This post is from GRS staff writer April Dykman.

A college professor once told my journalism class that freelance writing is something you should do on the side. It’s not anything you could make a living at full-time. 

I graduated and worked at an office job until I decided I wanted to become self-employed and do something that would give me more free time to write. A real job and a writer on the side, just like the professor had suggested. I went into real estate.

To say it was an awful fit would be an understatement. The very thought of cold-calling made me want to stay in bed with the covers over my head. What’s worse is that I wrote a total of one article that year. What in the world happened?

“Freelance writing can’t be a successful business.” That was my limiting belief. (To be fair, it was a belief I held long before the well-meaning professor reinforced it.) So I took a full-time job as an editor, and on the side I’d write maybe one or two magazine articles a year. I didn’t believe I could have a thriving freelance business, so I didn’t even try.

One small step
Early this year, I made the decision to put more effort into my freelance writing. Not too long after, J.D. mentioned that he was going to hire one or two staff writers. It sounded like a great opportunity, but I was scared to death to send the e-mail just asking to try out. What if I wasn’t selected? Even scarier was the possibility that I might get the job. What if I ran out of stuff to write? Freelance writing can’t be a successful business!

Soon after getting the staff writing gig, I picked up another writing client who found me through GRS. It was a breakthrough. I’ve since added two more projects to the list. I was actively pursuing and attaining everything I passively dreamt about for years. I took one tiny step that scared the hell out of me, and it snowballed.

Separating from limiting beliefs
My limiting belief shrinks every day because I’m slowly proving it wrong.

The funny thing is that once you stop identifying with a limiting belief, you start to recognize them everywhere. There was the well-meaning friend who thought writing the GRS try-out articles without being paid for them was a bad idea (when in fact it insanely boosted my business in less than a month). There are the people who stay in jobs they hate because they have a kid in college. There are the ones who say they have no time for a side business, or so-and-so only did it because they had money or the right contacts (Ramit calls this The Shrug Effect). I empathize with their reasons because I did the same thing for years.

No matter what your limiting beliefs, the steps to knock them out are the same. I only realized it in retrospect, of course, but the steps I took to grow my freelance business aren’t much different than the steps I took to overcome some of my other limiting beliefs, such as:

  • Only people who are rich can travel to Europe.
  • Getting into a boxing ring will end with a trip to the ER.
  • I’ll see a shark if I scuba dive, and I’ll panic and die.

Round one: Set the intention
Thoughts have a significant effect on reality. Truthfully, this has always sounded like new-agey stuff to me, and I agreed wholeheartedly with J.D.’s review of The Secret.

But what I’m talking about is clearly defining an intention or goal and writing it down. I set the intention to expand my freelance business this year. No, it didn’t happen magically and without any effort on my behalf. I did the work, but first I had to be clear about what I was setting out to do, and I had to believe that I could do it. As I progress, I distance myself more and more from the limiting beliefs that held me back. 

Round two: Find mentors who are already doing what you want to do
Some of the most helpful, friendly people I know are people I’ve “met” online. I have a mentor in Canada who I have never met in person, yet she’s willing to take time out of her schedule to talk with me over the phone. She is making a living doing something that several people have told me is hard or impossible to do. I choose not to listen to them. I choose to hear how she is already doing this impossible thing.

Mentors also keep you positive. If you are feeling stuck or uninspired, contact one of your mentors to ask a question or reread an inspiring e-mail they sent. Block out the noise.

Round three: Ignore others’ encroaching limiting beliefs
It’s easy to be discouraged by other people’s limiting beliefs. Maybe you know someone who loves to tell others why something can’t or shouldn’t be done. If it’s legitimate constructive criticism, by all means, don’t dismiss it. But you can recognize limiting beliefs pretty easily, especially if you used to be the one coming up with them. Just smile and move along.

Or, use it as fuel. Sometimes nothing gets me more fired up than hearing the reasons I can’t do something. (Especially if that reason is because I am a female!)

Finally, keep a Word document with positive statements people have made. It’s cheesy, but consider this: How many times do we remember the nice or positive things people say to us or about us? Most people fixate on the negative, and that’s what they remember. You probably can recall dozens of awful moments all the way back to kindergarten, but do you remember the professor who told you you have a talent for writing profiles or the editor who said you wrote a killer article? Write down the good stuff, and read it when you need a pep talk.

Round four: Make a move.
Do something small to get the ball rolling, even if you think you will fail, cancel, or back out later:

  • One e-mail to rev up a freelance business.
  • A $400 deposit on a trip to Europe.
  • Weeks of training in the boxing gym on heavy bags and focus mitts.
  • Reserve a class at a dive shop.

Once you light the fire, it’ll be harder to put the brakes on.

I can still list limiting beliefs I’m holding, and I’m sure there will be many more in my future. The solutions to overcoming these fears start with a desire to take action. What limiting beliefs do you hold? How are you working to overcome them?

J.D.’s note: For more on this subject, check out my advice on how to fight financial trolls.

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