Freelancing will never feel like real life to me

Yet a recent study predicts that 40 percent of America’s workforce will be working as contractors, freelancers, or contingent workers by 2020. Sixty million writers, engineers, legal consultants, artists, and yes, editors, floating from job to job–sometimes up, sometimes down.

It’s usually a choice, right? It’s the choice to be ones own boss, to say no to commuting and cubicles. People want or need the freedom to work from wherever, whenever, and freelancing offers that. Freelance work can sometimes mean going into an office, or it can mean the staffs at the area’s coffee shops know your name, schedule, and drink.

For me, it’s usually the nearest couch, and I find that after working and slouching a few hours, I start to worry that my butt is flattening out to conform to the couch. Not a good thing. Wearing pajamas all day cuts down on laundry, at least.

It’s also not a good thing to be all by my onesie for the whole day. Freelancing as I know it is incredibly isolated. There are companies that sole purpose of existence is to recreate the office environment for freelancers. They have the cool desk spaces, stocked fridges, office-wide March Madness brackets… all for a tidy fee, of course.

Which seems a little silly, right? Swim against the current and be your own boss to ditch the corporate machine only to pay to have the familiar fluorescent lights over your rented desk.

Sometimes the work slows or the project-based job finishes. No one owes a freelancer anything, so when your sails suddenly lose their wind, it’s easy to feel adrift. I dread self-promotion so much, I hardly even keep up my LinkedIn profile, so when I don’t have work, I just don’t work—obviously this is not a good long-term strategy for me.

For those sixty million Americans (and everyone else, since we’re all on this boat together), I hope we can decouple our health insurance from our employment. And I hope someone does something about the tax system so it’s not so absurdly complicated to file as a freelancer.

I love the freedom I have as an editor, but I don’t want to be one of those sixty million. I also don’t want to be in front of a computer all day. I want to be… something else.

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2 responses

  1. I really like hearing this perspective because I badly want to work “for myself,” while recognizing that there are compromises involved if I commit to it someday. I find 40 hour work-weeks in distracting environments to be really problematic and (at this stage in my life), pretty bad for my career. I like working with people when there are projects that require collaboration, but otherwise I’d rather save the 1.5 hours per day (!) of commuting time and only work with others when it’s beneficial.

    Also, if I’m not spending most of my time at work learning from and teaching others, being in the same place as people for 8 hours per day is not the best use of my time. I can’t wait to get away from an environment where I am forced to hear constant talk about March Madness brackets! The problem is when you can’t get away from it, even for an afternoon. I think I might feel differently about it if I worked in a place where more people shared my interests or who I feel more of a close affinity for in other ways. My ideal next job would have a mix of remote and in-person collaborative work, and I really want to work with people who can challenge me and teach me.

    I know what you mean about sitting on the couch, but I find the office environment a lot less healthy than what I can provide for myself at home or outside. I love being in front of a computer all day, but not someone else’s computer, and I want to get up from it when I feel like it. (These freedoms, though rare, are fortunately not exclusive to freelancing.)

    • Great points, Oliver. I can see how you might really take to freelancing if that magic unicorn ideal job doesn’t come along. Plus, I believe we’re still young enough that it’s not an unreasonable career move to make right now–I don’t think too many potential future bosses would think it strange that a few months or years were taken out of the traditional career path to give contract work a shot.

      Thanks for weighing in!

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