Taking the Plunge: Full-time to Freelance

I’m generally very risk averse and never thought I’d want to be a freelancer — until I did. It was like waking up and suddenly liking cilantro. Unthinkable.

I’d been a full-time, mostly in-house designer for the bulk of 20 years in both Chicago and Los Angeles. This past fall, I found myself increasingly frustrated at my current job and having a lot of fun working with a regular freelance client. I think the proximity to turning 40 gave me perspective: Life is short, and I didn’t like how I was spending my days. Suddenly, I found myself reading articles with titles like “Am I Ready to Freelance,” and the resounding answer appeared to be yes. Soon, I gave my two weeks’ notice at a company where people really only leave if they’re retiring, get laid off or, shall we say, go to the cubicle in the sky.

After six months of the expected ups and downs but still feeling no regret, I asked members of the Freelancing Females group on Facebook why they switched to freelancing. I suspected the reasons would vary more than I’d have expected before I’d made the change myself. The responses fascinated me, and most common reason may surprise you.

First, something most can relate to: These ladies were stressed. Diana Griffith recounted being creatively stifled and consistently overworked. Lucy Bekker began freelancing right out of school after hearing multiple people describe high levels of stress (and little time for themselves) in their traditional work situations. Multiple women became freelancers as new moms in an effort to better balance their daily lives.

Layoffs as a precursor to freelancing is another common thread. Lauren Sengele freelanced after being let go after eleven years as a star employee. Alex Cannon found herself among laid-off colleagues and peers noticing a decrease in full-time jobs for art directors and mid-level designers, adding, “I don’t think many of those jobs will ever return in the way they existed before this year.”

And while freelancing isn’t a financial sure thing, money is clearly a motivator. Jasmine Elyse Myers said she relishes the earning potential, noting that now, “the sky is the limit.” Carol Lee recounted asking for a salary bump to match her job responsibilities and the salaries of her male colleagues. Rebuffed completely, she gave her notice, explaining, “I’d spent years pouring my heart and soul into these companies, and I’m so happy to be able to put all that energy into myself.” The jewelry company Marisa Dzintars worked for “continually tried paying us less and less,” she said. She now owns her very own jewelry company.

But the most common reason respondents listed was health — both mental and physical. Many women described work situations that directly caused or exacerbated illnesses. Some noted their home lives suffering because of anxiety caused by office politics and bad managers, while others experienced hostility and even refusal of necessary accommodations after revealing an illness. Mandy Kubu said she values the health benefits of a flexible schedule as well as the work itself, noting that “being able to do what I want to do with the people I want is really empowering and motivating!”

From my perspective as a newbie solo freelancer, I see each story as a powerful response to the fears associated with going solo. Each woman decided to make changes that prioritized her own talents, values, health, loved ones or schedules — sometimes all of them combined. No one described the change as easy (most noted the opposite), but I think Marisa Dzintars put it best: “We’re about being bold,” and I’m grateful to be in such good company.

Copyedited by Caperton Gillett