Stop Thinking Freelancers Are Desperate to Make A Quick Buck
It’s time to ditch the misconception that freelancers are nothing more than broke corporate failures
It’s time to change the way we think about the word ‘freelance’.
In the age of the gig economy, there’s a still a negative connotation, an assumption that freelancers are just out-of-work [insert corporate job title here]. But those who hold this outdated view are at odds with the times.
In short, freelancing represents the future of work. 56.7 million Americans freelanced in 2018, according to the annual study from Upwork and the Freelancers Union. That’s 1 in every 3 Americans. The previous year’s survey revealed that freelancers contributed over $1 trillion to the U.S. economy and that nearly half of us earned more on our own than at our previous employers. Not bad for “corporate failures”.
Yet still, as modern work culture shifts (e.g. remote employees, open-plan offices, relaxed dress codes, etc.) and millions of people go into business for themselves, freelancers, myself included, are still regularly underestimated.
Recently, a gentleman on LinkedIn thought I was an ideal candidate for a “work from home” opportunity. It was one of those gigs where I buy or sell something, then recruit two friends to do the same and make money from their purchases. Then they recruit two friends. And so on and so on. No offense to those who choose this type of work but it’s not for me.
Initially, I was annoyed that my LinkedIn inbox had become yet another digital space that required a spam filter. But the more I thought about it, there was something more significant to be upset about. What exactly made me an ideal candidate? Presumably, this gentleman was looking for people who didn’t make much money and who were willing to take any job that came their way just to make a quick buck. I’m not that guy, so I politely rejected his offer.
“Why not do both?” he asked. “I have a full-time job as well. I do this part-time.”
I responded, “My passion is writing. I’m able to do it full-time so there’s no need to do anything else. I’ve already spent 11 years of my life doing jobs that don’t align with my passion. I won’t do it again.”
My message was loud and clear — I was not the ideal candidate.
It’s offensive when people automatically assume ‘freelance’ is nothing more than a pseudonym for ‘poor’. Yes, I am looking for ways to earn income. Yes, there are times when the well dries up and my bank account balance gets uncomfortably low and stability isn’t guaranteed. But those difficult financial moments don’t motivate me to take any job that comes my way. They drive me to work even harder to find gigs that I’m passionate about. I know what it’s like when the going’s good, and a momentary downturn isn’t enough to make me forget that feeling. I stay the course, I quell my desperation and panic, and I stick it out until the right opportunity comes along.
It’s hard for people who’ve been raised in corporate culture to understand this. They’re frightened by freelancing’s unpredictability and total lack of a safety net. Your personal success depends on your hustle. You have to grind constantly, vigorously shake the tree, and accept that no two days, let alone hours, will be the same. I understand that all of this sounds scary to someone who has a cubicle, a 401K, and a reliable biweekly paycheck. But I don’t understand when that fear manifests itself as judgment.
In the message about the “work from home” opportunity, and in countless other similar conversations, I’ve faced an unfair assumption that being my own employer means I don’t have regular work. And that lack of regular work means I’m broke. And being broke means I’ll take any opportunity, regardless of its relevance to my career path and skill set.
These people, who pore over LinkedIn profiles assuming freelancers are desperate for a buck, have it all wrong.
I don’t know about the other 56 million freelancers out there, but I chose to work for myself because I had a very specific vision of how I wanted to live my life. How I wanted to work, what I wanted to work on, where I did that work, when I worked, the joy my work brought me. The professional life I live now would’ve been impossible with a boss looming over my shoulder and employees tugging on my shirt hem.
Yes, the beginning was hard. There were weeks where my income was literally $0. But I had the support of a loving husband, so I didn’t fall flat on my face. And even though I was frustrated and struggling, I still had a clear vision of where I wanted to end up. If I would’ve started selling products or subscriptions or whatever the hell else people are selling from home these days, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I’m a Top Rated Fiverr Pro and a Top Rated Freelancer on Upwork. Plus, I have the time to share my work here on Medium and develop numerous fiction projects that I hope to publish or use to find representation. I love where I am right now, and if I would’ve prioritized chasing a dollar over building my freelance career, that wouldn’t be the case.
What I want people to understand is this — freelancers can earn just as much income as anyone else in a more traditional line of work. We may not do it the same way. We don’t have the set hours or predictable workload. But we love what we do, and ultimately, we can still put food on the table.
When you message us about an opportunity that’s based solely on earning money and has nothing to do with our chosen industry, you’re assuming we’re not successful. You’re also assuming we share the same definition of success. For many freelancers, we may not be successful in the traditional sense, with a resume chock full of top-tier corporations or notable publications. But we do have quality of life and control over our career trajectory and a definition of success that includes balance and passion. We get to do exactly what we love every day, and saying yes to your opportunity threatens that.
The last guy who bothered me about an “attractive opportunity” got a nice, yet stern rejection. But who’s to say all the other freelancers will be that nice?
To read more of my published work, visit jeffereyspivey.com.