This post was written by TCCS member, Jody Carey
5 mantras to escape the valley of despair
The valley of despair can be a deep, dark place. Everything we know as writers can easily be undermined and challenged. How can we escape a crushing blow to our self-esteem?
As a freelancer, it’s easy to say a client wasn’t the right fit and move on. But how many times have you said, “I’ll never work with xx clients or on xx projects again”? And then you hear yourself agreeing to yet another project, often following up your “Yes” with “It will be different this time”.
Well, that was me recently. I promised myself I’d never be an employee again since becoming a freelancer 20 years ago. But as we all do sometimes, I ignored my inner voice and accepted a six-month contract, thinking it might indeed be different this time.
Confidence got the better of me. As a senior-level writer, my workflow is dialled in. And it’s only six months, so this will be easy, right?
Starting a new job or project with a new client can be really hard.
Maybe you’ve been there too. You spend the first week getting your bearings, then the next two months crying, swearing, and rewording your resignation letter twice a day. I even made a countdown calendar – five months and two weeks to go. (Never a good sign.)
I fully embrace The Clever Copywriting Community’s battle cry that you are not your copy. But this hit deeper. The momentum of my career came to a screeching halt. You know that stomach-twisting feeling when you’re always second-guessing your work and thinking every decision you make might be wrong? I had it in spades.
From freelance to employee or the other way around, the learning curve and settling-in phase can feel like a pile of weighted yuck. So here are five mantras to help you through the valley of despair.
Repeat after me…
- I’m not doing it wrong. I’m just not doing it their way.
- They need me more than I need them.
- I’m a great cook, but this ain’t my kitchen.
- I know my strengths. And my strengths define me.
- That’s not my lane. I proudly own my weaknesses.
Mantra #1: I’m not doing it wrong. I’m just not doing it their way.
The tools and techniques different clients use can make us feel unskilled and deflated. I can crank out a killer newsletter in less than an hour (thank you, MailChimp), but this time around these modern tools weren’t allowed, and I needed to create their newsletter in Word. It was like being asked to do the washing with a metal washboard and bar of lye. But they didn’t hire me to improve efficiencies. They hired me to complete the task their way.
Mantra #2: They need me more than I need them.
Companies and clients need us more than we need them. Sure, we all need money. But needing money shouldn’t lead to feeling submissive. This mantra helped me in the early months when my confidence was being ripped to shreds. My manager was kind but firm and goal driven, which made it challenging as a newbie. Rather than feeling like a cog in the wheel, I reminded myself of the value I offered and what would happen if I walked away.
It helped. But I still felt like I was doing everything wrong, and being asked to make a gourmet meal in a kitchen that had little resemblance to my own.
Mantra #3: I’m a great cook, but this ain’t my kitchen.
My confidence was crushed by the weight of a cast iron skillet. I love to cook (write) and have been cooking for decades. But this role made me feel like my decade’s worth of skill building had been washed down the drain.
It felt like being asked to make a meal I’d made a hundred times before, only this time in someone else’s kitchen using their equipment, ingredients and recipe.
You know that disoriented feeling of cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen? You end up having to open every drawer to find a spoon and every cupboard to find a bowl. It takes three times as long, and you look silly in the process.
It’s the same feeling when we start a new job or project with a new client. You’re told what to create but aren’t given their family recipe. They just want it done and leave you to figure it out.
For the first month I felt like I was working in their kitchen blindfolded. In the second month, I felt a little more comfortable, but still cooking with puffy oven mitts on. It wasn’t until the fifth month that I felt I knew their recipe well enough to serve something edible.
Through this ‘cooking’ experience, I created a list of my strengths. And whenever I felt my skills being challenged, that list of strengths grounded me.
Mantra #4: I know my strengths. And my strengths define me.
Grab a pen and list all the things you’re good at. Early in our careers it’s hard to know what we’re good at, and my advice is to give everything a go. As you gain experience, your strengths will bloom.
Let this list be your guidepost.
The job was pitched to me as a copywriting position (a skill on my list). But in reality, the job was 20% copywriting and 80% admin, which leads me to Mantra #5.
Mantra #5: That’s not my lane. I proudly own my weaknesses.
It’s impossible to be great at everything, or to enjoy every task or project. Anyone who expects you to be is delusional. The more I started owning my weaknesses in this job, the more relaxed I became. I don’t like database management, I’m not good at designing newsletters in Word, and I think Microsoft products are more complicated than they need to be. These are my weaknesses, and I own them.
From the summit of the learning curve
The view from the summit is clearer. The feeling of despair is fading, making room for the good things I got from the job – the people I met, and getting to work with a brilliant and dedicated team.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to be patient (it’s their kitchen), and to accept my weaknesses. It’s not always worth faking it until you make it. But the most important thing to remember is the heavy feeling of doubt will lift eventually. You just need to be patient.
What mantras have helped you stand tall when facing self-doubt?
Check out the Clever Copy Chats podcast to learn how other freelance copywriters handle adversity.
About Jody Carey
Jody Carey has been a member of The Clever Copywriting Community since 2017. Specialising in B2B authority-building content and long-form copywriting, she works with global brands across Australia and the United States, collaborating with other TCCC members.
Photo credit: Pixabay Henning Sorby