What the hell was I thinking? I can’t do this.
Yep, the inner critic of the freshly self-employed had become a semi-permanent fixture in my brain. After 15 years of steady employment in the marketing world, where I was launching and growing businesses, creating new brands, acquiring, and keeping, millions of customers for brands like Amazon and Disney, I had (fairly confidently!) resigned in order to start my own business. I went from a busy, noisy environment where I was being constantly interrupted (sweet goddess of silence, just let me have half an hour to finish this presentation in peace), where I was paid well to do a job I knew at a company everyone has heard of, to being alone. On my own. Just me. With no steady income and a sudden and unexpected silence filled only with my inner critic.
What the hell was I thinking? I can’t do this.
After I left my job at Amazon, I started working as a marketing consultant, and now I’m a coach and energy practitioner, helping women find confidence and purpose. Going out on my own was one of the hardest, scariest, most challenging things I’ve ever done and I wasn’t really prepared for it.
I did manage to navigate my way through it though (actually, who I am kidding, there is no “through” is there, there’s just “more”!), and I’ve learned a lot. If you have that inner voice rumbling around in your head, or if you’re early on your journey, here’s what I’ve taken from it (and how to keep yourself on track).
Be kind to yourself
Honestly, this is the number one thing anyone can do at any time and is the most important thing I work with my clients on. It is a habit that takes work (and in my case, I needed support from my own coach to get here) but it’s worth it. You are worth kind words and compassion. You don’t need to be perfect or achieving something incredible to be worthy of it. You deserve it right now, today, whether you did everything you set out to do or not. Along with kindness comes patience – I learned eventually how hard I can be on myself, the expectation that I set for what I should have done in a (ridiculously) short period of time became an inevitable sign of my failure, because I couldn’t possibly meet that bar. I had to change my expectations and the pressure I put on myself. Be patient, be kind. Be your own cheerleader.
Tip: Write down everything brilliant about yourself. Everything you’ve ever achieved, everyone that loves you, everything nice anyone (work or otherwise) has said about you. Keep it close and when the gremlin voice threatens to take over, read your list and remind yourself that you’re brilliant and you CAN do this.
Find some self-care patterns that work for you
It took me a little while to realise that the self-care patterns I had when I was working for someone else weren’t going to work when I was self-employed. I could get up when I wanted (yay), I could stay in jogging bottoms all day (yay), it was cold and dark, so I didn’t have to go to the gym (yay). The reality of working alone (as well as living alone), having no real structure and feeling the immense pressure of needing to make it a success meant this way madness lay. I had to put in some structure which actually worked for me, that (crucially) was going to ensure my mental health was taken care of and that I was able to perform. I set some rules – fresh air, meditate, move around a bit, get up at a decent time and if you’re not willing to leave the house in the clothes you put on, you’ve made the wrong choice. Exercise went from something which enabled me to eat more cheese, to something which helped me stay centred and calm. Meditation became the first thing I did when my workday started, rather than something I squeezed in when I felt like it. Different people need different things, and what works for me might not work for you. However when you’re going through a stressful or transitional period, having a routine in place where the focus is on taking care of yourself, is going to ensure you’re able to stay on track, stay calm, centred and confident. It also sends an important message to that inner critic – I’m worth taking care of, I value myself, and I value my work highly.
Tip: Reflect on the moments when you’ve found things easier and felt lighter. What do they have in common? What things could you take from that to form your self-care habits?
Get a support network that works for you
One of the things that really sucks about working alone is, well, you can feel kind of alone. If you’re used to working in a busy environment, it can suddenly feel very quiet. I really missed having someone I could immediately turn to for advice, talk through a piece of work, or to just chat to about I May Destroy You. Whether that’s networks like Found & Flourish, meetups, or even just the people you’ll inevitably start connecting with online, meeting people who understand what you’re going through can help you feel less alone. It’s also really important to verbalise how you feel with your family and friends – you’ll need a different kind of support, particularly in the beginning. I wasn’t really used to being vulnerable and admitting things were tough when I first started out on my own. I now talk in shorthand about “Freelancer’s Despair”, and this gives me a way of telling people I might need some company or some support (e.g. “I’m coming down with a case of the FD’s today, do you have time for a wine?”).
Tip: If you haven’t already, let people in your life know what it’s like and what you need from them, and start to embrace a new community of people who really get it.
Just because you fall down, doesn’t mean you stay down
Bad days are different when you’re on your own, aren’t they? You don’t have anyone else around to pick you up, you’ve got to do it yourself. In the early days, I found it easy to let one bad day get away from me a bit (see point 1 on perfectionism and impossibly high standards…). Recognising that one bad day isn’t a pattern, it’s just a bad day, makes it easier to get up and move forward. If you have good habits in place to take care of you, a supportive network around you, and a kind voice in your head, you’re going to be able to dust yourself off and get back to it.
Tip: Remind yourself that not everyone can do this, you’ve already come further than most, and you can do it. What would you tell your best friend if they were having a tough day? Now tell yourself that. Take a few slow deep breaths and repeat after me – I’m here, I’m ok, I can do this.
Remember, your inner critic is trying to keep you safe; that’s all. But being brave isn’t about doing a thing that’s safe, it’s about doing the thing that scares you because you know deep down it’s what’s going to make you happy.
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About your author
Lauren is the founder of Unleashed Coaching. She’s a coach, mentor, energy practitioner, she-wolf, former marketing consultant and fervent, passionate believer that woman deserve to have lives that are full, bright and spectacular, that they can want more, get more and have more.
An elevator pitch is a concise ‘sell’ of your business idea; it can also be of you, if you’re using it to sell your capabilities.
The Ask provides coaching & content for people pursuing courageous career paths: think founders, freelancers, or anyone doing work they believe truly matters in the world.
I’ve been freelance writing for four years now, and almost all of my dream clients had come from Instagram.