When Financial Opportunity Clashes With Professional Insecurity

I was up for a freelance editing position that required me to name my rates for the first time, and I panicked.

Photo credit: Engin_Akyurt, CC0 Public Domain.

Making the shift from financial instability to stability is something I’m still struggling with. Sometimes it feels like poverty is a force standing behind me at all times, waiting for me to mess up so it can take me back. The lessons I learned from that time in my life weren’t simply lost the moment I started making a livable wage—and one of the many hard-to-shake feelings is that I have to keep a tenacious grasp on any actual or potential money sources.

That’s why last week was a real test of my willpower. I was up for a freelance editing position that required me to name my rates for the first time, and I panicked. The initial excitement of choosing my pay (you aren’t just going to tell me how much I’ll make?!) disappeared when my self-preservation instinct kicked in, creating a vortex of anxiety.

In the world of freelance, steady jobs are few and far between, and your gut tells you to grab and hold onto them for dear life. Because, often, your life depends on them. Even when the situation isn’t that dire, it’s still hard to re-wire your brain at a moment’s notice.

I went back and forth with myself for hours, delaying an email response until I didn’t have a choice. I was afraid if I went higher than they were willing to pay, I’d miss out on the gig. But if I went lower than they expected, I’d potentially miss out on money. Or—maybe worse—I’d give them the impression that I’m inexperienced and don’t know my worth, putting me in a position to either be taken advantage of or totally ignored. I’ve heard so many stories of editors ghosting writers after they name their rates, so there was a strong pull to lowball mine.

That fear combined with what I perceived as my inability to “sell” myself—which is an issue I’ve always had. I’ve never been able to brag about myself, even when I did something totally rad. I always dismiss my accomplishments as “no big deal” in an attempt to come across as humble, but it really just comes across as insecure. Recently someone asked what I do for a living, and I fumbled through a series of awkward responses, downplaying the skill and effort I put into this career.

But it’s not only in conversations with others that I have trouble being confident. I struggle with the same thoughts in my own head. In a career as solitary as writing and editing, there’s a lot of room for self-doubt to take over your day. This pressure to name my rates, which essentially meant naming my value as a professional, created a playground for my insecurities to run wild. One of those insecurities is the the fear that I’m not a good writer — that I lucked into the world of online writing in the golden age of personal essays, and that gave me a false idea of what it meant to be a writer. Is that all I can do?

Ironically, while I was struggling with the decision this week I ran across a thread of tweets from the Editorial Director at Vox that convinced me I was looking at it all wrong.

This was the boost I needed. I decided that even if my resume wasn’t the most impressive one they’ve seen, all I needed to do was convince them (and myself) that I was capable of doing that job and deserving of the rates I provided. And, despite all of my insecurities, I know that I am 100 percent capable of doing this project and slaying it.

So I sent them my rates and my experience, and I made my case. AND IT WORKED! I’ve already started on my first project for them, and I’ll keep you posted along the way. What I learned is to try to stop doubting myself—I know, easier said than done—because the limits I give myself are the ones in my own head. There’s literally nothing I can’t do. (Except remember people’s names at a party, reach stuff on the top shelf without climbing on the counter, or play pretty much any sport…)

Stephanie Ashe is a freelance writer, cat mom, and pop culture devotee. She’s probably talking about a 90’s movie on Twitter right now.

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