I’ve always set ridiculously high standards for myself, mostly as a result of being impatient and overeager to see results.
The first time I picked up a guitar, I was disappointed and frustrated when I wasn’t instantly transformed into Jimmy Hendrix. I mean, to heck with hard work and practice, right? Who has time for those things in today’s highly demanding society? Certainly, all one needs in order to succeed is a YouTube tutorial and perhaps an eBook if you really want to be a scholar.
Needless to say, the toneless cacophony that greeted me as my fingers felt clumsily around the fretboard was enough to convince me that simply owning a guitar wasn’t the same as actually mastering the art.
Did I feel like a failure? Initially, yes. All my heroes always made it look so easy, as natural as breathing and as effortless as going for a casual Sunday stroll. The fretwork seemed completely automatic, as if their fingers were moving independently from the rest of their body. And here I was, having to spend half a minute thinking of where my fingers should go next.
However, it soon dawned on me that these talented musicians had dedicated most of their lives to perfecting their craft (and seemingly finding the best anti-tangle shampoo). Besides, many of them had studied at the feet of other, more accomplished musicians.
I wasn’t failing, I just wasn’t seeing results straight away.
When it comes to doing freelance writing, it can be immensely frustrating – not to mention demoralizing – if clients aren’t banging down your door straight away. It’s even more demoralizing if you’ve put money into marketing your freelance business, for example through display ads or social media marketing.
But the word “failure” is one that you need to banish from your vocabulary right away. There’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist. Not for me, not for you. If you are actively trying to make a success of freelance writing, then you are not failing, you are simply not where you want to be just yet. But you will get there.
Here are some things that helped me get through times of self-doubt and insecurity (and boy, were there plenty!):
- There are many different measures for success; money is just one of them. Of course everyone wants to make money. You pretty much need it in order to survive and enjoy the occasional luxury.
But you may be surprised to learn that many of the greatest rewards of your work are not tangible. If it makes you feel good, I mean really good, then you are already successful. It’s a bitter pill to swallow because, hey, making money is pretty friggin’ sweet, but in the end no amount of money can make you feel the same sense of accomplishment that the act of creation does.
I once read that the Kingdom of Bhutan measures the country’s progress by means of a National Happiness Index, and not a Gross Domestic Product like most capitalist countries. Now there’s a novel idea I think all countries need to adopt ASAP!
- You’re doing this on your own. That takes guts. I’m telling you, man, it’s a jungle out there. It takes an incredible amount of courage to say “hey, screw having job security and a steady income. My stress ulcer has been way too quiet lately”. So, the mere fact that you are in an uncomfortable space means that you took the kind of risk that would make most people experience an instant panic attack, you legend you.
- Success is probably the most subjective thing in the world! Most people consider money and fame as the benchmarks of success, and yet there are so many people who are exceedingly happy who are not necessarily multi-millionaires. Accepted, no one is going to be doing cartwheels if they are going to bed hungry every night, but it is possible to feel good even if you’re just starting out.
When I got my very first full-time copywriting job (although my title back then was “technical writer”, which sounded equally cool), and even though I was really struggling financially at the time, I was dead serious when I told my new manager that it did not matter whether or not I received an increase in salary.
What mattered to me was that I was given an opportunity to do my dream job. Fortunately, I did get a significant increase. Until this day I am so very grateful that I was given this opportunity.
- Feel free to scoff (I would have), but it does get better. If you continue to put in the hours, and if you hold onto your passion with everything you’ve got, there’s no way that you can go anywhere but up.
Yes, of course it helps to put money behind your marketing efforts through things like Facebook ads and boosted posts, but you can get terrific mileage just by asking your own networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) to share your stuff. Draw up a content plan and a posting schedule and watch the number of people paying attention to your work steadily grow.
- It just takes one good client. In the world of freelance writing, having a huge number of clients means essentially nothing. Far preferable is having one good client that you can rely on for steady work and prompt payment. All it takes is one good client to notice your work and you’ll soon be in demand with other big clients.
In conclusion, and to use the most hackneyed phrase in all of existence, hang in there. And, for heaven’s sake, cut yourself some slack because you’re doing great.