Let’s follow on from last week’s post about confidence.
This week we ramp it up a little and talk about how to gain professional confidence when you sit on your own all day and the only people you talk to are those annoying individuals calling from fake call centres – the ones who want to help you with your Windows setup or your internet access (with apologies to all those poor sods who actually have to work in legitimate call centres for a living).
It’s bloody hard to remain confident when you’ve finished your training and you’re on your own. Staring at the dog. Wondering if you really did get a brilliant score on your final assessment or whether it was actually intended for the person one above you in the student database.
You may have recently completed your training, or you might have been following your freelance dream for a while, but lack of confidence creeps in and once it’s grabbed you it can make itself comfortable and stay for a while. If you don’t hit it on the head it’ll invite imposter syndrome to come and join the party. Then you’re screwed.
There’s one very good way to get that confidence back … find yourself a safe, nurturing environment where you can talk with other professionals. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy and these days you don’t even need to leave the house. Find what’s best for you and, once you’ve got over the initial introductions, you’ll know that you are among friends.
Now, this isn’t rocket science, but it’s worth looking at.
He’s my list of safe environments:
Closed groups are best but open groups can be useful too. Groups allow us all to have a whinge when we need it, ask ‘stupid’ questions when our brains are tired, and share our triumphs when they happen. A closed group allows its members to feel comfortable that the outside world is kept at bay and won’t see their conversations.
Pros – You can get validation, or answers, from a huge number of people from all walks of freelance life, and from all over the world. If you join a subject specific group you can spend time with your peers, from newbies to old hands, and benefit from group wisdom.
Cons – They can be a little judgemental at times, but the best are moderated well.
Erm. Well. One day I may find a decent one where there is no tumbleweed, snarking or adverts for useless crap, but people do seem to benefit from LinkedIn groups. The trick is finding one that works for you.
Pros – Again, there is a huge number of people on LinkedIn so there’s potential to talk with professionals in your field living all over the world. Who knows, you may even get some work from contacts you make there.
Cons – Apart from the tumbleweed, snarking and adverts for useless crap, the main con is the difficulty in finding a group that works for you.
For me these are invaluable. You are among friends, you all abide by the same rules and there are very few snarks. The groups are also fairly small and concentrated around your professional society so they can do wonders for your confidence levels.
Pros – There aren’t so many people that the conversations are hard to keep track of, but enough people hanging around to talk to when you may need it. Often there are subforums that concentrate on one type of professional area so you can get straight to the point if you need help.
Cons – You can end up nipping in and spending hours hanging around the forums when you should be working.
So this is where a group of you get together to help each other, either online or in *gulp* real life. You can share work and ask for feedback, or all work on the same material and see how your work differs from each other. Peer reviews are a safe environment … for the brave.
Pros – It’s very liberating to see how different people approach work. It makes you realise that there’s more than one way to handle your work, and by talking it through you can get validation that your way is just as valid as everyone else’s.
Cons – It really isn’t for the nervous. While peer reviews offer a safe environment it does take guts to sit with your fellow professionals and talk things through.
If you can get a mentor, they can be amazing. Get one either through a formal process, such as the CIEP mentoring process, or approach a fellow professional who you admire and who you know will be receptive.
Pros – You will be guaranteed a no-bullshit, straight to the point dialogue with a seasoned professional in your field. If you are doing something incorrectly they will tell you.
Cons – Mentors can be expensive, unless you are really lucky and manage to come to an agreement. You need to find someone that you gel with as there’s nothing worse than a personality clash with a mentor.
Joining a local professional group can be amazing. You get to meet face-to-face every month or so, often over lunch or a drink in the local hostelry, and chat with fellow professionals. This is a social occasional as well as a professional one, so can be a very informal form of networking.
Pros – A nice, informal environment where you can learn, ask questions and chat with your peers. Often there are workshops or group peer reviews, but on the whole it’s a very informal affair.
Cons – Getting there. If, like me, you live miles away from anywhere or if you rely on public transport/babysitters/getting up the gumption to move, you may find it difficult getting to, or scheduling in, local group meetings.
My final safe environment. Conferences can be costly but are so worth it. You get to meet people you’ve spoken with over social media, forums and Facebook. You get to meet people you’ve never met and you get to meet up with old friends.
It’s scary but I can’t stress enough how much good going to a conference will do you. Don’t stress over what to wear – hell I gave that up years ago. Be comfortable and be yourself. At a conference no one gives two figs about what you’re wearing or that you’ve come armed with an industrial sized notepad and a year’s supply of Haribo. Get to a conference. If you are nervous, tell people! They probably are too.
Pros – Conferences are safe environments in which to learn, network and gain validation that you are the same as every other freelancer out there. You are pulled out of your comfort zone safely, among friends and will get the chance to drink lots of coffee with other nervous freelancers. The food is usually good too.
Cons – They can be costly once you add up conference costs, travel, accommodation and time off work.
So there you have my confidence-enhancing safe environments for freelancers. I’ll bet I’ve missed some too, so feel free to tell me your confidence tricks in the comments below.