Should You Go with Your Gut?

Did you ever have that sinking feeling that a project you are about to start isn’t going to go right?

You’ve checked the client out thoroughly and they seem legit. You’ve defined the scope of the project in detail and you understand what is required.

Nothing seems to be amiss…and yet you still have that uneasy feeling that something is wrong with this project. You just can’t put your finger on the problem.

Should you go ahead and accept the project anyway, despite the sinking feeling you have about it in your gut? Or should you trust your gut feeling and turn the project down?

In this post, we’ll explore your options for what to do when a project seems right, but feels wrong. There are pros and cons for taking the project anyway, and we’ll look at both sides. Feel free to share your own experiences and insights at the end of the post.

Why Your Gut May Be Right

There are many who believe that our intuition can sense trouble before it actually occurs. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong about a particular client or project, there may actually be something valid behind your feeling (even if you don’t know what it is yet).

You may have actually sensed potential problems such as:

  • A personality conflict. Often clients go out of their way to impress you when you first meet. Personality conflicts usually surface later. But sometimes you can sense personality problems even when there is no concrete evidence.
  • A lie. Naturally, no one will come out and tell you that they are lying, but there are often subtle clues that we pick up on subconsciously when someone tells a lie. These clues could be the source of your gut feeling.

The bottom line is that if the idea of working with someone on a particular project makes you extremely uncomfortable, then you don’t have to work with them. Sometimes it is better that you do not. After all, you’re a freelancer and you can pick and choose the projects that you work on.

Consider your past history. If your gut feelings have been right in the past, you probably need to listen to what your intuition is trying to tell you now.

On the other hand, your gut feeling might be wrong.

Why Your Gut May Be Wrong

There are perfectly valid reasons why your negative gut feeling could be wrong. There are many factors that can feel like intuition, but actually are not. Here are a few of them.

  • Fear. Are you afraid to try new things? Fear is one of a freelancer’s greatest enemies. Fear can keep you from taking chances and growing as a freelancer and as a person.
  • Lack of confidence. Lack of confidence can also keep a freelancer from success. Try to look at your abilities and accomplishments objectively. If you need to, enlist the help of a friend.

If you let your fear and lack of confidence keep you from ever taking risks or trying new things, you may have trouble moving ahead in your freelancing business. It’s not always a good idea to go with your gut.

Again, consider your past history. If you know that you tend to be fearful and lacking in confidence, that may be what’s actually behind your negative gut feeling.

Also, remember that having negative feelings about a project can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Beware the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

If you do proceed on a project despite having a negative gut feeling about it, beware the self-fulfilling prophecy.

In this case, a self-fulfilling prophecy means that because you believe that the project may go wrong you subconsciously sabotage the project and cause it to fail. Thus, your gut feeling becomes reality.

Watch your attitude closely to make sure that you put your best efforts into this project, despite your initial misgivings.

Your Turn

In the end, the choice about whether to accept or reject a project based on your gut feeling about it is yours.

What do you do when a project simply feels wrong? Do you accept it anyway, or turn it down? Can you think of any options that I missed?

Share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. says

    How true, Laura! I am a very instinctive person and can usually trust my gut. However, my gut has been wrong a few times. So I proceed with caution.

    Right now I’m in the middle of a project that’s going nowhere. My gut tells me that one of my client’s employees is trying to sabotage it. But since they’ve been a client for 2 years now and have been dependable before, I’m sticking with it.

    The advantage of the freelancer life is that even if you take a project and it doesn’t turn out well, you don’t have to take another from that client. Be sure to get the terms of the project in writing. I usually charge a 50% deposit up front that’s not refundable, so it gives an incentive to keep someone from cancelling a project.

  2. says

    So True! Dont lie to yourself either and try to justify it. You can always find a reason to tackle a big project even with you bad gut feeling, if the project is going to put some Benjamins in your billfold! Don’t let be the only factor. Making good decisions, and taking on only projects that you know will do will, will bring you referrals that will pay in dividends, more so than taking on bad ones!

  3. says

    Catena Creations–So true. This is one case where it’s definitely advantageous to be a freelancer since you can turn projects down.

    san francisco financial planner, Thanks for joining the conversation. :)

  4. says

    I wish that I had followed my gut instincts before ( I do now) I was tricked into supplying huge amounts of work, distracting me from my business and eating into my time to such a level that I barely saw my children for months. The reward for such work was legal threats when I refused any more input. Once bitten twice shy as they say, I won’t ignore the inner voice again, it was right all along.

  5. says

    So true! I always follow my gut whenever I felt that there’s something wrong. We should always be selective because not every person or opportunity that knocks on the door of your life should be let in. Thank you for sharing this article Laura.

  6. says

    “Gut instincts” and “intuition” have a scientific basis. Your mind receives a number of cues, through your senses, experience and memory but they do not reach the conscience level. The sub-conscience sends out a message that says prepare for fight of flight and your gut reacts by triggering a vague sense of unease, hence the term “Gut Instincts”.
    Laura is right, the same feelings can also be triggered by fear. A personal journal will help you to track when that feeling occurs and over time you’ll know if its fear or intuition. You’ll learn how to “trust your gut.”

  7. says

    Well written article Laura, I can relate so many times “Self-Fulfilling Prophecy” attitude has costed me both time and money. I have few clients whom i got very negative gut feeling but they are now the best clients i can rely on, vice versa has happened too..Hence we need to be wise in most of the circumstances.


  1. […] Did you ever have that sinking feeling that a project you are about to start isn’t going to go right? You’ve checked the client out thoroughly and they seem legit. You’ve defined the scope of the project in detail and you understand what is required. Nothing seems to be amiss…and yet you still have that uneasy feeling that something is wrong with this project Direct Link […]

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