One of the great things about soloism is that we experience our wins pretty intensely.
We’re each executing a dive of our own selection. When we get it right, it can feel euphoric. It’s our win. We made it happen.
The bad news is that the negative emotions can hit us just as hard.
And there is no shortage of negative emotions: Negativity. Fear. Self-doubt. Frustration. Bitterness. Annoyance. Insecurity. Stress. Overwhelm. The list goes on.
I’m not going to presume that I experience these emotions the same way you do.
But what’s important is that we recognize that these negative emotions can shrink us, slow us down, or stop us entirely.
They can make us less effective, less successful and less happy.
And they can rob others of our gifts.
Over years of wrestling with these emotions – my inner critic can be a bit of a jackass – I’ve developed a list of go-to questions for those moments when I’m in a patch.
I’m sharing that list today, in hopes that you might benefit from it.
Here they are:
Have other people figured this out?
Sometimes we create monsters in our own minds. Especially when we’re attempting something new, we can turn a small project into an insurmountable mountain – and then we don’t get started at all.
When self-doubt creeps in, look around a bit. Have others already done this thing? The answer is almost always yes. So is there any legit reason that you can’t?
How can I make this smaller?
This one comes in handy for both self-doubt and overwhelm.
It’s easier to get started when you can see the finish line clearly. So I like to break large projects into their smallest possible bits.
A “bit,” by my rule, is something that can be completed in a single 90-minute sitting. If not, I need to break it down further.
If there’s an obstacle in front of you, do what you can to shrink it.
Do I have proof that my work has value?
I chose the phrasing of this one carefully. It’s a version of “Am I good at this?” but it shifts the focus to your work – not you as a person.
We are not our projects.
Here are some sub-questions:
- Have others paid for your work in the past?
- Have others given you positive feedback?
- Have others referred you to their colleagues?
- Have others been improved by your work?
If you answered “yes” to any of these, you have irrefutable proof that your work has value.
Am I documenting my wins?
I’ve written about my Work Wins journal in this space previously. It takes only a few minutes a day, and it gives me a tangible record of the good stuff.
Each day, as part of my close-out routine, I capture:
- What went well – mindset, habits and achievements of any size
- What I initiated
- Who I helped, and how
Coincidentally, I just completed Judd Apatow’s book “Sicker in the Head,” and it included these words from Judd:
“When I have a project and people send me nice emails or tweet something nice, I will screenshot it and put it in a file I call ‘Self-Esteem Support.’”
If it works for Judd, it might work for you, right?
Who can I talk to about this?
Being independent doesn’t mean you have to bear the burden alone.
You can benefit from the experience or fresh eyes of:
- A coach or mentor
- A soloist further along the path
- A soloist at about the same point on the path
- Your significant other
- A friend who knows little to nothing about your challenge
Giving voice to your struggles is often enough to neutralize them – or at least make them manageable.
Is something else going on?
Sometimes I’m not really annoyed at that terse client email.
Sometimes it’s the construction noise from outside. Or not enough sleep. Or I’ve chosen to multi-task, and that alone is making me irritable.
And sometimes it’s something much larger.
But it’s often worth taking a step back to ask: What is this really about?
Do I need a break?
When you hit a wall, there’s no rule that you must run right through it.
Step away. Take some time off. Maybe you’ll have a fresh angle on your wall when you return. Maybe your wall won’t be there at all.
Burnout is a sneaky devil. Best to not let him catch up to you at all.
Those are seven questions that help me out. How do you handle the negative emotions? Drop me a note – I’d love to know.
Your time is valuable, and I hope I’ve rewarded it. If so, your shares are greatly appreciated, as I try to help as many freelancers as possible.
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