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Martha Beck is a sociologist and life coach and the author of The Way of Integrity. In this mini advice series, she's answering readers’ most urgent “what if?” questions as they contemplate redirecting their lives towards a new future.
Two years ago, I quit my job and became a freelancer. It was a massive leap of faith, and overall, it’s been amazing and I’m happier than ever. I make more money than I did when I had a full time job, but I am often stressed because I don’t know what’s going to happen next. This is partly because peaks and valleys are par for the course in my line of work, but also because I’m constantly just reacting. I take almost every gig that’s offered to me, whether it works for my schedule or not, as long as it pays enough. I’m not really in control because I haven’t taken control, and this is because the idea of self-promotion terrifies me. I don’t network! I barely have a website! I avoid social media! I know fixing this problem would be a game-changer: It would allow me to better control my time and finances and bring a level of stability to my life that I really, really want. I’ve tried forcing myself, but it doesn’t work. How can I get beyond a fear of being seen and move to the next level?
Obviously, you’re good at what you do—otherwise, you would have crashed and burned months ago, rather than making more money. Congratulations!
As for your fears about not knowing what’s going to happen next, welcome to the 21st century. Long ago, when I quit my job teaching, another professor told me I was a fool, because a tenured professorship was the most secure job I could ever have, even if I hated it. The next year, that tenured professor was fired. My point is that the idea of a “steady job” is an illusion. Change is constant, and anything can fall apart.
Because of this, most of my clients have ended up choosing some kind of micro-entrepreneurship—doing something they love, without a formal job. This gives you freedom and independence. On the other hand, it means you can never tuck into a big organization and let it do the hard work of attracting customers or making rent. It’s like growing up—no parents to boss you around but no one to cushion you, either.
A lot of freelancers (myself among them) loathe self-promotion. You can get past this by taking your focus off selling your service or product, and putting it on ways that service or product can help people who really need it. Focusing on people’s needs, rather than your own need to succeed, creates a space of empathy where possible customers feel seen and cared about—because they are. And that’s the best way to make your offerings genuinely appealing.
If this doesn’t get you into a promotional mood, call a “barnraising.” Get a friend or loved one to tell you why they think customers should seek you out. Let them praise you and your work. Then, hold your breath, buckle your seatbelt, and write down what they said. Others will agree.
The wonderful thing about what you’re doing is that as we all head into an uncertain future, you’re practicing the skills that will help you thrive no matter what happens. As world events unfold (industries crumbling or shifting, plans collapsing) you’ll get more and more clarity on what you do well, and how to add value to the world by doing it. At a time when social and economic change is as fluid as a storm at sea, you’ll always be able to keep your head above water.
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