The way I see it, one of the great tragedies of the Social Media Era in which we find ourselves is the daily confrontation with curated and edited versions of other peoples’ lives. While this is great for staying in touch with old friends and finding out what weird new thing is trending, it also heaps on top of us a mountain of unhelpful expectations, one post at a time.  This can be applied to anything, really – what our bodies look like, how we parent, how adorable we are with our partner, you name it, the unrealistic expectations are out there. What I want to talk about here, though, is how this expectation mountain affects those of us trying to make a living on our own.

There’s an irony about it – we leave our 9-5 job so that we can do our own thing, have our needs more fully met, be in control. Then, once we’re on our own, we continue trying to fit ourselves into a mold – it’s just a different set of crushing expectations.  We switch from conforming in a corporate world to conforming in a world that we build in our minds, based on what we see on the internet and in real life – what we think it means to be self-employed.  This. Is. Bananas.

Being self-employed is challenging enough without the added anxiety in questions like “Am I doing this right?” or “How is this supposed to look?” or “Am I making enough money?” or “Am I working too much?” or any other of the endless questions we ask ourselves while we compare ourselves to other self-employed people.

Here’s the deal. Take a deep breath so you can hear this.

Everyone is making it up.

The majority of time and energy spent trying to imitate is wasted. Think about it like this – you take a cooking class and spend the whole time watching everyone else in the class, comparing yourself to them, and making sure you fit in. This is a perfect method, if fitting in is your goal. If, however, your goal is to make the most delicious dish you’ve ever tasted and have a great time doing it, then you’re going to miss the mark.

“Well, then. How do we hit the mark, Katie?” Great question. The first step is to define the mark. Design your life. Free yourself from the mountain of expectations on top of your head, and ask yourself a million questions about what you need to have a life that you love. That’s why you went out on your own in the first place, right? How much money do you want or need to be making? How much free time do you want to have? Which social media platforms do you actually enjoy using and which ones are you making yourself miserable by trying to maintain? What can you afford to outsource to free up time for more of what you love? What (and this is an important one) do you want your days to look like? It’s easy to say “I want to be a landscape architect” because you love plants and design, but if you absolutely hate being outside in the heat and you live in North Carolina, then it might not be the career for you.

Examine every piece of your business, from how you keep your books, to when you go on vacation (which you should be doing, by the way). Get real and clear about what the job you’re making for yourself will require of you and if that’s actually the job you want. Ask all the questions and answer every one of them until you’ve identified your work, how you will do it, and how it will serve you and your community.

There. Now you have a goal. And every time you’re feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and not sure where to invest your energy, revisit your goal. Remember what it is you’re trying to accomplish and do that. Is this an oversimplification of the process? Absolutely. But it is a great starting point. No one knows what you want or how you can get there better than you because no one knows you better than you. Learning to listen to and trust yourself is maybe the most important thing a self-employed person can practice, every damn day.

You’ve totally got this.