One of the most terrifying aspects of working for myself was knowing that I alone would be responsible for my success. After working for the government for almost a decade, I was used to seeing people (and by people I mean most of my supervisors) creating an atmosphere of weaseling out of any kind of responsibility, either for success or failure. Success almost came as a shock to them. And survival meant successfully dodging the finger pointing.
So I had a lot of conditioning to overcome just by accepting responsibility instead of using a survival technique that had more or less kept me alive for most of my working years.
- Being a freelancer, whether or not I had employees meant that I had to take the needs of others including clients, collaborators or the client’s customers into consideration. That brings in a level of selflessness that I was not used to taking on.
- Being in a position of leadership will immediately lead you to a situation where you will be criticized and scrutinized. This was the worst part for me, since I’d endured cruel verbal criticism from family members since I was a child. The biggest specter for me was the faceless critic who would think nothing of exposing me and tearing my down almost the second I put myself out there.
- That scrutiny will dig up feelings of guilt and embarrassment, feelings that are due to things that have nothing to do with what’s happening in the present.
- The cure is usually to concentrate on how you can serve others as a way to spur you out of that fear. In my case, I had spent countless hours as a teen helping other people—usually due to manipulative means on their part. So I had to retrain my brain from thinking that “helping others” meant “letting others take advantage of you.”
- On the other hand, the “Disease to Please” in which you overextend yourself trying to make each and every person on the earth happy can convince you that what you have to do has implications on an almost global scale. And such a large scale will immobilize you. Giving into the fear that you can’t please everyone (and you can’t—it’s just a fact of life) will hinder you from becoming successful. Seriously, someone will absolutely, completely hate it. Some people hate everything. If they hate your work, just consider it “normal” in that sense.
So what can you do?
Focusing on others needs really does help to keep the feeling of a blinding spotlight on you. Even if you’re confronted with complaints, if you know deep down that someone’s needs are being met, then you can rest in the knowledge that your hard work benefited someone.
In my case, I found that doing volunteer work with very clear boundaries helped me to concentrate on others needs without feeling taken advantage of.
So what about Scrutiny?
Jeez, I really think that this is the worst part of this fear. We’re become a gossiping and judging society. How many times have we seen some anonymous audience member on a talk show jump up on judge a guest? Oprah may have left that format years ago, but it’s made is all into armchair psychologists.
Even worse, entertainment networks allow us all to pick apart successful celebrities like vultures. As soon as some young actress gets a few roles and dares to show up on a red carpet, you can bet Joan Rivers and Juliana Rancic will show up to pick them apart with catty and mean spirited remarks. Come ON, they showed up in public, so that’s a license to criticize them, right? They asked for it.
I’ve got to confess that this is one that I’ve really struggled with. For me, taking responsibility for something so close to my heart means a level of vulnerability that I’m still not completely comfortable with. The family I grew up in made an Olympic sport out of refusing to take responsibility for their behavior, and I’ve had social anxiety that makes me NOT willing to be exposed in a public way for a failure or a shortcoming.
So just by being an entrepreneur and posting my writing on a public forum, I’m going totally against my childhood conditioning. Just by doing what I’m doing, I’m saying an empathetic no to what I’ve been taught and what I feel. Every time I do the smallest thing—like contacting a client for a freelance assignment, or even saying “excuse me” for elbowing someone in a store, I feel like I’m being successful in working on this fear.
Previously in the series: