freelance life

How to deal with disappointment as a freelancer

Woman sitting alone looking out to sea, captioned 'How to deal with disappointment as a freelancer'

Disappointment is part of life when you work as a freelancer – whatever your industry.

Even within the narrow field of writing, opportunities for disappointment abound. There will always be a pitch that is rejected, an editor who doesn’t respond, a client who thinks your rates are too high, or a project that just doesn’t turn out quite right…

In order to succeed as a freelancer – and for the sake of your mental wellbeing – it’s important to accept that you will encounter disappointments both big and small. The best way of dealing with disappointment looks different for everyone, but I’m sharing some of my own strategies below.

This is a timely post, because last week I heard that I hadn’t been successful with a grant application. Even though the news was expected and didn’t come as a surprise, it was still disappointing to have it confirmed, and since then I’ve been working through some of these steps.

1. Make space for how you’re feeling

Significant disappointments can take a while to process – you can’t necessarily deal with them in a day – so take the time to really honour how you’re feeling and don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to put a brave face on. Sometimes it can help to step away from your desk and immerse yourself in an activity that’s nothing to do with work. Lose yourself in a book, go for a long walk, or cook something delicious and complicated in the kitchen.

It can also be a good idea to step away from social media until you’re ready to re-enter the fray – professional networks like LinkedIn can be overwhelming when it feels like everyone else is shouting about their successes and wins – but remember that’s not the whole story. Everyone deals with disappointment, it’s just that not everyone talks about it publicly.

2. Lean on your community for support

The wonderful thing about being a freelancer in 2019 is that there are so many communities – online and offline – where you can seek advice and support from your peers. There’s an ongoing thread in one of the Facebook writing groups I belong to that seems to get revived every time there’s another Australia Council funding announcement – unsuccessful applicants know they have a dedicated space to commiserate with each other, which allows them to be generous and genuine with their congratulations elsewhere.

Whatever your community looks like – whether it’s gathering with friends for a glass of wine, or grousing away on Twitter – share your disappointment with others and you’ll feel better able to deal with it. Just make sure you stay professional. Badmouthing a specific editor, client or publication pretty much guarantees you won’t work for them again.

3. Seek feedback

This isn’t applicable to every situation, but it often can be. If you submitted a proposal for a big copywriting project and missed out, or you applied for a remote position that felt like a great fit but didn’t even get an interview, it’s reasonable to ask for feedback.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get the kind of detailed, supportive feedback that I received from an Arts Tasmania grants officer yesterday – a combination of positive reinforcement about the things I’m already doing well, constructive criticism on the areas where I fell short, and suggestions for specific actions I can take to write a stronger application next time round.

Even if you don’t get that detailed level of response, you might get a nugget or two of helpful advice that will help you avoid future disappointments. There’s no harm in asking.

4. Look for positives

If asking for feedback hasn’t provided you with something positive to focus on, that means you have to look for your own silver lining. Perhaps if one project hasn’t come through for you, that means you’ve got more time to focus on a different piece, or to work on something creative. Perhaps the support you received in an online discussion forum has prompted you to meet up with some of those people offline. Perhaps one pitch was rejected because the timing wasn’t right, but the editor asked you to send through some other suggestions.

The same day that I received news of my unsuccessful grant application, I also had an email drop into my inbox from an editor I worked with a few years ago. She’s at a new publication, and was getting in touch to ask if I’m available for freelance work. On the day, that fabulous email was eclipsed by my grant-related disappointment – but a week on I’m absolutely thrilled that someone I respect took the time to reach out to me, and I’m working on some ideas to send through.

5. Move on

Resilience is a bit of a buzzword at the moment – even my ten-year-old uses it in conversation, referring to resilience (or lack of) among his classmates – and there’s good reason for that. The ability to bounce back from a challenge or disappointment, sometimes even stronger than you were before, has never been more essential.

As a freelancer, disappointment will be an inevitable part of your working life. The trick is to take those moments, learn what you can from them, and then move right along to the next thing. If you’re able to do that consistently, you and your business will grow bigger and better year-on-year.

Now, where did I put that grant application? Time to start reworking it for the next funding round…


Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

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