Freelance loneliness and self-doubt


I don’t know anything more debilitating than self-doubt and loneliness, and if they stalk up on you at the same time they can offer a double whack to all creativity. I can suffer from both, and I was exploring these two challenges recently with a couple of people who also work freelance.

As I’m writing this I’m sitting alone, and haven’t spoken to anyone all day. If that is my choice (and it most definitely is today because I’m writing and wading through stuff) then that is fine. I can have 2 days alone and feel fine. However another time I can walk in to the flat, close the door, and within 10 minutes feel lonely. It is really odd. I can wander around not eating, not working, not effective, and not even giving up and heading to Netflix.   There’s alone intentionally, and lonely unintentionally.

Looking at self doubt; it can, of course, be healthy to question what I am doing, or to wonder whether I need help. I may be “not good enough” at something (or rather better to say expert at it). There’s the positive “ignorance of youth”, and there’s also the considered perspective of someone who has been round the block and come back a bit burned at times. That’s good self-questioning. But it is so different from the painful, irrational waves of self-doubt which can overwhelm us.

As freelancers we have to appear confident and capable of taking the rough with the smooth. Indeed those I was with yesterday have wonderful skills and experience to bring to their freelance journey. But what was refreshing was the fact that we were admitting our fear of the situation we could slip into.

Now I suspect some readers will not feel any empathy with this. And some friends may find it unexpected that I am sharing this.   As a coach I hear elements of this a lot. And those closest to me know it of me too.

This blog is not here to offer quick fixes or life-changing ideas, but rather to encourage those who feel some resonance with this to think of their coping methods and life work balancing.

If I feel lonely then I might go to a canteen filled with noise and buzz, and get on with my work. Or I might go to my office at the National Theatre where I see others working away. You’ll often find me in the Lyttleton Lounge area.   At least then I am seeing other people.   There are freelance networks for your own discipline. You could create a buddy system, or just facebook to say you are going to work in a particular café. If I am lonely, the one thing I know I need to do is connect with someone else.

When the self-doubt comes to call I try always to remember the Byron Katie mantra – “where would you be without that thought ?” and “do you know that to be true ?”. I’m not looking for someone to tell me I’m wonderful, but I do need to remind myself that the glass of experience and skill is half full, not dribbling away in aged doubt.

I often talk to people about naming the niggly, nasty, annoying, invasive, doubting voice in your head. Give them a name or a shape or a colour or an animal – and address them clearly so they can be heard, acknowledged, but you are not over run by them.  Is their warning helpful. If not, then say thank you and get on with your more positive half-full life. Until they call again.

And if it persists, talk to colleagues, friends, a mentor or a coach. You will be surprised at the empathy and support which can flow.

Thank you for my colleagues over two different sessions in the last two days who have brought my attention to this subject.


  1. People so rarely speak of that cold, scary self-doubt, that it’s easy to feel alone, and that everyone else is brimming with confidence and ease! This arrived for me at a moment when I truly needed it. Thank you

  2. I recognise all this and would go as far to say that self doubt is the biggest enemy I face and I face it on a more or less permanent basis. It’s the crocodile under the bed of a permanent 4 year old! Loneliness definitely compounds the problem, but self doubt can also cause the loneliness in the first place. If you’re not careful you lock yourself into it creating a kind of creative agrophobia. Not good. Being in production helps greatly because there you are required to rely on your immediate responses to any given task/problem/ situation that may arise and generally speaking I find this reflexive condition more conducive to happiness than its reflective counterpart. Too much front brain thinking? No thanks!

  3. Thanks Danielle, it is great that it is making people talk out a bit.

  4. I believe it’s all about balance and as you pointed out, Chris, sometimes we need to connect with the ‘hustle and bustle’. Being alone and creative can sometimes be extremely destructive. When I’m low, I begin working on a comedy. Even if nothing comes of it. It’s therapeutic and I can take it out on the characters – in a good way.

    Thank you for sharing this Chris.

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