Be my freelancing cheerleader. I'm broke and paralyzed by anxiety.
January 14, 2014 11:19 PM   Subscribe

I was laid off from my video production job about a year and a half ago. I wasn't too sad to see it go because I really wanted to freelance. I wasn't getting paid enough in that job to have savings, but I had unemployment for a few months, and figured that could see me through bulking up my portfolio and getting some clients. I did find some regular work and have built up good relationships that I hope turn into more, but in the mean time, I am so broke. I volunteer with several organizations and go to events, so I keep telling myself that if I just hold on a little longer, it'll get better. But when I sit down to work on marketing or personal projects that show off what I can do, I freeze up with anxiety.

Some of this is the normal fear that comes with cold calling and putting yourself out there, but it does spiral out of control. I've seen a therapist in the past, and have a great relationship with her. I would be back there in an instant if I could afford to pay for it. I've been working on exercising, but even after a run, I sit down at my computer and get all tight and panicky. If it's a good day, I'll read content-farmed business advice and pretend I'm learning something useful. If it's a bad day, I seek out entertainment or do nothing but freak out.

I'm pretty good at what I do (my past boss and clients have all been happy with my work), but I feel that my online presence is lacking. I have had to make my own website because I have no money, and I'm not super proud about sending people there. I also have taken a bunch of low-paying, not great gigs to get by, so when people ask me what I have going on, I start to downplay the work. At this point, the projects I'm most proud of are from two years ago and getting a little stale to keep pushing.

I do have some independent projects I'm excited about, but because they don't directly make money, I don't really get anything done with them. The problem is that is that I start to believe that the real reason I'm broke is because I actually suck at everything. If I were good, I would make more money. I become sure that when I finally finish work I truly care about, everyone will see how much it sucks and I will be sad forever. I'll have to spend the rest of my life knowing that I am a total failure and an embarrassment to everyone who ever loved me. I've had a good education and some family help, so the fact that I'm still struggling is a sign that I am inadequate as a human and broadcasting my business is only broadcasting how terrible I am.

I have a lovely partner who tells me I'm good and keeps me fed, but he doesn't make enough to cover my debt and rent and he doesn't really relate to what it's like to be crippled by anxiety. He keeps telling me that it's temporary, and that I'm getting more and more recognition and that it will be better soon. Deep down, I know he's right, but the path from here to there is overwhelming.

Intellectually, I know that really, this isn't that bad in the long run. Though I have debt, it is still in the 4-digit range and barring any major illness, I'm on track to get it handled before it gets truly insurmountable. I'm not a great business owner, but I definitely have the theory down on marketing, and am actually really good at in-person networking. I have support, I have dedication and I have the skills to be in a more stable place, but my anxiety is holding me back. I would love to get some proper help, but it's at least a few months off. I'll get it sooner if I can get around this hurdle and just promote myself.

So, anyone have a good strategies or non-bullshitty resources for keeping anxiety in check? I know the basics, but they're failing me right now. In writing this, I can see that a huge problem is how much I've linked income to my sense of self-worth, so I would be particularly stoked to read some good counter-arguments to that line of thought. I don't worry too much about status symbols, but my shoes are really worn out, and my bike is badly in need of repair, and it's hard not to feel like a failure when I can't afford a $40 pair of sneakers cause I'm struggling to make rent.

Thanks in advance!
posted by ohisee to Work & Money (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
he doesn't really relate to what it's like to be crippled by anxiety.

But I know what it's like to be crippled by anxiety, yay! Not about work though, and I am sure you will get great advice about work, so I will just give you my general thoughts on anxiety as they relate to your situation.

I find that anxiety feeds on itself. I also find that many unhealthy strategies for "coping" with anxiety lead to anxiety in and of themselves. I find that really small baby steps help. And I find that the worst time to think about everything you need to do is when you are in the grip of an anxiety attack or a really strong episode.

It sounds like your way of coping with anxiety is avoidance of putting yourself out there, or when it gets bad, even taking any of the steps towards putting yourself out there. My way of coping is to start sleeping less and not eating. Guess what the #1 and #2 things usually are that have the biggest impact on my anxiety level? Yes, the amount and quality of sleep and food I have gotten. Once I get into an unhealthy cycle, it makes my anxiety worse and it's harder and harder to get out. Similarly, the more you avoid your work because you are embarrassed and ashamed, the more anxiety it creates because it's been longer and longer since the work you are proud of, money is running down more, and so on.

I think it's good to get to the root of why your income is so strongly linked to your sense of self-worth, and it would be great if you got some answers giving you insight into that. In the meantime though, it's enough for you to know THAT it does create anxiety for you. I don't know that I will ever not have an anxiety disorder. But I do know that I need to eat. I can't wait until I have no anxiety disorder anymore to start eating. I need to do my best to set things up that I don't run into problems (e.g., make sure the food I want is on hand). But ultimately I need to go ahead and do it regardless. So for you, it may help to kind of accept a shift of perspective - I don't expect to feel good about this when I do it. I expect to feel shame, embarrassment, worry, and anxiety. It won't change anytime soon, so I need to go ahead and do it while feeling all those things, because if I don't, it will only perpetuate a cycle for me that is even harder to get out of.
posted by cairdeas at 11:41 PM on January 14, 2014

You are not alone! I'm going through some similar things right now. If you like, we can correspond by MeFiMail and bolster each other. One of my anxiety strategies is reaching out to others and knowing that I am not alone. Here are some others:

-I keep a journal in which I write down all my thoughts and feelings when I'm going through hard times. I've been keeping it consistently for about six months and it has really helped. I periodically read through it to see how far I've come.

-I give myself "vacations" from thinking about things when I can, by taking a couple of hours to "pretend it doesn't exist." For example, when I was in a difficult relationship, I would go off by myself to a museum or hang out with friends and pretend I didn't have a boyfriend.

-I'm working on a new way of handling anxiety, which is to admit that I have it. This isn't the same as asking everyone for advice or being needy. It's just admitting it and accepting it about myself. People respond really positively to this.

-I psych myself up into confident moods by pretending I really am that professional, together person I want to be, and while I'm riding the mood I make the call or write the email to a professional connection.

-I am planning to start using mindmapping software to sort out my anxieties. There are a lot of free programs online; Google can help you find one if it interests you. (My thoughts get tangled and hard to prioritize when I'm anxious).

-I go to therapy. I found free counseling. MeFiMail me and let me know your location and I can try to help you find something free or low-cost. Mine is through a local church, but I've had it through universities as well, from students working a practicum. Despite less experience, these were some of the best counselors I've ever had--they're enthusiastic, mentored, and exposed to the latest research in their classes.

-I have a spiritual practice which helps give me peace of mind.

Thanks for posting this question.
posted by Rainflower at 2:50 AM on January 15, 2014

I can only relate to part of what you're saying, but I'd suggest the following:

With regard to -I psych myself up into confident moods by pretending I really am that professional, together person I want to be, and while I'm riding the mood I make the call or write the email to a professional connection.

...I can't recommend that highly enough. As part of my job I've deceived people into believing I'm something I'm not, that I'm permitted in locations I shouldn't be allowed in, and so on ( with permission to test security controls around those areas I should add ). The most effective way of convincing others is to convince yourself, and the more effective way to convince yourself is to treat it as a role... "what would a confident person say in this situation?", "how would a confident person approach this issue?"... that quickly develops into "what should I say in this situation?" and "how should I approach this issue?"

Also I become sure that when I finally finish work I truly care about, everyone will see how much it sucks and I will be sad forever. I'll have to spend the rest of my life knowing that I am a total failure and an embarrassment to everyone who ever loved me.

...I know what you mean, and this is so common I'm sure it has a proper name like "Completion Fear" or somesuch. I'd say that...

- Read up on Imposter Syndrome. While you're worried that "I won't get there" whereas Imposter Syndrome suffers have "I shouldn't be here", it will hopefully reassure you how poor humans in general are at being successful and that your anxiety is in no way specific to you.

- You don't suck at everything. No-one sucks at everything, but judging by your vocabulary and the way you write and think you're obviously smart, and I'm especially sure you're good at something, it's just a case of finding out what it is.

- As a career choice ( opposed to being for your own benefit ) it's up to other people to decide if you suck at video production or not, the only way they can determine that is if you finish some pieces of work. So finish some pieces ( pick a piece at random if necessary and work on it solely until you complete it or hit an insurmountable block ), get a decent amount of feedback from a variety of sources, ( trust neither the first nor the loudest, and look to other creators rather than critics ) and take it from there. If, which will be a genuine surprise, you somehow suck at video production, then you've already got marketing and networking skills for options...

...but even though I've only known you for seven or so paragraphs, I'm pretty confident you're good at video production, please post when you're obviously successful.
posted by DancingYear at 4:49 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Marketing yourself is tough, I hate doing it. It's always easier when you can get someone else to do it for you.

When it comes to your website and the copy, maybe you can make a trade with a small marketing agency or someone similar you know. You provide them with some free video production for themselves or one of their clients (bonus portfolio work) and they make your website/branding/copy for you. I ran a small agency and did several of these barters with people we knew in the industry.
posted by dripdripdrop at 7:14 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had my own business for several years and can be an anxious person. This has helped me:

- Commit to spending 15 minutes doing the scary thing, such as sending out cold emails, and then reward yourself with 30 minutes of less-scary work, such as reading about how to market yourself or editing a project. Take a 15 minute exercise break (jumping jacks! sunlight!) and repeat.

The main point is to NOT think, "I have to do it all right now! And perfectly! or I'm a failure!"

Also, it helps a ton to not be ashamed of your web site. There are a lot of ready-made portfolio sites out there that look good, and all you have to do is upload some samples and some text, so you might look into that.

You might also try building your portfolio with short projects. Try providing several snippets of projects that a customer might hire you to do rather than showing just a few super-perfect impressive things. Customers can have trouble extrapolating. If they see in your portfolio a project like the one they're considering, they'll be more likely to hire you.

I guarantee that the real reason you're broke is that you're having trouble marketing yourself. Successful service providers often don't have knock-your-socks-off talent. They're the ones who are easy to work with, responsive, and deliver on time -- and who market themselves.
posted by ceiba at 8:08 AM on January 15, 2014

At the core it seems that you're having difficulty relating to the work you've done. It's hard to sell yourself if that's the case. Your past work shows that you are a legitimate Pro. People exchange money for your work. That's social proof. If you have a few recognizable names in your work past you're ok. That's a hurdle that many people have allot of trouble crossing. You have that. Use the names of recognizable clients in your marketing. If the work sucks, or is stale you don't need to show it. All you need is the social proof.

I'm not sure what part of production that you've been involved with. But for the most part it's a team sport and unless you're a jack of all trades videographer it's unlikely that the final product was 100% you. If you can't take 100% credit, is it fair that you take 100% responsibility for the final product? It's pretty normal for creative people to be unhappy with the work they have done. I used to not be able to watch when things I worked on were on TV. All I would see was the things that bugged me.

I do think that the maxim "you are only as good as your last job" is a partial truth. You only look as good as your last job. You are potentially so much better, but most people have an impossible time imagining the work you are capable of. That's why you need to work on your own work. Read "the war of art" if you're having resistance to getting moving on this.

My experience on staff and as a freelancer is that it is always feast or famine in the business. Money isn't predictable. Try to unplug your self-worth from it (easy for me to say, not do) if you can.
posted by jade east at 8:49 AM on January 15, 2014

I'm not sure how often people come back to read these, but I've come back to this post a few times since I wrote it and am still so appreciative of the comments.

I've since run a successful KickStarter to work on a project I really care about, and it has been so good to be able to talk about that project and show off our progress so far. I'm still wishing it could take off a little more, but it's so much better.

Thanks again!
posted by ohisee at 12:35 AM on July 30, 2014

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