Imposter Syndrome Exists — I was reading this incredible job description and thought two opposing thoughts. “I would love this!” and “I wonder if I can do this.” I wish someone told me about this imposter syndrome thing. I wish I knew it was a common issue, especially for very competent people and even more frequently for women. Advice? Develop some self-talk to dispel self-doubt.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melody Wright.
Melody is a Canadian copywriter living in beautiful Ecuador. She rescues dogs and grows chocolate and coffee. After a major car accident in 2005, she took over a decade to recuperate and is now back in front of her computer.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I was “that kid.” I was in all the accelerated and enriched programs and even skipped a grade. I took ballet lessons six days a week and always loved to accomplish something from a very young age. We moved a lot — whenever my father encountered a better opportunity for the family. I don’t know how many moves I’ve made in my life, as I lost count after 30.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
After my accident, I was not able to do much for a long time. Eventually, I took up gardening. I discovered a love for growing my own tomatoes! This was a bit of a surprise after decades of killing houseplants.
Once the legal aspects of my car accident were over and I was medically stable, my husband and I had to decide what to do. If we stayed in Canada, he would have to continue working every day, leaving me (bored and lonely) at home. So, we started looking into other countries where our money could go further and where I could grow tomatoes all year.
Ecuador was soon on the top of the list. It uses the US dollar and has an accessible semi-socialized medical system. Ecuador allows ex-pats to own land and has an immigration policy we could manage. So, we sold everything, packed two suitcases each, put my little dog into a carrier under the seat in front of us, and got on a plane — sight unseen.
That first year we spent getting our immigration paperwork completed and taking a tour around the country to decide where we wanted to live. Most of our tour was in a taxi, which made for great Spanish lessons and lots of freedom.
After months of touring, on one stretch of highway, my husband and I both said, “Stop the car!” at the same time. (He said it in Spanish because he was talking to the driver. I said it in English because I was talking to him! But it was simultaneous.)
That spot is about 5km as the crow flies from where we live now. We moved to the area, started hunting for property, purchased our acreage, and spent several years developing the farm.
But you can only spend so much time watching the chocolate grow and playing with puppies. So, as someone who likes to be busy, I started researching things I could do. I searched for “freelancing” to see what Google knew.
I made a profile on Freelancer.com and started bidding on projects. At first, they didn’t pay well, but that wasn’t the point. I wanted something to do that felt productive. And it worked.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I think the most obvious thing is that I wasn’t pushing to create a business. I applied my 25+ years of business knowledge. Having trained sales reps and managers in the past, I certainly knew what to do. I kept busy, doing as much work as I could get, just happy to be productive.
I developed incredible relationships with employers on the Freelancer platform that I maintain even now. They started to rely on me, knowing I could and would fulfill or exceed their expectations. So, the more work I did, the more work there was.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
I would suggest they look at the reasons for their reluctance. Are they afraid to succeed? To fail? And why? Imposter Syndrome is a thing, too. Many people, especially women (myself included) have skills, yet sometimes question whether they are “good enough” for a particular job.
An external measure of skills, like taking a course and passing the test, can help a lot. But the best way I’ve found is to push past and find employers who love my work and work with them. Having hundreds of reviews on my profile page at Freelancer.com helps, too. I look back on what employers have said over the years and remind myself that I do have those skills. Everyone needs encouragement now and then, and working alone means you have to find a way to encourage yourself.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I enjoy variety. I love having several projects on my desk all at the same time. I switch back and forth between them, so I can always “write inspired.” If I hit a block with one project, I put it down and pick up another. And I might play some Candy Crush or go for a walk with the puppies for a few minutes to refocus my brain. Mostly, I find business writing fresh and enjoyable in its very essence, so I don’t feel like I have to do much to keep it that way.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I like that I can (and do) pick and choose the projects and employers. If I don’t have “chemistry” with an employer or “engage” with their project in some way, I just say “no.” I know there are lots of other freelancers out there to help, so I don’t feel obliged in any way to take something on that will be a burden to me. And I enjoy the relationships that I have with ongoing clients, which is most of the work I do now.
Other content and copywriters often despair over finding work. They spend so much time finding clients that they end up charging a lot for the actual writing to make a living. Because I work on Freelancer.com, clients come to me (I bid only on the occasional project now) so I can offer lower rates than writers who have to spend hundreds of dollars (and hours) every month on marketing themselves.
I’m trying to think of any downsides of running a solo business and can’t, for me. I like that I can work when I want, on projects I choose.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Ha ha ha! Sure. It pays better than I imagined. Mostly, I eased into the job, so I’m not sure I had any preconceived ideas.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself, “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
Nope. Not even once. Probably because I am a person with a disability sitting in South America, so that isn’t really an option for me. Then again, I’ve had many full-time offers from employers. Even without considering that they pay less than working on the Freelancer platform for me, I don’t want one boss. I like that I can fire a single boss and still have others, so I still have work!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Mistake, I dunno, but one of the first jobs I had as a freelancer was rewriting web pages for a headlice website. I think I wrote 50 or more, all saying the same thing for different locations. I made a template to change different parts of the text and a list of options for what to insert. It quickly became a copy and paste job, but it worked.
Since then, I have had many projects that taking the time to make a template was worthwhile. It’s one of the first thoughts I have if someone asks for several similar website pages for SEO now.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I’m not sure I have any actual leadership aspirations anymore. I enjoy engaging with employers about their projects and their aspirations for their businesses.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I like to think that “writing the internet” (which is what I tell people I do when they ask) has improved the quality of at least some of what’s out there. I offer discounts to non-profits and work a lot in the senior niche.
Most of how I make the world a better place is probably rescuing dogs here in South America. Right now, we have more than 30 dogs, and we get more constantly. The money I earn goes to pay for vet bills, sterilizations, and lots of dog food! We plan to set up a spay and neuter clinic in our local town, paying for ten surgeries a week. I’m working out the funding for that now and hoping to be able to accept donations.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Imposter Syndrome Exists — I was reading this incredible job description and thought two opposing thoughts. “I would love this!” and “I wonder if I can do this.” I wish someone told me about this imposter syndrome thing. I wish I knew it was a common issue, especially for very competent people and even more frequently for women. Advice? Develop some self-talk to dispel self-doubt.
- Don’t Charge by the Hour — I am not a clock watcher. Never have been. If a project takes extra time to get it right, I put in the time. I don’t think it is fair to charge the employer because I decided to spend some extra time. On the other hand, if I manage to get something done faster than expected, I should not be penalized for doing a job well. Charging hourly punishes an efficient writer. I always quote a flat fee, so everyone knows what to expect.
- Step Away, Even When Everything is Not Finished — I once had a job at a bank where I received a new pile of paperwork every morning. My job was to do whatever was needed for each page by the end of my day. When I went home at night, there was nothing left on my desk. That was the most unfulfilling job I ever had! When I hesitate to walk away at the end of the day, even with projects open on my desk, I remember that job at the bank. I know that it is this “unfinished nature” of the work that I find fulfilling.
- Interruptions Happen — Dogs and people need to be fed. Zoom meetings interrupt the creative flow of writing another project. Life happens. I love to focus on my work, often to the exclusion of all else. When I am interrupted, I remind myself that the interruption is, in fact, life, and as much as I love my work, the purpose of work is life. This is perhaps an issue I have dealt with since childhood!
- Don’t Turn on the Camera — So many meetings anymore. Even just a year ago, so much was completed by typed chat, but now everyone wants a Zoom meeting for everything. At first, this was a stressor, but I’ve learned that not turning on the camera (and asking others to turn theirs off, too) makes the meeting into a phone call for me. Much less tiring and freeing (not even “waist up” dressing) so I can concentrate on expectations and deliverables.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Back in the 1980s, managers were encouraged to “manage by walking around.” Before that, managers worked behind closed doors, so creating “open-door policies” and interacting with employees was revolutionary.
Since then, management styles have evolved slightly, but it took a global pandemic for most managers to use the technology and human resources they already had. People given the freedom to work remotely get more done.
Now that at least 1 out of 5 employees has caregiving responsibilities for ageing or disabled relatives, people need more flexibility than flex-time hours. With a global pandemic, even more workers are pulled out of the workforce. If companies are to maintain productivity levels, they will need to rely on remote workers, many of them freelancers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” ― Henry Ford
I am always looking for a better, more efficient, more effective way to accomplish results. This has been even more important after my accident because I have had to approach many things radically differently. I spent years working out new approaches to even mundane things to make sure I could live “as normally as possible.”
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
In-person, no, there is nobody, but perhaps a nice 5-minute Zoom call with Tom Brady that my son could join?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.