Saturday, 16 October 2010

Self Esteem for Freelancers.

If you decide to go it alone, as a freelancer or as a small business, there's one thing you're going to need oceans of, and that's self esteem.

If your self esteem bank has loads of credit, this is no problem, but for a huge number of us, our reserves are dangerously low. If you want to make a success of your business venture, you're going to need to boost those resources. The good news is that you can, but it's not something you're going to manage overnight, putting deposits in your self esteem account, takes time and it takes effort.

When you've been out of the career market for a while, it's very easy to lose sight of your worth. Our society places so much emphasis on what people do, instead of who they are and the values they live by, which makes it particularly hard for anyone who can't define themselves in a work role.

So if your self esteem needs boosting, how do you go about it? 

Over the last few years, I've read a lot on the subject, right from the clinical approach, through to the modern 'gurus'. What I'd say from the things I've read is, although there are many paths to increased self esteem, one thing seems consistent - it's not a quick fix.

So if you need to build your self-esteem, be prepared to make it an on-going project and treat it with the seriousness it deserves. I used to think that if I just found the 'right' book, the one with the answer for me, that would be the job done, but I no longer believe that. I've quite a collection of books on my shelf now, but I've come to the simple conclusion, that building your self esteem takes sustained effort. It's something you need to commit to, so put your heart into it and make it a daily practice.

So what do I think works?

The following suggestions are what work for me. I know they might not work for you, we all come to the journey from different places and with different baggage, but in case it helps anyone, these are my favourite tips for building self esteem.

1. Make a list of your achievements.
When you're feeling low, it can be very difficult to remember the times when you've done things you feel pleased, even proud about. That's why it's important to keep a record of your achievements as they happen.

I'd propose buying a good quality note book, especially for the purpose. I keep mine on my desk and try to put something in it every day - OK some days it's simple things like 'cooked dinner even though I felt rubbish', but you'd be amazed after a few weeks how uplifting these recollections can be.

If you use it as a journal, be careful to keep it positive. If bad things have happened, don't write about them here. Your aim is to have a databank of juicy achievement to dip into whenever you need it.

2 Be careful who you hang out with.
It's a sad fact, but some of the people we know, are happier when things are going badly for us, than when they're going well. You probably know who I mean. They're accustomed to a certain status quo and they don't react well if you change. These people can be very sapping when you're starting a new venture - actually they are always sapping- but they are more dangerous when you're putting yourself into a vulnerable place, such as when you're embarking on a new phase in your life.

It's not easy, I know, but if you have people like this in your life, be very careful not to spend too much time with them when you're germinating your business ideas. Nothing is more damaging than negative reactions to our dreams, it takes a lot of self confidence to take the plunge into freelance life, so put up barriers and protect yourself from negative influences.

Instead, seek out the positive people in your life. Try and relax with the friends who support you and really do have your best interests at heart. Incidentally, I tend to find these are the same people who already have good levels of self esteem.

3 Look after your well-being.
Neglecting yourself doesn't serve anyone. So give caring for yourself top priority. Make time to indulge in the things that make you happy. Try to laugh every day - it's a wonderful release.

4 Don't try and do it all in one day - be kind to yourself.
My biggest problem is that once I have an idea for something, I can't rest until I've poured myself entirely into it. I beat myself up internally because I can't get on with it all quickly enough. But if I stand back, I know that this is unreasonable. It's also wrong, because you learn as you go on and nobody can close themselves off indefinitely, so I now have to remind myself often, that it's better to proceed slowly and steadily and get to my goal, than rush at it and burn out.

If this is one of your tendencies, be kind to yourself - you'll have more success if you keep on steadily.

5 Silence your 'inner critic'.
There's a voice in my head that tells me how tough life is and how high the odds are stacked against me. If I listen to that voice, I give up and head for cover. For quite a long time, that voice was pretty in much in control of me, but not any more.

These days, I'm becoming much more aware when I hear that voice, and now I have an answer. I ask the voice why it says that, and what it's trying to protect me from. And the answer is nearly always the fear of change and the fear of failure. I've decided that the only way forward is to face fear and to face change, even strive for change. So now I tell that voice that it's OK, not to panic. I'm strong and I'm going to cope. Then I carry on.

This is a really hard one, and it takes concentrated effort. I don't always get it right. But the important thing is that nowadays, I keep trying.

These are my top tips. I have a few more ideas too, but I think I'll write about those another day - if you've found any particularly successful way to boost your self esteem, please let me know and we'll share them here.

But one last thought; you are unique. No one like you has ever existed, no one has ever had your combination of talents and experience to offer. You don't just owe it to yourself, you owe it to all of us to be the person who are deep down. It's your job to find that person, bring her into the world and care for her. It's never too late to start.

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