Is ‘Freelancer’ a Dirty Word?

Is There Another Word More Suitable for Us?

Is freelancer a dirty word? Some people wear the title proudly. Others cringe in horror. What is it about the word that causes so much of a stir in either direction? Why do some consider it a badge of honor? And why do some consider freelancer a dirty word?

I’ll admit that in the beginning, I called myself a freelancer. I had a full time job and did my art on the side. I still do. At first, like many others, I thought the term to be a good thing. To me, it had a bit of a romantic, artsy connotation. It signified a freedom of sorts. It described someone who worked on their own terms, had the freedom to pick and choose what jobs to take, and work when they wanted. I would even go so far as to say that it seemed entrepreneurial to me.

And even back then (we won’t discuss how far back), it made sense to me. With cost of living increasing and with no signs of slowing down, most families resort to two income earners. Kids make things more complicated. They not only add to the cost of living, but what happens when the school calls and little Johnny has a fever? If one person is a freelancer, they’re free to drop everything and go pick up the kid. Even if there were no kids or family, what’s so strange about wanting to dictate your own schedule and not wanting to answer to an alarm every morning?

Still, it didn’t take very long for me to start getting the vibe that other people had different ideas about what the word meant. I’d get comments (that went with a less than impressed expression) like, “Freelance? Why freelance? Why not work with Disney or Warner?” My answer has always been the same. I don’t want to work 16 hour days or be under that kind of pressure to perform. I don’t want to clock in and out and have someone tell me when I can leave and when I can’t. I want to have the freedom to accept the jobs I want to work on rather than not have a choice about the matter. Basically, I want to work on my own terms.

Strangely, most people think that means you can’t handle the job. You can’t cut it as an artist, writer, musician, or whatever you happen to be. They view a freelancer as being one step away from unemployment and you being a welfare case. They think freelancers are your stereotypical starving artists. In addition to that, people looking to hire a freelancer think that you’ll do the work for pennies. They certainly don’t see you as a professional or an expert in your field. They are in fact, put off that you’d charge what you’re really worth. Perhaps because they think you’re a welfare case, they expect you to be so desperate that your prices would be dirt cheap.

But why do people think that “corporate” equals success? Canada’s National Statistics Agency reports that freelancers consistently out-earn “standard” workers. According to CNBC, more than one out of three Americans workers are freelancers. Hillary Clinton, in her economic address, stated that this “gig economy (freelancers and entrepreneurs) is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about work place protection and what a good job will look like in the future.” And in 2014, Forbes stated that by the year 2020, 50% of Americans will be self-employed.

Why? If being a freelancer is such a crappy deal, why are people rushing towards it? Why do successful freelancers consistently out-earn standard workers, according to Canada’s stats report? In a society where we claim to encourage creativity and innovation, why do we ultimately put it down and make it a negative thing? Is it because those innovators and those creative and courageous enough to make a go of self-employment don’t fit the mold? Because they fall outside the norm and society as a whole can’t handle the free-thinkers?

These days when someone asks what I do, I tell them that I’m an animal portrait artist who dabbles in other projects once in a while. Hopping on board with those who think freelancer a dirty word, I use what I do as my descriptive title. Animal portrait artist. I like it. And it leaves no question as to what exactly that is, except maybe which medium I work with. Others might choose graphic designer, web designer, interior decorator, musician, sculptor, etc. Why do we have to have a company name attached to it (unless it’s our own)?

What about you? Are you comfortable with “freelancer” or do you prefer something else? What has your experience been with using the term? Is freelancer a dirty word to you?

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