Here’s my biggest secret: I’ve always thought I wouldn’t be good enough for what I do. I’ve let it hold me back in way too many ways. Here’s my story.
1) I went to a prestigious engineering school (Case Western Reserve University).
Despite getting hired to work on a help desk on literally day one of college, and succeeding mightily in that work the whole time I was in college, I couldn’t find a job when I graduated. Granted, I was trying to stay in Cleveland at the height of recession – I graduated in January 2007 – but I didn’t apply for anything that would have given me an upward trend.
2) I married a successful software developer.
Once I got married, I/we assumed that I could never rival his salary, and I stayed at home for a couple years. Inferiority complex kept me from even applying for any jobs, even ones I would have been very very qualified for.
3) My husband’s trajectory forced me to find money.
Let’s be honest, I was miserable staying at home. My self-worth had gone OUT the window. My confidence was gone, and there wasn’t much left of the promising high school graduate who had my pick of some very good universities to turn me into a productive adult. Then, my husband started graduate school, and my smart budgeting sense said “Yes! Yes! we can pay for this out of pocket!” only to be faced with the cold hard reality of how gigantic the tuition was (more than 1/3 of his take-home pay).
4) I began freelancing online, for way less than minimum wage.
I never took any of those “$2/hr” type listings, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I was tech savvy, but I didn’t really have marketable experience. So I took easy jobs – $50 here, $100 there, but spent way more time on them than a skilled person would have. Besides a few nutty clients (the type that wouldn’t have been happy no matter who I was), I learned very, very quickly. After a few months, I felt confident applying for my first hourly positions, and worked as a freelancer for several small agencies. I was able to ramp up my hourly rate to the point where I could work a 40 hour week, rather than a 80 hour week because I didn’t know what I was doing, and eventually obtained a level which rivals my husband’s income.
5) I began to experience community, and found my worth.
The biggest watershed moment for me was in 2015 when I attended LoopConf. An expensive conference for WordPress held in Las Vegas, it was my first time truly around people who did what I do for a living every day. My first glimpse at successful people in the field, in person. The big moment came after attending several sessions which I was loving and soaking up the content, when I was talking to others and they were all discussing how various talks had completely gone over their heads. That they couldn’t imagine using the knowledge because they didn’t even understand it. That’s when I realized I had truly arrived – because I watched every session, soaked up many new tips and tricks – and never thought any of it was “hard”. I began the conference assuming that I was the new outsider, and quickly realized that I wasn’t.
Once I started truly talking to the other people that understood things on the level that I did, I finally realized that I was not longer that outsider looking in. I had arrived. I am good at what I do. I can always grow – and there are many things on my personal growth list for the year, weekly, monthly and annual goals to reach – but I am a success story. And nothing can hold that back.
6) The future.
In the beginning of the year it became clear that to grow more thoroughly, I wanted to join a team as a full time employee, rather than continuing to freelance. I received a taste of that last year with one client, who seemed to be bringing me on full time before things fell apart for her. Applying for jobs, however, comes with this huge risk — that brings up all the inferiority complex and impostor syndrome issues. I have to remind myself, day in and day out, that these companies know what they’re looking for. If they judge me to have the wrong personality for their company, why would I want to be there? I want a position to thrive in, and not to be throttled. In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with continuing to freelance, until the perfect position opens up for me.