What Work Means to Me as a Freelancer
Now with 95% less existential crises!
Everybody has their story of what propelled them into freelancing. For some it was a divorce. For others it was a “I don’t care if I make money” hobby that ended up making more money than their day job. For me, it was watching all my co-employees turn on me for the third time in my umpteenth job. Then realizing all the work I had done was just going to get erased. But also there was the whole pandemic thing. You have probably heard about the K-shaped recovery. It is often used to refer to industries, but I think it also works well for individuals. I personally got to watch as people either made less or more money, but very few stayed where they were. I technically was on the “down curve” of the K, but I feel more fortunate than most. This includes many on the “up curve”. This is because I got to re-define what work is for myself.
I was admittedly white-gloved into freelancing. I had a veteran web developer freelancer hand off work to me he no longer had time for. Amidst his already busy schedule, he also helped me with some of the nuances of getting into freelancing, like contracts and flaky clients. I also had clients willing to take a chance on someone inexperienced but eager to learn. I work/have worked in WordPress, copy-writing, data-entry, non-profit forms, FileMaker, Dev-Ops, etc. When I was in college and earlier in my career, I was warned against being too much of a jack-in-the-box. But I now realize it was from people that believed traditional work was your only option. If they haven’t noticed, traditional work is kind of getting eroded! For this, I feel quite privileged. I feel I got a head-start on what many people are going to learn eventually. This Neo-feudalist mindset of “You should just be happy you have a job” seems to be getting chipped away at everyday.
To illustrate, let me tell you about a typical day for me. I get up between 9 am and 2 pm. Then I have breakfast and coffee, unless I have a headache, in which case I go back to bed. Then after that, I play piano for 5 minutes. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I can feel myself getting better every day. Then I either work for like 15–30 minutes, and then move onto something else. After lunch, I often nap unless there is something really pressing for work. Then after nap I finally get to work around 5 pm. My best work times I have found are between 5 pm and 2 am. If you are wondering, I work about 20 hours a week. If you are also wondering, I don’t make sh*t. But with the time to deal with my health problems, depression, stress, and own meals, I don’t need nearly as much money.
Some people would say I have a dream job. I say that is setting the bar rather low. I think there are a lot of jobs that could be a lot more flexible than they are now. Indeed, in a lot of countries they already are. While we are at it, I think the idea of a dream job is kind of absurd. Some great options for gigs I am now pursuing didn’t even exist when I was in college. It doesn’t help that I was often told what my dream job should be. Or worse yet, what it shouldn’t be. Those people would be horrified that I do freelance writing now (as one of many gigs)! “No one makes a living writing” still echoes in my head sometimes. I just laugh.
I was also socialized along with everyone else that my day needed to be scheduled by somebody else. My goals had to be laid out in front of me. “Here is the cubicle where you will work the rest of your life” I think is the modern-day version of “This is the field where you will work the rest of your life”. I feel very fortunate I was able to find compassionate and practical capitalists. Don’t leave yet! That is not a paradoxical statement to me. Such capitalists view each other as potential partners. There is no one correct job, there is the one that works for you and/or me. Job interviews function like negotiations from the start. Pay is talked about immediately. It is understood I have something you want, and you have something I want. Complaints are dealt with out in the open because they don’t want you to leave. People see the end products of what they are making and feel indispensable. People will invest in your learning. It is seen as part of the job, not something you simply do to get a job. It is the sort of Nick Hanuerian-type of new capitalism where economic value comes from working with other people to create solutions for other people’s problems. Humans are treated like humans, and tools are treated like tools, not visa versa like in my last job. I think my last manager gave a buggy and unreliable testing software more respect and forgiveness than her employees.
That all being said, I feel like I need to be careful not to over-hype freelancing. It feels good to have friends and acquaintances ask me for my “expertise” of getting into freelancing. But I always make sure to tell them that you are switching one set of problems for another. I just find this set of problems much less mentally and existentially draining. There also isn’t really a clear line between what is and isn’t work for me. I know that scares some people off freelancing. Each to their own, but I don’t think it has to be if you are open-minded. For me, many things are a potential monetization opportunity. What I do for fun can pay later, like writing or making YouTube videos. Even if it doesn’t make me much money, I had the time to do it (not squeezed out of PTO) and had fun.
Some days I really feel like I got the best version of my timeline, despite the fact we are probably collectively living in the worst. I know a large aspect of this is privilege. I am white, live in one of the richest countries and despite being female in tech I have had many great mentors. I am trying to figure out how to help bring in more people from underrepresented groups, though after I figure out how to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck. If this still all doesn’t make sense, consider Einstein’s best quote that isn’t physics past most of our education level: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” The beauty of my work is that I get the time, energy, and space to treat everything as if it is a miracle. I hope you can find work like that. Actually, I want us to require it.