ICBA Blog

3 Independent Contractor and Gig Worker Mental Traps to Avoid

Do you have freelancer guilt? Do you feel like an imposter? Do you compare yourself to everyone else? Here’s how to stop

Several surveys in recent years have shown that freelancers are happier with their work than salaried individuals. But that happiness can also be tinged with a few mental hang-ups that can get in the way of your work-life balance, your drive to achieve, and even your confidence to do the work. Here, we analyze some of these pitfalls and offer suggestions on how to navigate your way through them.

Freelancer guilt

Freelancer guilt can appear in a few different forms, and the type you experience might depend on the kind of work you do.

Type 1. Have you ever told yourself, If I’m not working, I’m not getting paid? That concept of “time is money” can lead to a feeling that you should always be working or at least be working more than you are.

A study out of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, found that equating time with money can be a bust to your wellbeing. Here’s how to remedy it. First, consider how you charge for your work. If possible, switch to a project rate rather than an hourly rate. If, after setting a project rate, you still feel remorse when you’re not working, consider if your rate is high enough to both pay your bills and save money. Try our formula.

If you drive for rideshare or do another type of gig work for which you aren’t able to change rates, opt for a set schedule that helps you find work-life balance. Completing a work “shift” and then signing off for the day, or evening, can help you feel like you’ve done what you need to do and can relax guilt-free.

Type 2. You might also experience a sense of guilt if you’re not immediately available to address a client’s needs. Let’s imagine that you’re out to dinner with a friend when you see a client request come through via your phone’s email app. If you continue with your dinner, you might feel guilty that you didn’t take care of the task. If you cut your dinner short to address the issue, however, you might feel guilty for letting your friend down.

You can address this guilt in three ways. First, set a schedule for yourself that gives you clear work-life boundaries. Even though you don’t have a nine-to-five job, you might choose to work those specific hours anyway, or a similar timeframe. This allows you to focus for a good chunk of the day and then turn “off” work later without feeling stressed about it. Second, set clear boundaries with your clients. Let them know your general hours so they don’t have an expectation that you’re available to “jump” during your off-time unless it’s an absolute emergency. Third, cut yourself some slack, too. If you panic when you see a client email come through “after hours,” ask yourself what you can do to mitigate that anxiety quickly. Does it help to read the email and then make a quick to-do or reminder note for tomorrow? Find what works for you.

Type 3. You might also feel a weird sense of independent contractor guilt if you experience a little more freedom with your work hours than, say, your friends or family members who have nine-to-five positions. Maybe they even incorrectly call you out on it. The following statement is an example: Oh, you don’t have to get up and face the commute tomorrow. Comments like that, even if false, can make you feel like a slacker. You might have six big projects going at once or a monster gig work shift scheduled, yet when someone invalidates your work, you can feel derailed.

If this type of guilt crops up, remind yourself of all the things you have to do as an independent contractor that salaried workers don’t. You might have to find work regularly, tackle bookkeeping, create contracts, manage the expectations of several clients, figure out the intricacies of multiple gig platforms, travel to several different places for work, etc. Sure, you might do some of the work from the comfort of your home office while wearing a hoodie, but you’re still putting in a big effort.

Imposter syndrome

In short, imposter syndrome is feeling like a fraud, even if you’re a go-getter. Consider this scenario: You’ve created your own social media marketing and consulting business, and it’s doing well. You’ve got several regular clients, they’re happy, and you’re happy with your income and see the potential to grow. Yet you feel like your success is driven purely by luck or that you’re just winging it. That’s imposter syndrome. The reality is that you likely have knowledge and skill if your clients are happy, and part of your growth can be attributed to their word of mouth. Even if you’re still learning things as you go, you’re doing your best and finding some unique methods.

Imposter syndrome is common for independent contractors because we often work solo, rather than in an office where one is exposed to a lot of feedback. Plus, sometimes the good things that happen in the freelancer world can feel like luck rather than skill. Landing a new client who just stumbled upon your website is just one example. The truth is, that even if “lucky” things occur, you still have to keep your clients satisfied. And if you’re doing that, you’re not an imposter.

Imposter syndrome can be dangerous because it may keep you from going after new gigs or growing your business. One way of tamping down the fraud feeling is to use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps you reorganize your thought processes surrounding a topic or event. As an example, let’s imagine you’ve performed really well on a graphic design project, and your client sends you a nice thank-you email. Maybe your immediate reaction is to think, Wow, I really got lucky pulling that thing together. I probably won’t have another creative spark like that for a while. If this is your thought process, stop and list the steps you took to, first, get the project and, second, to accomplish the project well. When you see the success built into the steps, you’ll recognize that the imposter syndrome is a false way of thinking. Look back at the milestones that led you to this point. And also determine if this project is stepping stone to other milestones. This process will help you nix the sham beast in the future.

Comparing yourself to others or feeling envy

Here’s the scenario: Someone else in your field, whom you know, meets a milestone or achievement. Maybe a fellow artisan handbag maker has been asked to sell their wares in a fancy local boutique—something you aspire to do. You might be genuinely happy for the individual, but perhaps a sense of envy also rises up along with a feeling of failure that you haven’t accomplished the same thing yet. This is the mental trap of comparison that independent contractors often fall into. The best way to counteract the feeling of defeat in the face of someone else’s success is to turn their accomplishment into a celebration. Look at it this way: If someone who does the same or similar work as you achieves what you want to achieve, it’s a sign that you can pull off something quite similar.