Wednesday, April 21, 2010

All you need is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.
Mark Twain

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Surviving a failure gives you more self-confidence. Failures are great learning tools.
Jeffrey Immelt

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Join Me for Some Free Coaching

Spring is a good time for renewal. Why not consider renewing your career:

If you're in or around San Francisco, I'll be offering free speed coaching at the Journalism Innovations Conference on Saturday, May 1 from noon to 4:45 p.m.

Here's how it works:
  • Register for the conference, which is being held at the University of San Francisco
  • Sign up in them morning (Saturday) for a slot with a coach.
  • Ask for me when you sign up.
  • Bring your biggest career questions or even a query.
We'll only get 15 minutes, but you'll get some one-on-one advice and direction. And I'd love to meet you!

Photo by stylianosm.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

You have to pretend you're 100 percent sure. You have to take action; you can't hesitate or hedge your bets. Anything less will condemn your efforts to failure.
Andrew Grove

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-= Bruce Berrien =-.

Friday, April 16, 2010

30-Day Confidence-Building Challenge: Confidence killer #2 Isolation

Last week, I wrote about how comparing ourselves to other writers makes us miserable and is the fastest way to kill our confidence.

Today, let's talk about another confidence-killer: Isolation.

It's an occupational hazard: If you're self-employed, you're spending a lot of time by yourself. And if you're lucky, you're spending a lot of that time working. But there's the rub: Especially if you're newly self-employed, you've got more time than work, and that alone time, with all those doubts and insecurities nagging at you can wear you down to the point where you're doubting everything:
  • Doubting your skills ("Everyone else out there has more talent/more tech skills/is younger/better connected than me")
  • Doubting your ideas ("Everyone else out there probably has better story ideas and it's easier for them to generate them.")
Before not too long, you find yourself doubting your career path ("Everyone else has always been focused/knows what they're doing/is going to be more successful than me") and then to your very place in life ("Everyone else knows what they're doing with their lives. Oh my God, what am I doing with my life?!?").

And bingo: Paralysis.

No work is getting done. No queries are being sent. No effort is being made to find new clients or expand your creativity. How could it? You've decided it's all pointless.

And you're certainly not talking to other freelancers about your doubts, because you've already convinced yourself that everyone else has it all figured out/has it all together/is wildly successful, while you slowly decompensate into a mass of quivering insecurity.

So how do you cope with the fear, especially when being alone is a part of the job?

Here are a few ideas, and please share your own in the comments:

Go to writers' events
I know they're scary. I know you feel awkward. I know you don't know any of them, but that's the point. You have to get out there and meet freelancers and build a network of other creative professionals you relate to and you can call. Don't go with making the goal of getting work. Go with the goal of meeting other creative types and trying to find out about social get-togethers, potential co-working set-ups and people you might want to have lunch with and talk shop.

Get an action buddy
Now that you've met some people, start asking them if they'd be up for. Tell them what you have in mind: Daily or weekly phone check-ins on your progress and how you're doing. The key is that both of you need to participate. That way, you'll hear the struggles of another writer and be reminded, perhaps daily, that you're not the only one with those doubts.

Join a writer's group
I've suggested this before, but I'll tell you that it's my lifeline. Getting together with a group of freelancers and talking about successes and challenges, and checking in on goals gives me a built-in place where I can talk about my doubts. It also reminds me that everyone has doubts, that everyone struggles. It's incredibly freeing.

Have lunch
Whether you meet them through writers events, Facebook or other organizations, you'll inevitably find freelancers who might want to get out of the house regularly and meet face-to-face with a real-life human being. Get together. Have lunch. Make a goal of doing it once a month, and you'll be out of your house and away from those running thoughts more often.

The key is to interrupt those spiraling fear thoughts.

How do you break the isolation and the downward spiral?

Photo by chad_k.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It has often and confidently been asserted, that man's origin can never be known: Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
Charles Darwin

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Monday, April 12, 2010

30-Day Confidence-Building Challenge: Confidence at conferences

I don't know what it is about April: It's tax month and it's the month of conferences and reunions. This month alone is the American Society for Journalists and Authors conference, the Association of Health Care Journalists conference, the Power of Narrative Conference (the replacement of the Neiman conference), and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

It's enough to make your head spin and your stomach lurch with a whole season's worth of butterflies.

For us freelancers, conferences can be something of a culture shock. We go from working alone in front of our computers (with occasional forays out to interview people in real life) to being at a hotel surrounded by dozens to hundreds of other writers and editors. We go from working in casual clothes to having to wear "fancy" clothes--that is, professional attire.

Suddenly we have to make small talk. We feel the pressure to network--and most of us haven't a clue what that actualy means. And if we want to get anything at all out of a conference, we have to speak up, ask questions and join in the debate.

For most of us, that can be overwhelming. Here are some ways to bolster your conference confidence:

Think before you go

I don't mean "think twice before you go to a conference." It's my experience that conferences can energize your work and renew your commitment to it. By all means, go. What I do mean is that before you see a single person at the conference, come up with two pieces of information you can roll off your tongue when the time is right.

Summary of your work
When someone asks you, "What kind of journalism do you do? Who do you write for?" you need to have an answer. As freelancers, sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that what we're doing isn't enough, and when people ask, we say, "Oh, I'm just a freelancer." Banish that from your vocabulary. Instead, think about the kind of journalism you love to do--your best work, your goals and aspirations--and come up with a mission statement you can tell writers and editors when they ask.

Something like, "I write about a lot of things, but my favorite subjects to cover are health and real estate. I especially enjoy writing about chronic illnesses and how people cope with them."

Whatever it is, know what you love. And share it readily. A happy freelancer is an attractive freelancer.

What you're working on
Sometimes this question can flummox us. Either we're embarrassed because, again, we don't think what we're doing measures up, or we don't think what we're doing now represents what we can do. In essence, we feel inadequate and may shy away from the question.

There's no need. I can tell you that as a newspaper reporter, I covered a lot of dogs of stories: Late night planning commission meetings, bake sales, etc. It wasn't my best work, but it was part of my job. Everyone understands that. Freelancers are no different. What makes us professional is that we don't always love every part of our jobs, but we still do it.

So think about what you've been working on lately: It counts. Think about one or two stories you've worked on in the recent past that you were excited about and talk about those.

"I just finished a story on how the healthcare reform package will affect working class people in my state." Or, "I just finished a story on needle phobias in kids with hemophilia," sounds interesting, whether the person you're talking to knows much about hemophilia or healthcare reform or not. All they want to know is, "Are you doing work?" and "Do I have anything in common with you?"

Look for connections

And that's the whole point. Conferences are a great place to have the water-cooler chats we don't often get to have as freelancers. I remember going to a conference last April and having a great time talking to other freelancers about the frustrations of trying to reach doctors, or the general health insurance system, etc. I shared my own personal experience as well as mentioning stories I wrote on the subject.

Many months later, one of the freelancers I was talking to about it emailed and asked if I would take over a story for her, since she had a family tragedy. It wasn't calculated on my part to get an assignment--and I would prefer not to get assignments under such circumstances--but still, it happened because I was open about my experience and background.

Take it easy

The main thing I found at the conferences I've attended is to remember that being around that many people for that many hours is exhausting. I gave myself permission to leave the cocktail hours early if I needed to--though I made myself face my fears and go to them in the first place--and visited the hotel gym. I got in my exercise to keep myself feeling balanced, and I realized that I needed to just be myself.

You know, mom always said it and it's true--but when you're insecure it's hard to believe it. You don't have to go to a conference prepared to tap-dance for your colleagues or potential clients. You can be yourself, and trust that your professional interest in the topic (that's why you're there, after all) and your general friendliness (you're a reporter--you're used to talking to people) will shine through.

Be in your body

You don't have to be "on" all the time. If you don't feel like smiling, don't smile. If you don't feel up for chatting, don't chat. But at least put yourself in the position to enjoy yourself. Go to the cocktail hours. Maybe talk to one person. If that's all you do, that's a success.

The key, to me, is to stay in your body. When I get very nervous, I err on the side of trying to see myself through the eyes of the person I'm talking to. It's a bad habit and only serves to make me more nervous. After all, when I do that, I start thinking that how that person sees me is more important than how I see myself. But when I stay in my body and check in with myself--how am I feeling? Am I tired? Hungry? Overtaxed? Excited? Engaged?--and then act accordingly, I don't have to worry how the other person sees me. I'm taking care of myself. I'm only doing what I feel comfortable with.

It's a huge relief. And for me, it built my confidence to speak more, to talk to more people, and to know that when I was done, I could go back to my room.

Enjoy your conferences!

Photo by AndyRob.

Friday, April 9, 2010

I have learned this at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endevours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
--Henry David Thoreau

Photo by Rich Moffitt.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

30-Day Confidence-Building Challenge: Try, try again

This is an oldy but goodie: Maya Angelou reciting her poem, "And Still I Rise."

The point for this challenge is that there are always second, third and fourth chances--whether you mess up, whether you could have done it better. So get up this morning and try again. And rise.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

30-Day Confidence-Building Challenge: Confidence Killer #1 Comparison

During this challenge, I'll be giving you lots of hints for how to boost your confidence--ways to focus on what works.

But before you can focus on what works, you have to let go of things that don't work.

So I'm aiming to do one post a week targeting confidence killers--those behaviors we don't even realize we're doing that are undermining our professional confidence.

Today's confidence killer? Comparison.

I see this every day. Almost every time I talk to a new freelancer, she's mired under a metaphorical pile of magazine articles and newspaper articles that are Better Than Her:
  • That writer over there is nominated for a National Magazine Award.
  • This writer has been published in Big Name Publication.
  • This other writer is prolific--so much more prolific than I.
It goes on and on. Some writers are so hampered by this comparison thing that they spend hours in the name of "research" looking at other writers' Web sites, or following one writer's byline. There's an easy way to understand this, at least with many women: How many times have you found yourself comparing your body to someone else's? Don't you imagine that other woman's love life is better, her life easier, because of her body? If you asked her, I'd be willing to bet she has the same problems as the rest of us.

Regardless of whether the struggle is bodies or bylines, with every minute spent, you feel further and further away from your goals. Chances are that the goal isn't really to be published in this magazine or that--though that's always appealing. This magazine or that award is a symbol--just like having a certain body is a symbol. It represents the life you'd like to have: You'd like to have happy relationships and respect, and you think the body is a way to get there. It certainly seems easier than learning relationship skills and making mistakes and being assertive enough to correct people when they treat you poorly.

Likewise, this award or that byline is a symbol for doing the kind of work that feeds your soul and fills your bank account. Fixating on this publication or that award is a sign that we're getting professional success, that we've burned through some of our fear and are realizing our true creative potential. That's what we really want, deep down.

That crazy voice in the back of our heads (Seth Godin would call it the lizard brain. Steven Pressfield would call it The Resistance) gets louder and louder, informing us that that other writer has some essential spark we lack.

It's exhausting and keeps us further and further away from trying.

This tendency exists completely separate from reality. I can let myself get into this mode if I'm in a certain frame of mind and pick up a New Yorker. I think, "I'll never meet my goal. I should just give up. I should stay where I'm at now. Best not to risk it and humiliate myself."

The ironic thing is that looking at me from the outside you wouldn't expect it: I went to the best journalism school in the country. I have years under my belt working for newspapers. I've won a few awards. I've been supporting myself as a freelancer for years.

There's an old saying, "Don't compare your insides to someone else's outsides."

But I actually would take that one step further: Don't compare your own insides to your own outsides.

Because chances are that your work intimidates someone else. Chances are that someone else looks at you and says, "I could never do that!"

Believe it.

The fact is that we are forward-looking. We're ambitious. Which often means that as soon as we've accomplished something, we disregard how hard it was, how much of a risk it was to try, and what courage and confidence it took to do it.

So try this, when you find yourself seeking into compare-and-despair:

Make a ta-da list.
Sit down and make a list of all the things you've accomplished--today, this week, etc. Include things like sleeping enough and being kind when you were irritable. Include showing up for your job. Include one risk you took.

I know it sounds beyond New Agey and ridiculous. But you need facts to counteract what your crazy doom-and-gloom voice is laying on you. You need to remember that you have accomplished things--maybe more than you ever really expected.

Step away from the computer.
... or the newspaper or the magazine. If you're in that frame of mind where you're feeling insecure and comparing your accomplishments to someone else's, no amount of reading or muscling through will help. Take a break and come back to it after the ta-da list, after you've renewed your confidence.

Talk to other writers.
This touches on another tip I'll be giving next week, but you need to run your doom-and-gloom voice past others in your field. Ask them: Do you ever feel this way? You'll be surprised to learn that even the most accomplished writers are insecure and worry about reaching the heights for which they strive.

Then, when you're done: Try. Just try. Do one small thing that's intimidating and then give yourself credit.

Photo by Marc Lippe.

Monday, April 5, 2010

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I can take the next thing that comes along.'
--Eleanor Roosevelt

Photo by Kables.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Become a Facebook Fan!

God bless Facebook.

It's the security blanket of many a procrastinating, insecure freelancer. I've got hundreds of fabulous freelancers on my Facebook page, and we talk about everything from gearing up to write that 6,000 word article to the weird press releases we receive (I got one from the American Association of Nude Recreation the other day--seriously) to kvetching about late payments.

But it's also a place to get inspiration. I'd love to share more of my inspiration with you on there. So become a fan of Serenity for the Self-Employed on Facebook and get updates on this blog, upcoming events and links to news articles and videos pertinent to your freelancing sanity.

All right there, along with status updates on your friends' kids, video clips from The Daily Show and links to The Onion.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

30-Day Confidence-Building Challenge: Quiet the Lizard Brain

Seth Godin: Quieting the Lizard Brain from 99% on Vimeo.

For your weekend enjoyment, check out this longish video of marketing expert Seth Godin. You may have heard a lot about him this year. He's the newest guru. But ignore that. For our purposes, Godin talks about something very important in terms of building confidence: Quieting the fear.

Now, confident people aren't free of fear. That's a myth. You can know this is true because you probably look confident from the outside, too. But on the inside? Fearful, insecure, doubtful and future-focused. Among other things. Godin's talking about something that increases serenity tremendously. He's talking about not muscling through the fear, not ignoring it, but acknowledging it, and then doing the work anyway.

That's how you gain confidence. And that's how you send your brilliant work out into the world. And that's how your work becomes better so you can become the writer you want to be.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.
--Rita Mae Brown

Photo by notsogoodphotography.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

30-Day Confidence Building Challenge: Professional confidence is a work in progress

Confidence imparts a wonderful inspiration to its possessor.
--John Milton

To start this challenge I want to do something that's kind of arrogant: I want to question the esteemed Mr. Milton.

Now, I'm sure it's true. And I know it to be true personally. When I'm confident in my work, I'm more inspired, I'm freed up, I'm on fire.


Here's the thing: When I started freelancing, I thought I had to be confident before I sent the query, made the phone call, brainstormed story ideas. I was obsessed with what the editor would think on the other end of the email and what the source would think on the other end of the phone call. I needed them to choose me. I needed for them to hire me so I could get the confidence.

And since I believed that I had to be confident first, I was stuck. Paralyzed.

I see this with my clients all the time. Especially freelancers who are new to journalism, but also freelancers who've been in the industry for years, we believe that confidence is a prerequisite. We don't understand that you get the confidence by doing the work.

That's what this challenge is all about. With all due respect to Mr. Milton, it might be easier to be inspired when you're confident, but you can find your way to inspiration and action before the confidence kicks in. Then, by doing the work, by doing the thing you're scared of, your confidence grows. Then you get assignments. Then inspiration comes a little easier.

So I want to challenge you for the next 30-days to consider the possibility that confidence isn't an essential state. You aren't either born confident or your screwed. You gain confidence by doing things you didn't think you could.

You gain confidence by:
  • Querying a market you've always dreamed of querying. (It's nice when they email you back.)
  • Writing up the query for the story you've been dreaming of writing for three years.
  • Walking up and introducing yourself to the editor at the conference.
  • Having lunch with that freelancer who intimidates you, to whom you're convinced you could never compare.
What you find is that the editor, the freelancer and the person on the other end of the email are just people. You find that you can do things you didn't think you could. You change your mind about yourself. You aren't stuck and paralyzed.

You're inspired.

Photo by
J.J. Verhoef.