How to Avoid the Freelance Comparison Trap

Sep 12, 2016

My encounters with that nasty comparison trap always start innocently enough. I’ll be scrolling through Twitter or reading through a few different articles I have stashed in my Pocket account. But, being that I’m a writer, my eyes almost always skim through the headline and then dart directly to that byline.

Whether I see the name of someone I recognize or a person I’ve never heard of before, I usually find myself overcome with an overwhelming sense of jealousy.

How did she get published here? Should I be writing here? Her career must be doing so much better than mine.

It’s irrational—believe me, I know. After all, I can’t write everything. I can’t monopolize the freelance market. And, as a matter of fact, I don’t want to write everything. The fact that there are writers out there who are interested in digging into the intricacies of politics or the latest happenings in the tech world (those are of no interest to me, thank you very much) is really a good thing for my career.

But, those logical and level-headed thoughts are often drowned out by that nagging little voice in my head that always likes to say, “You should be doing more. You should be doing better.”

I think comparison is a dangerous trap regardless of what career path you find yourself following. But, it becomes especially apparent when you’re trying to make your way as a freelancer. It’s a competitive industry, after all.

I hear from so many people who are looking at venturing off on their own, but find themselves paralyzed by fear. They’re so wrapped up in what other successful freelancers have accomplished, they feel overwhelmed. Rather than thinking, “What do I need to do to achieve that same level of success?” they tell themselves, “I’ll simply never reach that level.”

Comparison is the thief of joy, especially when it comes to #freelancing. Here's how to avoid it: Click To Tweet

Well, needless to say, I think this is a pretty common problem—and, it’s not a trap I want you to fall into, dear friends. So, today, I’m exploring a few actionable strategies you can use to avoid that nasty comparison trap and focus on doing your best work—for you, and for nobody else.

I implement all of these tips and tactics myself. Because, like I said above, those moments when I beat myself up and measure my own success against someone else’s happen way more frequently than I’d like to admit. Real talk.

How to Avoid the Comparison Trap

1. Develop a collaboration over competition mentality.

Freelancing is competitive—there are no ifs, ands, or buts about that. And, I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. But, rather than letting that amount of competition freeze you in your tracks, why not use it for good?

What do I mean? Well, those freelancers who seem to have endless big-name bylines under their belts—the ones that you admire and cyber-stalk day in and day out—could all serve as an awesome resource to you. Obviously, they have some powerful insider insights into what it takes to achieve success in the industry. So, it’s in your best interest to stop viewing them as competition, and instead view them as untapped resources.

So, what’s your best bet here? It’s simple: Start reaching out to these people. Send them a friendly Tweet. Comment on one of their articles or blog posts. Send them an email. Or, connect on LinkedIn.

Do what you can to get a conversation rolling, and you’ll establish a beneficial relationship with someone who can help you become even better at what you do. See? Competition isn’t really all bad.

Comparison Trap

2. Channel your envy into motivation.

Let’s stick with the “using your jealousy for good” trend, shall we? All too often, I think it’s way easier to allow your feelings of inferiority to stop you right where you are. You become too afraid to even put yourself out there for new opportunities, because you immediately convince yourself that they won’t play out for you the way they did for that other person.

However, don’t stop before you even start. Instead, use that person’s success as your own motivation.

If you see he or she has been published in an outlet you’ve been dreaming about, perhaps this is your indicator that you should go ahead and pitch! If a fellow freelancer just shared an awesome new online portfolio she built, maybe that’s the nudge you need to finally get started on your own.

Whatever it is, do your best to let other people’s successes inspire and motivate you—not serve as discouragement. Remember, someone else’s success does not equal your failure.

3. Set personal milestones.

Let’s talk about marathon runners for a minute, because they’re always my favorite example for cases just like this. And, no, I’m no marathon runner myself—I can barely drive 26.2 miles without getting tired.

But, my own lack of athleticism aside, think about the way they approach each run. Most of them aren’t setting out to win the whole thing. No, instead they’re aiming to just cross the finish line—and, in most cases, beat their own personal best time. They don’t concern themselves with who’s in front of them and who’s behind them. They place all of their emphasis on their personal bests.

You can apply this very same philosophy to the way you approach your freelance career. And, the best way to do so is by setting personal objectives and goals—not based on what other people have accomplished, but what you personally would like to complete.

Regardless of what those goals are, they should serve as your roadmap when navigating your freelance life. They’re a surefire way to stay focused on your own ambitions, and not let your vision be clouded by what everybody else is doing.

4. Celebrate your own success.

Let’s face it—sometimes we get so wrapped up in what everybody else is succeeding at, we neglect to ever recognize our own accomplishments.

Trust me, I’m sure you’ve already achieved some great things in your freelance career, regardless of where you are in your journey. Maybe you established a business entity or finally got your website up and running. Or, perhaps you scored a byline with an outlet that was always a mere pipe dream for you.

The point remains the same: Don’t let your brain become so filled with all of those things that other people are accomplishing, that you never actually press the pause button and take time to throw a little dance party for your own wins—no matter how small they might seem. Celebrating is important!

Over to You

I know that competition and measuring yourself against other people is inevitable—it’s basically human nature. But, there’s a big difference between expected and productive.

Luckily, now you know that you really can use that envy and unavoidable comparison trap to your advantage. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely doable.

So, it’s time for a little homework. I want you to take this information and accomplish two different things:

  1. Set three personal goals for freelance-related things you’d like to accomplish in the next month. Whether that’s pitching a certain number of outlets or finally getting your accounting system sorted out, jot these three down so that you can easily reference them and stay on the right track.
  2. Reach out to three freelancers that always seem to inspire those feelings of jealousy (I recommend downloading the bonus content in this post for an easy way to do that, by the way!). Rather than turning green with envy, start a helpful conversation and start to build a beneficial relationship with him or her—you’ll likely be surprised at how much you can learn.

If you have questions as you’re going through those action items? Never hesitate to reach out. I love hearing from you!

Good luck and go get ’em!

Hey, you! By the way, I’m still ironing out a few kinks with this site. So, if you request the bonus content and don’t receive it—or, if any other funky issues crop up—don’t hesitate to give me a holler about them. Those are the sorts of things I want (OK, well, not exactly want—but need) to know. Thanks!