At a 9-5 job, it’s easy to know where you stand. There are promotions, raises and annual reviews—clear-cut milestones that provide structure and reinforcement. As a freelancer who works from home, it’s tougher to contextualize your progress. Being your own boss can be liberating—and completely confusing. In the absence of structure, it’s tempting to use other people’s achievements as a measuring stick.
Okay, I confess: guilty as charged. As a freelance writer, for a long time I felt as though I were working in a vacuum with no clear-cut guidelines or reassurance. (And I’m a Type A person, so guidelines and reassurance are two of my favorite things!) Whenever I felt adrift, I looked over my shoulder to pick apart other people’s successes. A friend just published a book? Oh no, what was I doing with my life? A former coworker just landed a huge new corporate job? Maybe I needed one, too. Cue visions of eating ramen noodles under an abandoned bridge.
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Through the years, I’ve taught myself to stop making these comparisons, and I’ve found that concrete steps work best. Sure, I can tell myself not to “measure my insides against someone else’s outsides” or that “life is a marathon, and not a sprint,” but oh, please: When you’re crashing on a deadline and someone crows on Facebook about their huge promotion, happy vibes go out the window.
On the other hand, actionable steps come in handy. Here are the eight that work for me.
1. Avoid social media first thing in the morning. It’s so easy to get lost in someone else’s narrative. The beginning of the day should be about you and your goals. When you’re inundated by other people’s noise—even if it’s happy noise—it’s that much harder to focus on your own momentum.
2. Ask questions. When you feel envious of a colleague, don’t stew in agony: Ask. Say, “Do you mind if I ask how you landed that board membership? I’m interested in doing something similar and not sure where to begin.” This will demystify their success (and chances are, they’ll be disarmed enough to offer advice).
3. Don’t measure yourself by someone else’s budget. Know how much you need to make each month and let that be your guide. It might look like someone else has a flashier job, but maybe they have to have that flashy job to support their huge mortgage or college-aged kids. Know what you need to get by, and work accordingly.
4. Update your website routinely. This isn’t just a good marketing strategy, it’s a huge ego boost. Having a place where you can actually see the fruits of your labors is hugely reassuring on days when you’re dragging.
5. Help someone else. Offering to mentor someone in your field is a generous thing to do, and it’s also a reminder that you have valuable wisdom and expertise.
6. Ask for praise. Your request needn’t be formal. A simple, “Hi! Wanted to check in about the last project we worked on. How do you think it went?” will suffice. Getting an extra jolt of reassurance will work wonders for your self-esteem. And if the feedback is mixed, the check-in still helps you appear proactive, provides a blueprint for how to improve things next time, and keeps your imagination from running wild with worse-case scenarios.
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7. Get out. Get out often. This is tough when you’re curled up on the sofa, clicking away at your laptop. When you work from home, it’s easy to get so lost in your own head—and in Facebook’s highlight reel—that you lose perspective. Give yourself a reality check. Schedule in-person meetings with clients (which can be hugely validating). Check in often with other freelancers to compare notes and swap struggles. Knowing that what you do has roots in reality will make you feel more secure.
8. Analyze why you feel the need to compare. When I’m envious, it’s usually because I haven’t been tending to my whole self. Instead, I’ve been seeing myself only through the narrow prism of work, which has natural ebbs and flows. Remembering that there’s a big, more consistent world away from my computer—with other ongoing priorities, like friends and family—helps keep the green demons at bay.
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