Anyone can acquire skills to be an online freelancer, but only a few have the attitude to succeed. If you could develop and turn these evidence-based behaviors into habits, there is no limit to how high you can climb.
Some people think they are successful as long as they have a full load schedule. The truth is that having one or more clients means that you have an ongoing career – nothing more, nothing less.
Success is when you attain your long-term goals, turning dreams into reality.
Online freelancing is not any different from other professions. They merely serve as a mechanism for you to reach your destination. But no matter how skillful you are, success will continuously be elusive unless you have the right attitude.
Evidence-based Attitudes of Successful Freelancers
Many people believed that to be successful, a person has to have one or a combination of the following:
- Innate talent
- Opportune timing
- Heavenly intervention
Unfortunately, no evidence can prove any of the above to be true. There are, however, habits that can improve your performance and success rate.
1. Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck is a Stanford University’s Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology. For more than 30 years, she has been conducting studies on mindsets and how it affects performance. “My research,” she said, “has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.”
Based on her studies on the behaviors of thousands of children, Dweck coined these two terms:
- Fixed mindset
- Growth mindset
I asked freelance content writers how they felt about revising their articles. Not surprisingly, everyone said they were okay with it. But when the revisions were substantial, their viewpoint turned negative.
Freelance Writers Asked to Do 1-2 Minor Revisions
Because the modifications were not significant enough, there were no consequences. Although the changes were necessary, most freelance writers deem them insignificant. The amount of work entailed usually does not take much time.
Freelance Writers Asked to Do 2-3 Extensive Revisions
Most writers view it as a learning process when working with new clients. Over time, such viewpoints change. The pressure mounts if they were to do extensive revisions each time they submit an article.
The thought of not being competent enough and losing a job causes stress levels to build up. Furthermore, eroding self-confidence compounds mental distress. Caught in a downward spiral, they lose motivation and quit.
Some freelance writers also feel insulted. In their minds, they submitted articles that did not merit substantial changes. In other words, they believe their submissions are of high quality.
People who believe their qualities (or abilities) are “carved in stone” have a fixed mindset. They unknowingly limit their intelligence, personality, moral character, and other attributes. Such a mindset creates a sense of urgency to convince themselves and other people why they cannot do any better – again and again.
Over the years, the freelancers I worked with have varying backgrounds and skill levels. However, one thing they have in common is the potential to write articles that meet the requirements. As they write more articles, I expect them to keep improving until the revisions needed are minimal.
Most freelance writers who do not improve either quit or the client replaces them. And those who remained were the ones who showed improvements. Some of them, by their admission, struggled with inner demons but managed to improve.
They improved not because of their ability but because of their growth mindset.
Instead of seeing revisions as a criticism or failure, they viewed it as feedback. For them, the circumstances they find themselves in are merely starting points. They nurture and cultivate their qualities through effort, application, and experience. In doing so, they enhance their talent, aptitude, and personality (Dweck).
2. Delayed Gratification
In 1970 and the years after, Stanford University psychologist Walter Michel conducted studies on delayed gratification. One, in particular, became known as the Marshmallow Test (Mischel and Ebbesen).
In a nutshell, Michel and his colleagues gave participating children a treat. Their choices were to:
- Eat the treat
- Wait for some time and eat two treats instead of one
After ten years, the children who were able to wait longer before eating the treats:
- Can cope with stress and frustrations better
- Have superior academic performance
- Better social skills than their peers
- Can resist temptations
The researchers tracked the participants for over four decades. Those who delayed gratification:
- Have higher SAT scores
- Lower levels of substance abuse
- Less likelihood of obesity
In general, they scored better in a range of life measures. You could say that they are more successful in life.
Delaying instant gratification as a predictor of income success is not without basis. Temple University researchers, for example, used machine learning to determine factors contributing to future affluence (Hampton et al.).
Delayed gratification followed only education and profession as the most important determinants.
At home, freelancers lack accountability. In other words, no one is looking over their shoulder from behind.
In this scenario, two things can happen:
- Spending time on the unnecessary instead of productivity
- Not learning new things to enhance or acquire more skills and knowledge
What have you done to have a successful work-from-home career?
Spending hours watching TV, for example, is pleasurable. But you are no closer to achieving your goals.
Placing yourself in a better position to succeed entails time and effort. It means letting go of things that give you instant gratification.
By investing in yourself, you are delaying gratification. But over the long term, you develop expertise. By then, you have become a much-desired freelancer.
Intellectual talent undoubtedly plays a crucial role in achieving professional success. But is it enough? Angela Lee Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania Rosa Lee and Edbert Change Professor of Psychology does not think so.
She and her colleagues conducted studies on grit and assert that “the achievement of difficult goals entails not only talent but also the sustained and focused application of talent over time. (Duckworth et al.)”
“Grit,” according to Duckworth, “is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” It is a non-cognitive personality trait of passionate people who can persevere to achieve their goals.
A career in freelancing is not without challenges. For most people working at home, it seems as if there are obstacles every step of the way. All the negativities compounded by the pandemic have taken a toll on mental health.
The number of people suffering from severe to extremely severe mental distress in a work-from-home arrangement is as follows:
Percentage of WFH Workers
(“Community Quarantine: Its Mental Health Toll on Our Younger Workforce”)
Apart from mental distress, the myriad of emotional and psychological anguish can break any resolve. Even if these are non-factors, there are other obstacles such as procrastination and distractions.
Related article: Why More Freelancers Succumb to Anxiety and Depression Today
When you look at other constructs that predict success (Novell), grit is closely related:
- Growth mindset
- Emotional intelligence
- Emotional regulation ability
- Affect and life satisfaction
- Deliberate practice
- Passion and self-regulatory mode
- Attachment style
In a sense, you could say that grit empowers all other success predictor traits.
Putting It All Together to Become Successful
Can you honestly say that you are successful? How much of your answer is defensive if you were to answer that question?
Success, you see, can either be an illusion or reality.
“Nothing is easier than self-deceit,” the ancient Greek orator Demosthenes said. “For what every man wishes, that he also believes to be true.”
The moment you believe you are competent enough is the time you stop growing. Suppose you acknowledge that there is much room for growth. In that case, you would have put into motion your plan of action to achieve success.
Is what you are doing enough to achieve your long-term goals? Or, do you need to do something more?
The growth mindset allows you to invest in yourself and become a better freelancer. Changing the course of your career for the better is not possible unless you delay gratification. As you go through this process, the obstacles thrown your way are endless. Only by having grit can you persevere to reach your destination.
Sources and Further Reading
“Community Quarantine: Its Mental Health Toll on Our Younger Workforce.” Premier Value Provider, 21 May 2020. Accessed 10 Oct. 2021.
Duckworth, Angela L., et al. “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 92, no. 6, 2007, pp. 1087–1101. Accessed 10 Oct. 2021.
Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, Random House, 2016.
Hampton, William H., et al. “Good Things for Those Who Wait: Predictive Modeling Highlights Importance of Delay Discounting for Income Attainment.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 9, 3 Sept. 2018. Accessed 8 Oct. 2021.
Mischel, Walter, and Ebbe B. Ebbesen. “Attention in Delay of Gratification.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1970. Accessed 8 Oct. 2021.
Novell, Ellen. “Grit, Personality, and Job Performance: Exploring Nonlinear Relationships.” Louisiana Tech Digital Commons, 2020. Accessed 11 Oct. 2021.