This Is Why Freelancing Is Not for Everyone | 5 Actual Lessons I Learned as a Freelancer
Hereinbelow, we’ll look at how my typical freelancing day looks like and lessons I learned in my first year of working remotely. Perhaps, you’ve seen a dozen articles such as these, but wait a minute, give me a chance, and you’ll see where I’m coming from.
It’s 9 am; I slowly raise out of my soft snug bed reaching to snooze a very rude alarm clock. It’s 9:10 am, and I finally decide to get up. After doing all the slow morning toiletry routine, I make myself delicious scrambled eggs and brew pungent dark roasted coffee, all of which I slowly devour reading a newspaper with BBC rambling in the background. Grabbing a cup of my fresh brew, I get to my laptop and start reading today’s assignments. We have a team meeting at 11, where we discuss our company’s goals and make plans for this and the next day. Then I begin to write. I am a freelance copywriter, see. I write on the assigned topic, research, then write again, my fingers silently tapping on a keyboard in sort of fluid manual ballet. I decide to grab my laptop and go to the nearest coffee shop in search of inspiration. Somehow when you get outside, new ideas begin to flow freely, slowly making their way through billions of nerve cells inside the brain and arrange themselves into intricate, graceful patterns. I write at the coffee shop watching enthusiastic baristas in love with their jobs, never-ending streams of speeding passers-by through the glass window, eccentric and bizarre regulars who after a while spot me seating in the corner and silently acknowledge my existence nodding as if we are long-time friends. After I finish the article, I hit “send” and pack my bags ready to go home. In my apartment, I cook pasta all’arrabbiata dancing to the lively jazz tunes, have dinner with a glass of dry red, and peacefully doze off into a nightly slumber with an open book in my hands.
Sounds like I am living in a paradise, right?
Except it is not. In fact, what I’ve just described above is an ideal day that never happened in my life as a freelancer.
My real day looks pretty much like this:
It’s 7 am, and I rush out of my bed, simultaneously trying to wake up my sleepy child. I cook something remotely resembling an omelet, make my child eat the stuff, and swiftly throw a pile of dirty plates in the sink. I clumsily dress my son and layer him up from bottom to top in winter clothes, then rush him to the nursery. I return home already exhausted, although it’s only 8 am. I open up my laptop, grab a cup of instant coffee, and prepare for the team’s meeting which starts at 9 am. After the meeting, I write. And I write a lot. I write like crazy until my fingers stop responding and my thoughts leave my material body. I am dangerously falling off deadlines, so I try to revive what is left out of my exhausted creativity, and somehow I manage to finish the writing. I desperately hit “send,” get up and rush to take my son back from the nursery. Then the next day it all happens again. And the day after the next day, it’s a ground-hog day every day.
Now, that looks familiar, doesn’t it?
There’s a certain stereotype behind the term “freelancing.” Being a freelancer is not something you would boast about on Christmas dinner, helplessly trying to explain the word and what you actually do to your, say, aunt Nancy. Stigma goes both ways like a double-edged sword following two extremes: people think that a freelancer is a person who either lives at the beach, occasionally taking out his laptop from a backpack, or the complete nerd and sociopath trying to hide from humanity in her four-walled apartment behind the laptop’s black screen riddled with cryptic messages.
But the reality? The reality is somewhere in-between. As always.
What I really like about working remotely is independence. I love being independent. And while some work requires your being dependent on others to a certain degree, you’re still pretty much working on your own. And that’s like a godsend for me. I am a fan of distance education, MOOCs, webinars, online student communities, and whatnot. I figured how distance education worked a long time ago: how I should organize the studying process, when and where I could read and study. And the answer is pretty simple: read and study whenever you have a minute. I know it might be tempting to get distracted by social media, but thanks to Apple (and I hear the same options are available on Android), I put daily limits on all social apps, and I never cross those limits.
So, here are a few of my other takeaways from freelancing:
Freelancing is not about sitting aimlessly at the beach.
Most of the freelancers I know personally live far away from the beach. In fact, I know only one freelancer who lives at the beach, and I’ll tell you his story in later articles. Others? Others pretty much never leave their hometowns except for the holidays once or twice a year. Many freelancers work inside the coffee shops, but the majority still prefers the peace of their own homes. I, personally, don’t imagine how I can be productive at the beach, the ocean brings up other connotations, like getting a tan, enjoying a margarita, swimming, or playing in the salty water with my child. But all people are different, and you might be the one who gets his or her ideas from an ocean breeze, but most of the freelancers I know are nerds living their lives away in front of a computer screen.
Freelancing is hard work. It’s about discipline and commitment.
Freelancing is not easy. In fact, before freelancing, I worked in the office. It took me an hour and a half to get to my job and the same amount of time back, making it three hours in total both ways. While the commuting such as these might sound daunting, I actually enjoyed my time on the subway: I read books, listened to podcasts, wrote. Now, looking back, I think time in the office was easier. Talking in front of a coffee machine, eating free biscuits, sharing lunch with the colleagues, and even gossiping were all part of a job. In freelancing, there are no free cookies and no coffee machine. There are colleagues, but they are far away, sometimes even on other continents. They don’t care how and why you do your work; they do care about results and fast delivery. As a freelancer, I realized that I am myself responsible for the organization of my working process, how and when I choose to work to deliver results on time. The commitment is key. Even if I see some freelancers lacking talent but succeeding, it was because they persevered and stuck to their goals.
Freelancing is about learning.
So, even if you think you lack talent, forget it, you can learn because freelancing is all about continuous never-ending learning and persistence. Every day I am learning something new — this why I love being a freelancer. My knowledge stack at the beginning of the day is not the same at the end: every day I learn a new skill or read something that completely blows my mind and challenges my beliefs. It’s hard, I know. But life is all about learning, right?
Freelancing is uncertain and risky.
Freelancing is about risk. It might not be hard to find clients. But it is totally painful to find good and reliable ones. Before I ended up with this job, I worked for several people. I first wrote about bitcoin, but then it egregiously fell in price, and the company went bankrupt. Then I worked for several other startups which eventually died slow agonizing deaths, now pretty much unsurprisingly for me. But I persevered and searched like a hunter at night only without a flashlight. There’s always a risk. A risk that someone will not pay you, let you down, disappear, go bankrupt. But there will still be others who will prosper with you and sometimes because of you and your work. And these moments and these people are what make freelancing such a rewarding experience.
Freelancing is about building relationships and reputation.
Indeed, people who stick with you would become your human capital, something intangible, but very expensive. Your reputation in freelance is critical. Every client, no matter how mysterious, murky, weird they seem, can bring you other clients, vouch for you at your next job, or just become a long-term virtual friend. I know what I am talking about because I have such a person in my life.
Freelancing is a tough job. Working remotely is not for everyone. But if you like learning, independence, and are not afraid of risk and uncertainty, then freelancing might be for you. It’s a beautifully rewarding experience. I always liked to read and write. And now I get paid for doing just that. After all, maybe that’s a dream come true? Perhaps this is how actualized wild dreams really look like?
If you’re a freelancer and have something to add or share your own life-long lessons, you’re welcome to contribute in the comments.