That Wave of Insecurity

There is no such thing as perfect security, only varying levels of insecurity.  Salman RushdieI just felt that all too familiar wave of failure.

Why? Because a client sent me the final version of a project I worked on a couple weeks ago, thanking me for my work and asking me to send an invoice so they can pay me.

That doesn’t sound like I should feel I failed does it?

Nope. But the feeling was there anyway.

You see, the final version of the project had changed from what I submitted, and it was much better.

As I read it, my heart sank, my chest got tight and the thoughts of failure rolled over me.

Thoughts that went something like:

  • My work wasn’t good enough.
  • Why didn’t I think of the improvements that someone else made?
  • My client didn’t include me in the review and refinement stages because they didn’t like what I had submitted.
  • It was easier for them to cut their losses and do the work themselves than ask me for revisions.
  • And so on.

Toss in some insecurity and feelings that might be jealousy and my thoughts quickly turned to giving up. I should quit freelancing.

  • This client won’t hire me again.
  • I can’t do this.
  • If I cut expenses I can quit working and do… what? Watch Ellen? That isn’t worthwhile. What would people think.
  • Maybe I’ll just crawl under the covers and hide for the rest of the day.

0 to worthless in seconds — all from a thank you note.

Reframing  Negative Thoughts

I’ve learned that thoughts and feelings like this are not necessarily true no matter how much I believe them in the moment. So I stepped out of my downward spiral and decided to take the events leading up to this email and looking at the evidence from a positive point of view.

  1. A few months ago I collaborated with this client on a project for a third company. I had a lot of insecurities about that project as well, and often felt like I was competing with (and losing to) the company I was collaborating with. I was pretty sure they thought I was totally incompetent. I often wanted to go on the attack and point out the collaborator’s short comings to offset what I felt were my failings. But I kept my insecurities under control did my best work, and gave credit where it was deserved.
  2. After that project ended, the company I collaborator approached me to subcontract a piece of the project that set me off today. So they couldn’t have thought I was totally incompetent.
  3. I completed the first draft of the current project in half the budgeted time and sent it to my client for review. They thought it was good enough to submit to their client as a first draft.
  4. A minor change was requested and I made it.
  5. Ireceivedthefinal version today, several days later, with more changes and additions. When I look at these changes objectively:
    • The structure I set up is still there.
    • A lot of the additions are information that I didn’t know about.
    • Several competent and creative people with different perspectives worked on the project after me and added some great detail.
    • To ask me to make the revisions and additions would have meant several meetings and which my client would have had to pay me for. There were probably people on the larger project team that were already part of the meetings who could do the work as quickly as I could – and my client is out to make money themselves – not make work extra work for me so I can charge more.
    • They shared the final product with me, said thank you and asked for an invoice. If they were unhappy with me or my work they wouldn’t have done that.

So where do those initial thoughts and feelings come from? Ego? Insecurity? A need to be perfect? A need to be indispensable? A desire to be the hero who is the only one who could save the day?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that after reframing the project in my head I was able to send my client a quick note telling them the final product looks great and that I liked the changes – and mean it.

I also know that I feel better. The overwhelming feeling of failure is now the occasional twinge of insecurity.

And most importantly I’ve noticed that every time I recognize that my negative thoughts and feelings don’t necessarily reflect reality – the easier it is to stop and reframe them.

The reframing exercise that I used to have to do on paper, I can now usually do in my head.

Every time I reframe a situation it is faster and easier to move on and be productive than it was the time before.

Will I ever not start from the thought that I am somehow an abysmal failure?

I hope so.  But if not, I am sure I will get better and better and quickly moving past these thoughts and feelings.

Original photo by:  Karim Corbin via Flickr.

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