Fear and the Freelancer

Freelancers make a basic decision before they ever open the door:  What the core principles and values will be that holds up the company.  You use the same principles you use for your personal life. When you own the business, it takes on your fingerprints.

Some of the values were easy for me to choose when I began: Be honest. Be fair. Ask before you

Fear is never a silent partner, accept it and will own your business.

spend the client’s money. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen.

Then came the giant one: no fear. Do not make business decisions out of fear. Don’t make any decision out of fear.

It’s hard to keep that one. I had made business decisions based in fear for a long time–fear of my boss, fear of not being perfect, fear of being talked about behind my back, fear of people disliking me, fear of getting fired. And it was that fear that made me a lousy corporate employee. So, on my own, I decided–no fear. I decided to stand and deliver my best or turn down the business. Sounds easier than it is.

There are plenty of things to be afraid of when you own your business–not making a profit, getting underbid, outperformed and over cautious. But fear was the big “Aha!” in my business life.

A decision based on fear is frequently loaded with other weak motives. Revenge, neediness, lack of control. If you take fear off the table, you get a different picture.

“What if my competition underbids me?” Became “How much do I need to earn to make a fair profit and do the job well?” If it costs me $10,000 to do the job, and I underbid on purpose and then get the job for $8,000, I am not getting an $8,000 job, I’m losing $2,000. That’s fear.

“I hate Client X, she’s always blaming me for her own mistakes.” I can choose
to work with Client X and be clear on responsibilities or I can pass on the job. But if I continue to let her blame me for her own mistakes, I’m letting fear make my decisions. At the end of the job, she’ll either blame me anyway or I won’t respect myself for taking on blame that isn’t mine.

Fear undermines us. It justifies bad behavior. It is the road to the collapse of self-respect. I can’t live my life without fear, but there are a million great reasons to make decisions and always one lousy one–I did it because I was scared.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. (c) 2009-2010 Image: © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. No additional use without express permission of the artist.


6 thoughts on “Fear and the Freelancer

  1. I try hard not to make decisions out of fear. I’m learning to let hope run my life, not fear.

    But yes, calligraf, I’ve been in that world of no fear and been a lousy employee, too. It did however make me a really good consultant, because I wasn’t afraid to tell companies what their real problems were. ;^)

    And once I had the reputation and was hired into the company, that worked pretty well. I even got my manager into management training classes after I wrote him a scathing review. But far too many companies limit themselves by creating an environment of fear and letting bad bosses ruin the business. It’s pretty sad.

    • Yep, that’s why I’m a consultant, too. I can say I don’t know, I can say, “This is how I see it–Joe X and Mary Y need training or they won’t be able to Z.” But when a company offers to hire me, I can’t do it. It’s the ABC/XYZ syndrome, which I’ve written about on this blog. Insiders think consultants are experts. Insiders think their own employees, whom they hired because they were smart, are not smart anymore. I’ll stay a consultant.

  2. So very true.

    I note that refusing to do things out of fear is another reason for being a lousy corporate employee. Perhaps there’s no way to win in that world?


    • You can win in the corporate world if you are and extrovert who is also very good at taking orders, good at giving praise with an excellent sense of timing (including to your boss) working in large groups (and doing the work that others don’t want), managing up AND down. Big plus if you are also very charismatic, charming and having excellent social skills including knowing the politics game. Not so good if you are introverted, a focused worker who hates interruptions and shifting priorities, think that hard work is more important than going to corporate events and being seen with the right people at the right time, are a bit awkward and refuse to gossip. It doesn’t help if you don’t suffer fools gladly and are still below the Senior VP level.

      • I haven’t found the corporate world quite that bad. But my sample is pretty skewed; I’ve generally been on the engineering side of computer hardware and software companies, where politics and interpersonal skills don’t count for everything.

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