and comparing it to my year 2. I started ignoring genetics, and health, and background, and started losing perspective on my fitness journey.
Remember that your freelance journey is your own, but that connecting with other freelancers who are open and honest about what it takes to get them where they are is crucial to putting the rejection you do receive into perspective.
Here are a couple of my favorite people who talk openly about their lives as freelancers (If you know anybody else, feel free to add suggestions in the comments!)
Maintain a Client/Publication Profile
As you try different things as a freelancer, you’ll start to get a feel for exactly who it is you want to work with. As you refine that, your pitches, portfolio, and services will better align with specific niche problems. The better aligned you are, the fewer rejections you’ll receive.
As you begin to chip away and understand who it is you work best with as a freelancer, write it down. Describe the kind of client you want…size, culture, pay, industry, personality…keep a list of it all and adjust it as you grow. An added bonus of knowing who you’re looking for helps to cement the act of rejection as information that feeds your ideal client profile (as well as your marketing strategy), and that’s always a good thing.
Remember…one email, one client, one published article doesn’t make your freelance career. You’re working to build a collection of focused freelance assignments that fit, so rejection is one of the best things that can happen to you.