Ask the Mentor: How do I deal with freelance rejection anxiety?

Media Mentor Esther Coleman-Hawkins answers your career questions with brisk no-nonsense advice for screen professionals.

The Question

Marcus writes: ‘I’m a freelance producer working in reality where I’ve been for the last 10 years. Like everyone I’ve been unemployed for the last few months. I know that we’re starting to crew back up but I’m struggling to make the calls and send my CV out. I’m feeling totally unconfident and unmotivated. I feel sick at the thought of getting ignored and rejected, but I want to be back at work. How do I get over this?

The Answer

Freelance Life. Hmmm, we all know the party line about it being ‘well paid, great for flexibility (6 weeks holiday anyone?), you get to say who, you to say when, you to say how much’.

We might even believe this some of the time.

But the reality is more like: constantly looking for work, contracts lasting just three or four weeks, having to ‘network’, and not being able to turn down a job for fear of where the next one is coming from. And that’s before you get me started on lack of sick pay and difficulty in getting a mortgage.

So, I’m going to call it. Freelancing can suck. And I say this as someone who has freelanced for most of her working life.

However, this isn’t a wrap party so I’m going to stop whingeing and talk about solutions.

Freelancing isn’t a system for building our self-esteem or confidence. It’s a system for employing people that’s driven by money.

I spoke to actor Kristy Best whose entire life is a twisted mix of short contracts and superficial rejection.

‘I used to worry a lot about my ethnicity and my look; assuming I’m not what they had in mind. End of the day, no matter how good your audition, you’re either the right fit or not.

‘I choose to think of auditions as not about getting a job; they’re a chance to act, have fun and catch up with casting agents.’

It’s the same in production. Work will come. It always does. Here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Remember that your CV reflects only part of you. It’s just your work persona that’s being ignored – not you as a fully rounded human being.
  • If you don’t feel like a fully rounded human being, you might want to work on that. There are plenty of great therapists who can help.
  • ‘Prolific’ is the name of this game.  One CV to one person isn’t going to get you work. Send your CV to everybody that moves, offer to buy them a coffee – then phone them. 
  • Write down all your beliefs about work. Everything from ‘Gina is always in work’ to ‘If I was better, I’d never have to call a production manager again’. Then read them to an industry friend, or post them in an industry related group. The raucous laughter will help you dismiss them.
  • Finally, remember freelancing isn’t a system for building our self-esteem or confidence. It’s a system for employing people that’s driven by money.

There are alternatives, probably, and that’s maybe something we need to discuss as an industry given what’s happened to us.

But right now, you need to sideline your emotional reaction to the system in order to get back into work.

Read more: Ask the Mentor: Is it time for a career change?

Got a question for the mentor? Send it to us at with the subject line ‘Media Mentor Question’ and we’ll pass it onto Esther.

Media Mentors are currently partnering with ACMI to produce the free Running Free online skills workshops for screen industry professionals and enthusiasts. See the full sessions here on ACMI’s YouTube channel.

Esther Coleman-Hawkins
About the Author
Co-founder of Media Mentors, Esther Coleman-Hawkins is an experienced TV producer, conference organiser and career mentor. Media Mentors provides one-on-one mentoring and runs workshops and networking events for people in the creative industry. Sessions with her, or her co-founder Denise Eriksen, can be booked through their website