Riding the confidence wave

Loss of confidence, even if short-lived, can be upsetting, isolating, difficult for loved ones to live with and professionally paralysing. And I guess that this debilitating condition is also common. If you ever suffer from it, I want you to know that you’re not alone!

Big waveLike many other editors and business owners, I spend a fair amount of time on social media. It helps me feel part of the wider editing community, and it’s also a great way to find out about stuff. Blog posts, news articles, random nuggets of information…

For instance, I recently discovered on Twitter that for every person on the planet, there are – apparently – 230 slugs. Most of these prolific invertebrates seem to congregate in my kitchen at night, but I try not to dwell on that. I was briefly so much happier for encountering this fact.

Also in common with these other editors and business owners, when I share things online, I try to present the best version of myself, ever conscious that a prospective client might be watching. So the online me is a heavily edited version of the real me: she’s a little bit sharper and drier, perhaps a tad wittier; definitely better at thinking of swift one-liners.

She is also extremely careful about revealing gaps in her knowledge, rarely admits to having a headache or feeling grumpy, and doesn’t mention it when tumbleweed is blowing through her inbox (though she does let slip when she has so much work that she feels like the proverbial headless chicken, while trying to avoid actually using the words ‘headless chicken’).

Most of all, she doesn’t let on that occasionally she feels like going and hiding in bed until all the editing and the tax returns and the emails have somehow magically evaporated and she can have a moment’s peace.

I would hereby like to confess that despite my quietly confident and upbeat online persona, and my ability thus far to run a successful freelance editorial business, I don’t actually feel like my invincible online alter ego all the time. I have some bad days, and when they hit, I can end up feeling a bit like one of those 230 slugs. Only there are many, many more slugs, and I am a really, really small slug, and a big hand is hovering over me with the salt.

I find that confidence really does come in waves. Most of the time, I can surf along on top of the wave, not looking down. Sometimes, though, I slip off the crest of the wave and find I’m floundering around in the trough.

However, it would be a bit of a downer to leave it there. Of course I am not going to make an admission like that without trying to put some kind of positive spin on it. So here is a short list of ways in which crises of confidence can be coped with and channelled to result in positive outcomes.

Learn from the wobbles

Deflated balloonLoss of confidence may naturally follow on from criticism of your work, or another kind of professional rejection such as failing an editorial test. I have found, on the occasions when I have received negative feedback, that initially I get angry and go into denial.

It has only been some time later that I’ve taken the criticism on board, and at that point my confidence has really suffered.

However, looking back on situations like this, I realise that they have forced me to confront my weaknesses, and they have made me learn, and understand that I will always need to learn. Ultimately, they have made me a better, more accurate and more careful editor.

Reach out to colleagues for support by offering your own

When feelings of inadequacy hit, it can be tempting to hide away. It can easily seem as if everyone else is doing much better than you. However, getting involved in the wider editorial community can help. I’m not suggesting you use this as an opportunity to pour out your troubles, but rather that it can be a positive diversionary activity, and you may end up making new friends.

For every editor you encounter who is booked up until the next decade (good for them – but it can be hard to read about when you are in a confidence trough), there will be another who is struggling with some aspect of the work they are doing right now. Perhaps you’ll find you are in a position to advise them.

Feel the fear and use it for good

It took me many years to get to the point where I didn’t wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, worrying about whether the work was going to dry up. However, I am now grateful for those night panics. I took a big risk when I quit full-time employment, with a need to keep money coming in regularly pretty much from day one, and it paid off for me. The basic need to keep finding more and better work has kept me going through all the tough times, when I might otherwise have given up.

Share more with the right people

Rotary telephonesThis is very simple. Although I wouldn’t suggest that you spend all your time sounding off about your problems to fellow freelancers, they can be a great source of support (and if you have been supporting them too, see above, they’ll be happy to help). Talk to them when you’re feeling shaky, rather than opening up to a client.

By all means ask your client questions that are pertinent to the job – but they don’t need to know if you’re struggling because you’re having a nightmarish day, have no one to help you with the kids, have a slight cold, or whatever. It’s not their problem (though do of course tell them if something so bad has happened that you really can’t meet their deadline).

Don’t equate a temporary confidence blip with the need to take on poorly paid work

I try always to dissociate any wavering feelings of self-worth from a sense of my financial worth. My time is always my time, and I will not give it away to the lowest bidder. Ultimately, taking on work at a rate that you’re not happy with will sap your confidence even further.

Work through it

Finally, in the immortal words from Battlestar Galactica (did anyone else on the planet make it through all the seasons? Is this a first for an editorial blog?), take some comfort in the thought that all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

Each time you have a confidence crisis and emerge on the other side, you get stronger. The crises will get more infrequent, and you will be better equipped to cope with them when they come.


15th October 2015

Peter Anderson

As someone who is just trying to break into freelance copywriting, and self-confidence is not high on my list of skills I find Liz Jones words very comforting. Although, when one of the things you do is write a blog based on your battles with stress and a lack of self-confidence hiding your weaknesses is somewhat compromised.

19th October 2015

Andy Nattan

Some great points here Liz, that really reflect my experiences (especially about jacking in the 9-5 with no safety net).

I do have some words of encouragement though. My mate Dave made it through the entirety of BSG (I gave it up after the Starbuck debacle) and liked it enough to get a Galactica-themed tattoo. So you’re not alone!

29th October 2015

Eugene Silke

Thanks Liz for sharing those insights. For some people, owning up to even a flicker of self-doubt is an absolute no-no. But I think it’s to be respected and admired, especially when expressed in such an elegant and positive way.

2nd November 2015

Chris Kenworthy

Kudos for writing this Liz. Good points, especially the effects of social media – it’s an open invitation for comparing yourself to others, with the fatal flaw that reality on Twitter et al isn’t reality at all, it’s curated artifice.

Lack of confidence, or specifically, fear and not enough belief in oneself are what hold most people back. When I started out as a freelancer it was my biggest obstacle – not finding clients or my developing abilities, just simple belief that everything would work out in the end. And it does, work always turns up and your abilities evolve, plus I find that as I get older I realise that what other people think doesn’t matter, especially when you find your niche in the world – what you’re really good at and just concentrate on that.

My mission these days is to help new entrants to freelancing with this confidence problem which I wrote a book about called ‘The Human Freelancer’. I just wonder whether it’ll help: perhaps building confidence and learning more about yourself from each setback and success is just a journey we all have to go through?

5th December 2015

Carol Wwaterkeyn

Finally got round to reading this. I was saving it up. Your comments are really helpful, Liz, as I am going freelance again from January after 10 years in employment. Scary? Yes. Lack of confidence sometimes? Yes. But totally convinced it is the right thing to do. Bring it on …

12th April 2016

Gillian Jones

I know this is a few months later…..but this is really helpful. Great to know I’m not the only one who feels like this.

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