I’m a freelancer. The modern iteration of the bannerless knight, the hired gun, a mercenary “creative”. Right? Does this label actually trace its roots back to the career of an armored knight, without land or lord, making a living through the sale of their lance and strong arm? Romantically, it sure is appealing to establish such a link. As it’s already there in my mind, here’s a little exploration into the meaning of this oft-used and rapidly expanding word.

My definition:

A contract-based worker with no single employer, no benefits implicit or explicit, no insurance or other workplace-provided benefits. Receiving nothing in exchange for their work that was not priorly negotiated and agreed.

Dictionary definitions:

  1. A person who works as a writer, designer, performer,or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job, etc., ratherthan working on a regular salary basis for one employer.

2. A person who contends in a cause or in a succession of various causes, as he or she chooses, without personal attachment or allegiance.

  1. a usually free lance : a mercenary soldier especially of the Middle Ages : condottiere

b : a person who acts independently without being affiliated with or authorized by an organization

2: a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer

Definition Discourse:

The historical free knight does make an appearance in one definition, but the darker interpretation gets placement in the other. Romantic as the bannerless warrior is, flip the coin and you get, from the definition “a person who contends in a cause or in a succession of various causes, as he or she chooses, without personal attachment or allegiance”. Not so cool. The link does indeed seem to be there however, and that’s a cool bit of history to have attached to a profession that is by definition without a lot of attachments. A freelancer has no organizational history, no honor roll of past standard-bearers or champions of industry. They just have themselves, their arms and their list of deeds with sword, mace, spreadsheet, or Mac.

Historical free lances became so for no doubt a wide variety of reasons, and at different points in time and in various situations were seen with disdain, distrust, or grudging respect. Modern representations of “hedge knights” and “sell swords” in Game of Thrones don’t come across well in many metrics outside badassery and skill-at-arms.

The cohort of contemporary freelancers are an equally mixed bag. Industry veterans looking to be their own boss, fresh grads looking for experience, dabblers looking for work on the side, the motivators are disparate. The conditions that lead many to the field are seemingly on the rise however, as the drumbeat of disruption, automation, and career mobility rise in the place of war and interneccine conflict.

It’s a better situation for populations and peasants, without doubt, but the ranks of freelancers are expected to swell greatly, all selling the products of their hands and minds for nothing save hard currency. In the days of mounted free lancers demand was great, as there was always some nephew of the king raising an army that needed to be struck down. Freelancers like myself aren’t dying in the mud, punctured by arrows. Instead we get old, and our supply of our labour does not greatly diminish. It overlaps with the two or three generations below us, feeding into a great pool of freelancers eager to be landed by the penny-pinching commercial anglers throwing in lines to pick off the biggest and juiciest of us.

A study of the motivations at play within the freelance job market would be fascinating, a look at the fractal painting of specific tasks where the interests of the freelancer and the client align perfectly, and all the ways, starting small, that this overlap starts to rip. Whether it’s perfect or not, freelancing, independent contracting, cash jobs, are all here to stay. No matter how class action lawsuits where hundreds or thousands of ‘freelancers’ in identical jobs inside a clearly defined organizational chart turn out, and if the big contract-holders are forced to become bona-fide employers. There will be more.

So on the ground level, as a freelancer myself, if you work at a company on a contract, seperated by inches and hessian from other people who are not your co-workers, or do not emerge for days from your home office, you may be wishing for a sense of connection. Some become rugged individualists do their work, get paid, and feel complete. For myself, I may not have workfriends or office parties or the birthdays of people I vaguely know to occasionally puncture monotony. What I have instead is a proud lineage of destrier-mounted warriors adorned in plate. That’s a hell of a lot cooler than Jerry in Accounting, no matter how hard he LARP’s.