Ask a Freelancer: How Do I Avoid the Comparison Trap?By Nicole Dieker June 2nd, 2015
I am constantly comparing myself to other freelancers, trying to figure out who has better or worse opportunities than I do. Do other freelancers do this? How do I avoid the comparison trap?
—Dare to Compare
This question came in via our Freelance Life Survey and was echoed by multiple respondents. I will tell you right away that avoiding the comparison trap is a constant struggle for me.
I’ll give you an example. Last week, one of my fellow freelancers sent me a link to this new app called Crystal, which helps people figure out the best way to approach a new business contact by providing a personality summary and communication style guide. If you’re trying to reach someone who is very direct, the software will tell you what words to cut/add to your emails so you can appeal to that specific person. When I signed up for Crystal, I realized that, although it had already put together personality summaries for me and several freelancers I knew, there were also a lot of people who weren’t in the database. You’d type a name into Crystal and the app would display a notification that read: “We don’t know who this person is.”
And I got really excited. This app had written a personality profile on me before I signed up for the system, but it “didn’t know” who several of my fellow freelancers were. Did that mean I was more important? Did it mean I was better at social media, more prolific, and more visible online?
I spent 20 minutes just looking up various names so I could prove to myself that I was better than my peers.
Then I stopped. I told myself “this way lies madness,” and I deleted my Crystal account.
That is my advice to you. This way lies madness.
If you are constantly comparing yourself to freelancers you know, trying to figure out where you stand in the Great Ranking of All Freelancers—which, no doubt, is saved in a Word doc somewhere—you are going to be the kind of person who feels good when someone else struggles through a dry spell. Whether you want to be that person is up to you, but I don’t. Freelancers have a hard enough time dealing with the fickle nature of the profession; we don’t need to make it worse for each other.
Granted, avoiding all comparisons isn’t possible. All of us are going to covet thy neighbor’s 3,000-word magazine feature from time to time, and that’s okay. A little comparison can be helpful, as long as you are open-minded. If you look up a freelancer you admire and check out her portfolio, you can often find new publications to read and pitch. You can also use another freelancer’s resume to think about ways you can improve your own ideas.
It’s completely appropriate to follow freelancers you admire and people you want to work on Twitter. They might not follow you right away, but by participating in social media conversations, you make it easier for someone to remember you for the future.
(How do you participate in conversations with freelancers you admire? Here’s a helpful social media tip: When you reply to another freelancer, make sure it’s about the conversation, not about you. Tweeting “Hi, did you know I wrote a piece about that topic” is not going to endear yourself to a busy freelancer. Treat social media like an actual conversation, not something you can interrupt with “HEY, LOOK AT ME.”)
But beyond trying to learn a little bit about people who you respect professionally, comparing yourself to other freelancers isn’t very productive, both to your psyche and your career. If you indulge in mental gloating because an app thinks you’re more important than someone else, or mental self-flagellation because another freelancer got picked up by a publication before you did, you’ll get in the way of your own work. It’s difficult to write something amazing and beat yourself up simultaneously—and it’s even harder to build a freelance career if you think you’re better than everyone else.
So how do you get out of the comparison trap? How do you prevent yourself from sizing up every freelancer you know and trying to figure out whether they are better or worse than you are? You have to get back to work. You have to figure out the type of freelancer you want to be, make connections with other freelancers in that field, and treat them as your allies and friends, not as the competition.
And then you have to complete your current assignments and pitch your next piece, which is hard to do if you’re gazing at your navel while scrolling through a Twitter feed. You can only build your career by climbing up, not by tearing other people down.
Nicole Dieker thinks someone needs to publicize that Great Ranking of All Freelancers to Google Docs. She also needs to get back to work and answer more of your questions, so please send them to email@example.com.Image by Kim Reinick/Shutterstock