Breaking out into a freelancing career is not an easy experience by any measure. It’s fun, it’s scary, it’s awesome, it’s dreadful, it’s sensational, it’s depressing – but not easy!
What is the ‘Draw’ or ‘Pull’ of a Freelancer’s Life?
The prospect of striking out on their own curdles most people’s blood. It is also the leading cause of overnight white hair – or something to that effect. A dependable pay check often looks like the only predictable method of self-sustenance. Yet, why do thousands upon thousands of employees regularly look for moonshine work in the hope that ‘it will stick’ and they can someday run a personalised service using the skills they’ve acquired in life? Why do countless day-jobbers wistfully look out the window at lunch break at the people in the park with their laptops propped up on their thighs and an iPod providing musical reprieve plugged in to their ears? Do they wish that they can be masters of their fate one day? Do they yearn for the flexibility and freedom that a freelance professional enjoys? Hardly!
The indigestible truth about freelancers is that they perpetually have their hearts in their mouths and their hands on the pulse of their personal finances. Will this project come through? Will that client pay up? Can I finish this job in time? God, not another all-nighter! This is the life of the average freelancer.
So, you might ask, why is it that freelancers still have fewer lines on their faces than full-time employees working for someone else? The secret lies not in the ability to choose your own lifestyle, but in the freedom to live that lifestyle the way you choose to. Confused? Read on.
The Truth about Happiness
The driving force behind personal success is fear. Never mind what Abraham Maslow told you – the key motivating factor in any person’s life is the fear of something bad, NOT the urge to achieve or acquire something good. We eat because we are afraid of hunger. We mate and have babies because we are afraid to leave this world without leaving something behind that is essentially ‘us.’ We make friends because we are afraid of loneliness. We buy fancy cars and live in big houses because we are afraid of what society will think of us.
With that fact established (hopefully), let us now compare the lives of a freelancer and a day-jobber:
- The day-jobber goes to work in the morning because he is dependent on his pay check; the freelancer wakes up according to the schedule he has set.
- The day-jobber cannot refuse – for the most part – any work his boss assigns him; the freelancer can, because if one client goes, another one is just a stone’s throw away – day jobs don’t come that easy.
- The day-jobber can only take breaks when ‘company policy’ allows; the freelancer can take a walk in the park or watch TV at 11am on a Monday morning. Both are obligated to deliver, but the latter has more flexibility and less constraint.
- The day-jobber is limited in his income; the freelancer is not. The more work you do for more clients, the more you get paid. And no, it is not the same as overtime in a regular job because that depends entirely on the needs of the business and is not under your control.
- The executive day-jobber rarely sees his kids in the day time – he typically sees them on the weekend or in a horizontal position when he leaves for work or comes back late at night; the freelancer gets some ‘play time’ with his kids in the morning and when they come back from school.
- The day-jobber is ‘stressed’ by the pressures at work; the freelancer is ‘challenged’ by the pressures of a project. There’s a difference.
The list goes on, but the point is not that freelancers have less ‘fear’ than the average day-jobber, but that the former has far more options to deal with that fear. You don’t like the client you are working with? Change the client! You don’t like working nights? Don’t take up projects that require late-night work. The truth is, a day-jobber does not have most of the choices that a freelancer has. And that brings us a full circle, back to the fear factor.
What, Then, is Happiness?
A happy person is one that has a minimal amount of fear in his life. A freelancer certainly has fears – no doubt about that. But the choices to overcome, circumvent, avoid, replace, repair, correct, alter and modify those fears are more than what a day-jobber is given. Of course, generalisation – in any discussion – is a recipe for disaster, but one truth cannot be ignored: that a freelancer can deal with ups and downs much better than a full-time employee can. That’s the clear but hard-to-digest truth.
You might have valid arguments to show that the security of a day job is superior to the uncertainty of a freelancer’s life. But even there, the real fact is that there is no such thing as job security. The 80s bore witness to that; the dotcom bubble burst of the 90s and the 00s bear the wounds of that; and the unpredictable financial climate of the 10s certainly are a testament to the truth of it.
The condition of being happy, then, is not the absence of fear, but leading a life that inherently has the appropriate tools to deal with it. And that is the life of a freelancer. As a translation professional, for example, you will have experienced those fears – and will have overcome them. The feeling of exhilaration is like nothing you can experience as a ‘cubicle worker.’
Happiness belongs to those who treat fear as a fact of life and a problem to be dealt with appropriately – not an enemy to be avoided at all cost.