It’s tough for anyone to step back and appraise their own journey from anyone else’s point of view. We see missed opportunities, a mounting pressure to grow, and the financial burdens and responsibilities of a steadily expanding life and portfolio. Inside the honeycomb, the blind and clutching panic is so hard to ignore.
It’s the same for founders, investors, writers, journalists, bloggers, and Instagram photographers, and artists, and musicians and anyone who makes, builds, writes or starts anything.
It’s the same with me. I’m focused so much on freelancing for startups and firms, and working in tech marketing and attempting to start a career as a writer, that all I can see are the problems. The cracks.
To me? it feels like my work is wildly inconsistent, my writing is total shit, my marketing practices are badly thought out and managed, and my Dad was right about my lack of potential.
To anyone else, it might not seem like that. You might see a blog post every day, and an evolving brand, or a speaking engagement and think it’s all running smoothly. You can’t see the anxiety.
You can’t see me reading an article about a new software startup and suddenly losing all faith in my professional services business, and frantically texting my long-suffering girlfriend about how much of a mistake my entire life is.
You can’t see me sitting on the floor, in the corner of my work space, struggling with a panic attack.
Whether you’re running a business, writing a blog or trying to build a freelance creative career, you are always going to feel like your life is in total chaos. You are going to feel like the whole thing is held together with duct tape, band-aids and a few well placed staples.
This is the way everyone feels. Please believe that, no matter how successful you’ve been, every minor problem or small issue or inconsistency is always magnified times a thousand. Until it turns into Godzilla. And you lie awake at night, with a huge mutant lizard rampaging through your head.
It’s because you’re right there in the trenches. You’re slinging shit every day trying to make it work, so to you every little aspect of your project seems so much bigger, so much more important. Every imperfection almost screams at you.
But then you look at everyone else. The other entrepreneurs, whose image looks so perfect. The writers with Instagram feeds full of tastefully posed photos of manuscripts and whiskey. The “freedom business” bullshitters, sunning it on a beach in Fiji with a laptop and a coconut.
And it looks perfect, doesn’t it? It looks like they’ve got everything under control? Surely, they’re running a smoothly operating, well oiled machine?
No way. Don’t even think that for a moment. They are operating on the same level of blind, clutching, stressed out panic as you are. You can’t see it, but it’s there.
I don’t want to depress you. Or convince you that trying to make it, trying to start shit, trying to build something is too scary to be worthwhile. That’s not true. What I want to say is this. You can’t hold yourself to a standard that doesn’t exist.
You’re never going to have a business or a project or a life that feels as perfect as everyone else’s looks. It’s not possible. Their world is as hellish and tough as yours, even if it doesn’t seem that way from the outside. But this is a good thing.
It means that when you’re panicking, stressing, and feeling overcome with self doubt, you’re not doing any worse than the rest of us. You’re not alone, in feeling that way. It’s completely fucking normal. You’re one of us, and we get it. We’re not #lovinglife or feeling #blessed. It may seem that way, but it’s not the case.
You don’t have to be a machine. You don’t have to think positive. You don’t have to “just believe and breathe.” That’s all the advice you’ll get when you tell people how much shit is on your plate. But you don’t have to listen to it.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.