An Accidental Freelancer — How huge changes in life circumstances propelled me into freelancing

The truth is, I started freelancing accidentally. But now I am happy with life as a freelancer and am now doing more than I ever thought possible. As I have become proud of what I’ve survived and achieved, my old social, positive self has returned.

Manchester Flylancer Community Host Alexandra Singer, Kayaking 67 miles across Scotland ‘in the pouring rain’ in aid of The Back Up Trust

I adore Manchester, the city in which I grew up

Manchester has always been a trendsetting place, filled with new bars and cafes springing up every year, and although it’s a centre for business, it has a fairly relaxed vibe. The recent devastating bomb has highlighted the cheeky, sarcastic Mancunian spirit, as people have pulled together, raising money for the victims and their families, celebrating the city and refusing to be divided. But, I never thought that I’d love Manchester again.

I was brought back here after two years in the hospital, with an incomplete spinal injury, living my life in a wheelchair. I had been working as a corporate lawyer in London when I fell seriously ill and almost lost my life. My family was told that if I did survive, I would be mentally handicapped for the rest of my life. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, but my spinal cord was damaged as a result. I spent long hours in physiotherapy, but after a long time and effort it became obvious that an incomplete spinal injury is not curable, so I now use a wheelchair.

Freelancing was the only way forward

“Why would anyone give up definite pay and holidays for this? For freedom.”

When I returned home to Manchester, I sat on my childhood bed and wondered how to go about rebuilding my life. I had detested working in corporate law. I hated the long days and nights; the low, strip-level lighting; the boring, repetitive work; the toxic atmosphere, the formal suits and the all-round stiffness. This wasn’t why I had gone into law, but student debt has a powerful influence over our choices. It was also a pathway into working internationally and as a potential progression into a more satisfying area of law. The reason I entered the law was because I believe firmly in justice and holding people, businesses, and authorities to account.

Yet working in corporate law failed to satisfy any of these desires; instead I was drowning in contract paperwork and the endless demands of my bosses.

To go freelance seemed too risky, precarious… in short, madness.

Why would anyone give up definite pay and holidays for this? For freedom. Freedom from the office, from the whims of superiors, from the endless commuting and the exhaustion that all of that brings and leaves little time for actually enjoying life.

After what I had been through, and the restrictions that lack of full mobility places on me, I knew that freedom cannot be overvalued. For me, freelancing offered me freedom, both mental as well as physical.

So some time ago, I stopped mourning for my old life.

It can’t be denied that when people ask that question “What do you do?”, a response naming a major law firm carries a certain prestige. But it is a prestige that I was trained into accepting was the norm and was what should be aimed for. How much more prestigious to build up a business on your own, network, market, and succeed on your own terms, rather than on the back of a corporation.

Since I woke up from that three month coma in a hospital bed, I’ve had a great deal of support from family and friends. But after a period of grieving for my former abilities and old life, I realised that ultimately, I was on my own. I was the only person who could lift me out of the circumstances in which I found myself. It was a gradual process, and I’m not sure quite how it happened, but I started exercising at the gym, swimming, and kayaking. I subscribed to the philosophy of “get up, dress up, show up”, and after a while, these activities became second nature to me.

Freedom to do what I’ve always wanted to do

“Having lived in Italy and speaking fluent Italian, I had the idea of offering my services as a “lawyer linguist” and moving into translation.”

Instead of being ashamed of my acquired disability and allowing myself to feel like a lesser person in society, I started to use my legal knowledge to challenge wrongdoing and fight for justice in the ways I’d always intended. I only take on work that interests me, I’m free to pursue my interest in Italian and the law, and I have the time to enjoy myself and pursue pro bono legal activity such as agitating for social change and access and acting for people who suffer discrimination.

I’ve always resented authority and being told what to do, so not only does freelancing suit me, but I’ve also successfully sued several businesses who have broken the law by denying access to wheelchair users, and snapped comebacks at people who breached my privacy and made inappropriate comments about my use of a wheelchair (believe me, it happens a lot!). This often occurs because businesses prefer to ignore the law regarding accessibility, and it is up to the discriminated to enforce it. The majority of people who lack a legal background find this difficult to do, so I am happy to help! I’m also closely involved with a spinal cord injury charity, the Back Up Trust, which does amazing work for people who have suffered an injury.

Having lived in Italy and speaking fluent Italian, I had the idea of offering my services as a “lawyer linguist” and moving into translation. As I didn’t want to go back to working in an office, I thought that this could be an interesting approach, and I was right! I began by translating for law firms and then advising them on various issues that arose in contracts. I now specialise in the translation of complicated legal documents and offer clients in-depth knowledge of the law of several jurisdictions. I work with law firms and businesses across Italy and in the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union. I adore Italian; for me, it’s the most beautiful language in the world, and being able to work with it every day is wonderful.

I’m now doing more than I ever dreamed possible

Alexandra Kayaking across Scotland for charity — “I had a wonderful time”

I started slowly, and my journey has been a long one. It’s felt like a case of one step forward, two steps back, but I am finally at a place where my business is becoming successful and I am happy with life.

As I became proud of what I’ve survived and achieved, my old social, positive self has returned. I’m now doing more than I ever dreamed possible even when I was walking: connecting with more people and getting involved with activities, such as kayaking, that I’d never been interested in before. I just kayaked and camped for 67 miles around Scotland in non-stop rain to raise money for charity, and had a wonderful time.

So the truth is, I started freelancing accidentally.

Huge changes in my life circumstances propelled me into freelancing. But I would never have had the courage to take the leap to do this when I was in corporate law and enjoying- and suffering- the benefits and certainty of a well paid and respected career.

It’s been tough. It’s taken years to build my business to a respectable level and I still have a long way to go. However, I’ve had support. I’ve always had family to fall back on in the event of failure. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and thankful that I live in a society with an economy where it’s possible for me to bounce back from a life-threatening experience and an acquired disability to reinvent myself.

Now I’m ignoring that voice in my head that says, “Spend 5 months in Lisbon!” and “Why not go to live in Berlin? to set up a Flylancer community in Manchester. I’m so delighted to find a community of like-minded people and will be working on making the Manchester hub a success. I look forward to meeting you all!

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Alex is a host of the Flylancer community. Flylancer is a global network for remote workers to meet, share and have fun together. Find out more info here, and join her for the Manchester Community Launch here.