If you’re a freelancer who’s still stuck in an employee mindset, this is most likely your most self-limiting factor. Removing this mental limit will allow you to overcome all sorts of challenges, both in business and in your social life. In this short article, I’m going to go through some key mindset traits that separate successful people from the struggling freelancer.

Keep in mind, even if you’re familiar with psychologist Carol Dweck’s work, I’m not here to talk about that. I also won’t go into your moral character because, although I believe it’s important, it’s not strictly tied to–or even necessary for success.

What I am here to discuss with you is my own experience and knowledge, my frame of mind, and how I used them to drive myself to succeed over the long term. In fact, let’s do away with Dweck’s definitions presented in “Mindset: The New Psychology”, and focus instead on “fixed” and “growth” as dichotomous terms sitting on the opposite ends of the same spectrum.

Mindset and success

If you’re a freelance anything (a freelance writer, designer, developer, or whatever), the first thing you have to recognize is that you are effectively a “freelance business” (a one-person business), but a business all the same.

The problem is, when you’re first getting started with a work-from-home type of business, you’re going to be stuck in the employee mindset. This is problematic because you’re no longer an employee, but this mindset boxes you in, forcing you to keep approaching your prospects and clients like an employee.

When this happens, don’t be surprised when businesses begin to treat you accordingly. (This is especially true for small businesses, who aren’t accustomed to communicating with freelancers.)

So if you present yourself in your own mind as an employee looking for work, then you’re bound to approach every business or company as an opportunity to be grateful for, instead of as an invitation to determine if the relationship can yield mutually beneficial gains.

A fixed mindset is an obstacle blocking your path to freelance success

So what do I mean by “a fixed mindset”?

  1. Your frame of mind (how you interpret events in general)
  2. How you perceive yourself

These two factors are hindering your ability to draw the respect your skill set deserves with your potential clients.

On a subtler plane, this means you’re not maximizing your utility. Sure, you’re selling one general skill set–but what else have you got to offer?

Example: If I go buy a suit, I’m not just buying a suit. I’m going to expect to be upsold a few slick belts, ties, cufflinks, pocket squares, and so on.

Let’s take another example:

Say your kid’s set up a stall selling lemonade at a dollar a cup. She manages to sell 6 cups an hour, one for each passerby. She’s made a profit of $5 an hour. That’s less than minimum wage. Is your kid’s time really worth so little?

Now let’s see her mini entrepreneurial spirit in action:

If she decided to team up with Tommy, the boy next door who makes a mean hot dog, she could upsell like crazy, and she’s asked the neighbor designer to help her put up a sign. Done. She’s got a Facebook page up, organized her first event… and when she heard Tommy’s birthday’s coming up, she didn’t blink.

She’s hosting it, decking out the lawn with chairs, tables, banners, and all. And when Tommy’s eyes glowed green with dollar signs, she dismissed him with the wave of a hand: “This is just a test, to see how much traction we can get.” (If this actually sounds like your kid, contact me ASAP. I got a job for her.)

Fixed mindset vs. Growth mindset

People with a fixed mindset are self-compromising individuals. Instead of being proactive, they wait for opportunities to land on their lap. But it’s not enough to wait, or even to seize them. You must create opportunities for yourself, and this is what you can achieve once you switch to a growth mindset.

Another critical difference (and a point of agreement with Dweck) is that you’re not born intelligent. Intelligence can be learned. This means that encouragement to work harder can lead to what I call “learned intelligence”; plenty of studies have shown a significant uptick in brain activity when learning. These are new neurons forming, and it signals an increase in the amount of intelligence.

Why is it important to embrace failure?

Carol Dweck touches upon this, but I’m coming at it more from a Lean model angle. (Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup” is a must-read for any business owner. Yes, that’s You.)

Failure is a part of life. Can’t avoid it. You know what’s overrated though?

Perfection.

Face it: You’re never going to achieve perfection. You know what you will experience though?

Failure. That’s a lifetime guarantee.

Salvador Dali Perfection

“Have no fear of failure–You’re never going to achieve it.”

Salvador Dali

So what you’ve got to do is rethink how you perceive failure. Most people experience dejection and even depression when they know they’ve “failed”. But true failure occurs only when you give up.

Just because you’ve tried and failed doesn’t mean you don’t keep pushing ahead. Look, I’m not trying to give a motivational speech here. This is a key principle I’m trying to drive home:

Failure is inevitable. If you don’t encounter failure on a regular basis, you’re not trying hard enough.

The most important thing is what you do with that failure. That’s what counts. Learn from it. If you don’t learn from this failure, you’re bound to repeat and re-experience it. (What a colossal waste of time.) If you don’t repeat the mistake because you’ve learned it so well that you’ve internalized it, that’s growth.

 

So challenge yourself. Step outside your comfort zone, and learn to embrace failure.

How to succeed in freelancing

Adaptability plays a major part in the psychology of success. Your frame of mind and your perspective, how you choose to perceive and interpret events and process information, how much emotional output you ascribe to each one, and how many toxic people you choose to keep in your life… these factors (and many others) all influence your success.

That’s why you have to be introspective and adapt based on new information. Spending some time reflecting on yourself can also help you figure out where your strengths and weaknesses lie. So be honest with yourself. It’s not enough to be authentic with those around you. Authenticity starts with you, and is perceived by others through you, much the same way the employee mindset is.

Once you’ve figured out your strengths and weaknesses, don’t waste your time trying to build up ALL your weaknesses. Instead, focus on your strengths. Let someone else worry about your weakest points and support them, which brings me to another important point:

Learn to delegate. (This is an investment, not a cost. You’re giving someone a little bit of money in exchange for a lot of hours saved. If you’re not good at CSS, don’t waste hours learning a piece of code and tinkering with your site for hours.)

Pay an actual expert to get it right the first time around, and you go focus on doing what you do best: Making more money. Doesn’t make sense for you to waste time learning a skill you won’t need in the future. Even if it’s data entry. You’re not making $100 minimum doing data entry. So pay someone else to do it. Your time is valuable.

 

Do you have a success mindset?

Once you start adopting a success-driven mindset, you’ll not only start seeing opportunities everywhere. That’s because the best part is that it’s proactive: A success-driven mindset creates opportunities for itself. After all, mindset’s the one thing that separates successful entrepreneurs from the rest.

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