Accepting The Permanent Instability of Freelance Life

Reading this story from a couple weeks ago kind of has me thinking I will never find full-time work again. What’s odd to me is the fact that idea is both energizing and slightly depressing. Energized because of the potential for success it offers and depressing because full-time work is still kind of what I expect.

The story summarizes a study from the Oxford Internet Institute that shows companies are increasingly relying on freelance and contractors. That’s not to replace in-house staff but to add unique skills and capabilities for specific projects. And to find those people, the companies are turning to platforms such as Upwork and Hired, doing the searching themselves instead of relying on costly recruitment services. A similar study from Hired itself shows demand for technical contract workers has hit an all-time high in 2017.

Over the last few months I’ve been steadily increasing my presence on the kind of platforms mentioned in the Oxford study. I’m now on Fiverr, Upwork, Hired, Linkedin Profinder and ClearVoice, with more coming soon. In my own experience, those have proven more consistently useful than many of the recruiting services I’ve worked with, up there with referrals from friends and colleagues.

Recently I asked someone if I could add the ghostwriting work I’d done for that company to my Contently portfolio. I made it clear I wanted to be sensitive to not putting my own needs above that of the company. As a ghostwriter it’s my job to stay in the background. But this was good work I’d been doing and it showed what I’d been up to recently. He responded, after clearing it with the boss, that it was completely fine for me to do so. Here’s exactly what he said:

We all gotta eat, therefore we all gotta hustle.

That’s the reality of the freelancer, I’m finding. It’s a hustle. If I’m not working on a client project, I’m working on my own stuff in the hopes that it will burnish my reputation and therefore lead to more work. Or I’m fleshing out my profiles on the platforms mentioned above. Or I’m trolling job boards looking for new projects. Or I’m working on either the novel I’m trying to finish or outlining one of the other books spinning around in my mind. Or I’m at my retail job. I might take an hour or so here and there, but intentionally enjoying downtime is still hard for me.

If you asked me today whether or not I’d prefer to keep freelancing or start a full-time job, I’d say that nope, I’m placing my bets on me and continuing with this life. I’m working for myself and not for someone else. Ask me tomorrow and you might get a different answer.

There’s a lot of instability that’s inherent in this approach. The full-time job is attractive mostly for the steady paycheck it offers. I’m not looking to get rich or become the most powerful guy in the room. That doesn’t interest me. But the twice-monthly direct depositing of a known, consistent amount of money sure would alleviate a lot or stress.

The freelance life I’ve been living is attractive as well for the variety it offers. No two days are exactly the same and I get to work on a variety of different projects, stretching different muscles as I do so. That’s actually the direction I wanted to go in while I was still in the agency world, the pinch-hitter who could be called into any project on short notice to deliver one or two particular things but who didn’t have permanent ties that put me on call at all hours of the night.

The shift away from full-time work being the norm for most everyone who wants a job is also concerning because we haven’t made societal changes to accommodate that reality, at least not yet. The Affordable Care Act was a step in that direction, but the recent efforts by Republicans to repeal it and make health care once more dependent on employment status (and even then filled with problems) display a mindset more in-line with the post-WWII situation than a society that’s been through at least two recessions in the last 20 years.

Whatever my desires and preferences, the pragmatic reality is that this is the reality. If the studies mentioned above are accurate – and there’s no reason to think they’re not – this isn’t changing anytime soon. Best, then, to make peace with it and do as much hustling as I need to in order to thrive in the new marketplace.

 

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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