What Your Freelance Fantasy Says About You & Your Job

freelance definition

Freelancers have it easy. They don’t have a boss, they don’t have set hours and they only have to commute if they feel like it. That’s the fantasy anyway.

Images accompanying articles about working as a freelance invariably involve someone in a beautiful setting, quietly contemplating the fruits of their creative genius.

You don’t tend to see them depicted in a state of emotional meltdown with coffee all over their laptop and their latest deadline looming.

The fantasy and the reality can sometimes be quite far apart — and that’s putting it mildly.

It’s a bit like that in a full-time paid post as well, although in that case the emotional current tends to run the other way.

What I mean is that once you’re in, it starts to get really hard to imagine just how you might cope with losing your job.

Fear of the Unknown

The day-to-day thinking that governs exactly what you have to do, when you have to do it and how you have to do it can make properly considering doing anything else a scary proposition.

And as a recent Cardiff University survey showed, anxiety over losing one’s job is at an all-time high. Fear of the unknown can be deeply inhibiting.

We can fantasize — like all those descriptions of working freelance that look like something between a holiday brochure and a fairy tale — but it is by no means as easy to fully and practically get to grips with your options.

And as soon as you start to think that way, you’ve self-selected as one of your boss’s dream employees, and not in a good way!

Once you lose sight of your place in the wider professional marketplace, your boss has got you right where they want you: frightened and dependent.

If that sounds like a rather brutal view of labor relations, it’s supposed to!

Whatever you do, your ability to negotiate your true worth is compromised as soon as you reach the point where you can’t imagine what else you’d do if you were suddenly “let go.” Without a viable Plan B, you are entirely at the mercy of whoever is holding the purse strings.

What’s that got to do with freelancing? Good question.

The Heroic Figure

What it’s got to do with freelancing is that freelancers are the ones who are perceived to have escaped that wage-slave mentality.

It’s not that they’ve reached the Promised Land — they haven’t. But they have at least moved to a place where they can tell someone where to go if they don’t like what they’re being asked to do.

Maybe that’s why they’re so often portrayed as some sort of vaguely heroic figure. They are the ones who roam free across the wide open terrain of professional life, putting down roots only when it suits them and otherwise enjoying a carefree, nomadic life, out there, somewhere close to the horizon.

But this romanticized version of freelancing derives its power not from what working for oneself is actually like.

The fantasy is, rather, a reflection of what it means to be employed. It’s an image of all the things that being an employee is not. It is an inverted reflection.

Freedom and/or Security

Being an employee means that you’re not free to come and go as you please. It means you might have to work in unglamorous and uncomfortable conditions, and it means that you might have to put up with people who are not as attractive as the models we see photographed pretending to be freelancers.

What it also means is that if you spill coffee over your keyboard, someone else will sort out the mess for you. It means you can rely on a salary at the end of the month, and it means that for all the ties that restrict what you can do on a day-to-day basis, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel every time to go to work.

Whether you think those things are worth giving up some freedom for is up to you. The important thing to remember is that there is always an alternative. You just need to be brave enough to consider it properly.

(Photo by David Martyn Hunt / CC BY)

Tina Su is the editor at Work Awesome and Think Simple Now.


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