Imposter syndrome is a big problem for many freelancers out there, and it can be a burden if not addressed correctly. If you search the term “imposter syndrome” on Google, you will find thousands and thousands of articles explaining what imposter syndrome is, the symptoms, the causes, and how to overcome it. Very few addresses a specific type of impostor syndrome, the one many freelancers and self-employed can easily suffer.
I’m no expert by any means, but I’ve been working as a freelancer for so many years that I know what people in my working condition can feel and how we feel in certain situations. That’s why in this article, I will go in-depth on the topic of “imposter syndrome for freelancers,” and I will suggest resources to use to try overcome this problem or, at least, to control it.
I’ve divided this guide into paragraphs that you can read separately by using the table of contents below if you don’t have time to read the article’s whole.
Table of Contents
What is Imposter Syndrome
The term imposter syndrome has started to appear in the late 1970s; in fact, it was identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, and at the beginning, it only referred to women. It is defined as the incapability of acknowledging your own skills, doubting everything you do, and fearing being exposed as a “fraud.”
“I just don’t know if I know enough”, “This happened because I was lucky”, “I don’t think I can do this because what happens if I’m not capable?” are just some of the phrases people with impostor syndrome are well acquainted with.
Imagine this situation:
Your freelance business has a great win, and you tell yourself that it was by casualty that the client found you because they mustn’t have looked too far and wide.
Or this situation:
You’ve been promoted at work, and immediately you think that they must have been short on candidates.
That’s imposter syndrome: the inability to recognize you are valuable and skilled, despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful.
Impostor syndrome is fairly common: apparently, up to 70% of people have suffered from it at one point or another.
Overall, imposter syndrome can destroy self-confidence and ambition but, at the same time, can also cause other personality issues that can have an impact both on your personal and professional life.
What Are the Symptoms of Impostor Syndrome?
The imposter syndrome can manifest in multiple ways, and in general, its manifestation only happens in the person suffering from it. External people may never know if you suffer from the syndrome because imposter syndrome sufferers tend not to talk about feeling with anyone because of shame.
It’s hard to identify what are the symptoms of impostor syndrome, but some of them can be:
- Attributing success to outside factors
- Start focusing on unachievable or tough personal tasks and personal goal-setting
- Always feeling dissatisfied by your job and your role.
- Fear that you won’t live up to expectations
- Always trying to overachieve
- Avoiding things that are part of their job but call for a change of the status quo
- Avoiding seeking promotion
- An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
There are more ways for the imposter syndrome to manifest itself, but it’s easier to say that this syndrome can have an impact on one person’s mental health on different levels because it can cause, among the other things:
- lack of self-confidence
For many people, the imposter syndrome can cause problems regarding doing stuff; for many others, the syndrome can fuel feelings of motivation to achieve. In both cases, the results are not that great: you may end up feeling unable to deliver in the first case. In the second case, to deliver, you will live in constant anxiety. You will work too hard to prove your value. In both cases, the end goal is to ensure that nobody finds out you are a fraud.
What Causes Impostor Syndrome?
The reasons why the imposter syndrome occurs are not clear. They may be somehow related to our experiences when we were children or encounters during our formation phases. Or it’s just due to the stress of doing stuff in the right way and feeling not adequate.
Many people grew up with one or more parents who were perfectionists. Others grew up with underachieving parents with high expectations for their children. Others may have had a close relationship with someone so talented to set up the standards for others.
There can be multiple factors that cause the “not good enough” feeling, and this can remain latent until it is triggered by something external to us.
5 Types of People With Impostor Syndrome
In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Dr. Valerie Young has categorized the “imposters” into 5 subgroups: the Perfectionist, the Superhero, the Natural Genius, the Soloist, and the Expert. Let’s see what every type refers to.
1. The Perfectionist
Perfectionists always feel that their work could be better. They set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt. On top of this, these people can be quite controlling and micromanaging everything they do; it’s just the norm.
2. The Superhero
Superheroes feel the need to push themselves to work as hard as possible. They’re addicted to the validation that comes from working, and for this reason, they want to prove harder and harder that they deserve to be where they are.
3. The Natural Genius
Natural geniuses tend to set impossibly high standards and give themselves an impossible deadline to master something. If they cannot do it, they get frustrated and start doubting their skills and competencies.
4. The Soloist
Soloists prefer to work alone and, most of all, don’t want the help of other people. Asking for help it’s seen as a failure and when this happens they feel like a fraud.
5. The Expert
Experts have to have everything perfectly ready before starting a project. They constantly look for new certifications or pieces of training to improve their skills. They measure their competence based on “what” and “how much” they know or can do.
Why Freelancers Are Susceptible to the Imposter Syndrome?
If you’ve read this article up to this point, you may already have figured out yourself why freelancers are susceptible to fraud syndrome more than any other group.
The reason is simple: we freelancers don’t follow a linear path in our career, we don’t have a constant validation from a group of peers, and very often, we cannot confront others to understand how our job is positively impacting a company or a project.
On top of this, we constantly need to sell ourselves: we need to find clients, we need to retain them and keep adding new ones. While doing so, we also need to be bold in making decisions that can affect our business.
And at the same time, we need to face competitors both in the form of other freelancers doing exactly what we do and new technologies, new methodologies, and new “things” that can put our work off if we don’t keep ourselves updated.
Imposter syndrome can also rear its ugly head when we try something new, which is out of your comfort zone, but for whom you’re skilled (e.g., starting a blog to showcase your writing ability, if you haven’t have done this before).
How Freelancers Can Battle Imposter Syndrome?
Dealing with imposter syndrome is not easy. At first, one has to recognize suffering from the syndrome and, once this has been established, it’s time to act to change the situation.
1. Take a look at what you have done
Analyzing what we’ve done and done is a good way to put things into perspective. It may be hard for you to truly believe that you’re doing and you’ve done so many things, but seeing a list of accomplishments over the course of your career is a good way to start thinking, “I’m not a fraud. I wasn’t lucky. I know what I’m doing, and I know I can do it”.
2. Be honest to yourself
Start taking time for yourself and taking the pressure off yourself; it is good to establish a routine and stop feeling you’re not worth it. Being honest also means understanding your limits and put them to good use: you don’t have to be, and you can’t be, an expert in everything you do, so stop trying to force yourself to learn and do stuff you’re not meant to be and only focus on the things you are really good at or that you really want to do.
3. Stop comparing
One way to overcome the imposter syndrome is by stopping comparing what you do with what others do, even people in your same career path. Sometimes these comparisons can be helpful, but only if they inspire you to change. In general, comparing can lead to dissatisfaction and, most of all, to anxiety. On top of that, always consider that the people you compare yourself to may have problems you don’t know about, have your own fears, and may experience the same problems. So stop comparing, and start improving if you feel you need it or, even better, start recognizing your values.
4. Say yes to new opportunities… with moderation
Saying yes to new opportunities and experiences can be hard if you feel you’re a fraud, but it’s something you have to do. When you’re presented with a new opportunity, evaluate if it’s worth it, and if it’s valuable, do not hesitate to embrace it: if it is presented to you, it means it’s suitable, and you need to give it a chance. Be careful: people with imposter syndrome may also tend to accept too many opportunities to avoid being considered a failure, but you don’t want to be burdened by too much work and zero social life.
5. Accept rejection and embrace it
Rejection is part of the process. Rejection for a freelancer is never painless, but we need to understand that it is part of the role of being freelancers. Rejection can become a way to understand where we lack and where we should focus, our abilities, and our strengths. By accepting and embracing rejections and critiques, we can become better freelancers and, most of all, experience less anxiety.
What’s the Opposite of the Impostor Syndrome?
The opposite of the imposter syndrome is the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect. People suffering from this syndrome tend to believe they are more competent than they are because they cannot evaluate themselves objectively. They feel they’re acting in the right way despite any evidence, they don’t feel the need to improve and consider themselves better than anyone else.
Imposter Syndrome: Useful Resources
There are many resources you can get your hands on if you want to know more about imposter syndrome. I’ve summarized some of the resources I feel are most helpful and useful and that I personally recommend if you have symptoms of the fraud syndrome.
1. Self Confidence & Assertiveness Training
This course is going to empower you and elevate your self-confidence to a whole new height. This self-confidence and assertiveness training course will afford you a deeper sense of self-confidence and help you know your strengths and weaknesses and use them to benefit.
2. Self Confidence: 40-minute Confidence & Self Esteem Guide
In this highly rated course, you will learn how to boost your confidence and self-esteem, handle fear of rejection, learn powerful body language, feel great about yourself.
3. Double Your Confidence & Self Esteem
In this highly loved course, you will learn how to become perceived as a confident person, how to develop your inner confidence, and stop seeking approval.
4. Master the Art of Freelancing with Seth Godin
Master how to make your work unique, create a well-known brand, find clients, and increase demand for your products or services. Understand what it takes to be more than the average freelancer and start to become remarkable and unique.
5. The Imposter Cure: Escape the mind-trap of imposter syndrome
The Imposter Cure explores the psychological impact of imposter syndrome and exposes the secrets, fears, and insecurities felt by millions of men and women. Dr. Jessamy Hibberd provides sound expert advice to help the reader better understand the problem and overcome it, so they think differently, gain self-belief, and learn to see themselves as others do.
6. Stop Self-Sabotage
Combining therapeutically proven strategies with practical tools and self-assessments, Dr. Judy teaches you how to identify your triggers, modify your thoughts and behaviors, find your true motivation, and unlock your willpower to stop this vicious cycle in its tracks. Practical and transformative, Stop Self-Sabotage is your ultimate guide to jumpstart lasting, positive change, and start living the life you want.
7. Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior
This practical, proven self-help book shows how to transform 40 common self-defeating behaviors, including procrastination, envy, obsession, anger, self-pity, compulsion, neediness, guilt, rebellion, inaction, and more.
Can the Imposter Syndrome Be a Good Thing?
Imposter syndrome can see as positive when it’s not exaggerated and as a way to reflect on what we’ve done as freelancers, where we are at, and what our career looks like. By having doubts, we’re forced to constantly check on what we’re doing and where we’re failing and winning. And by constantly checking on us, we improve as freelancers.
The imposter syndrome is a good way to remember that if you were a real imposter, you wouldn’t have lasted so long as a freelancer.
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