Simultaneously, research reports that young professionals aren’t that into freelancing and that they are leaving the corporate world in droves. I’m not sure which is true, and I’m not convinced it even matters, because the fact is, there are millions more freelancers each year . Recently, I’ve met several young creatives who are interested in freelancing, but unsure about turning away from the advertised security of traditional employment. I hear them wondering whether they can “make it” after kissing their employee status goodbye forever, just like I did years ago. They have a lot of questions for me, and over nearly two decades of freelance work, I’ve collected some insights.
A blog post that explains why I broke up with corporate America is also a blog post on why I chose to be a full-time freelancer. While that distinction doesn’t necessarily change the value of the experiences I’m going to share here, I think it’s important to remember that sometimes things happen for multiple reasons, sometimes all equally important.
Here is a brief list of the reasons I broke up with corporate America to become a full-time freelancer (and why I’m still glad I did it):
1. You’re no longer defined by your job title.
Outside of the corporate world, job titles simply do not matter. Most freelancers I know identify themselves by at least two or three different titles, and that in itself is enough to illustrate that who you are isn’t defined entirely by what you do. Freedom from job titles allows freelancers to be more limber, wear multiple hats, and develop skills that help them branch into new areas, with or without breaking away from their prior roles. Don’t become a slave to the two- or three-word phrase that describes a sliver of what you do; instead, leverage those terms as SEO keywords to improve your website’s search rankings and get more attention from prospective clients.
2. I never felt motivated.
Over the years, whenever I worked in a corporate environment, I rarely felt much love for my actual work. There were some roles I enjoyed a lot more than others, but that usually had more to do with who was on my team, as opposed to the content of my responsibilities. Because of that, I often felt stagnant and stuck. And it wasn’t about working in the wrong role or in the wrong industry. When you quit your last corporate gig and wonder how long you’ll be able to freelance before you become homeless (just like everyone warned you about), you acquire something many freelancers know as the fear. From that fear, you can create motivation like you’ve never felt before. New freelancers out there know what I’m talking about, because you may be feeling it right now: the pressure and uncertainty that comes from being solely responsible for your next paycheck. If you can manage your anxiety on the subject (bulking up your savings early helps), this same fear can keep you motivated and propel you forward towards your dreams. After all, you’ve got nothing to lose.
3. I was tired of working with jerks.
In the corporate world, other people make decisions about who you work alongside, and those decisions don’t always take into account work style and personality. Freelancers are lucky enough to make those decisions for ourselves, and we have the freedom to take all aspects of our business partners into consideration. That means we can steer clear of red flag clients, or shift gears if things get rocky (like when a client doesn’t pay you ). You can be suffocating under a mountain of stress because of a client one month, and be completely free from their toxicity the next. It’s pretty cool.
4. I didn’t want to be bored any longer.
Repetition bores me and I have a lot of different interests. Most corporate jobs involve a fair amount of repetition on one level or another, and they typically don’t come with opportunities for employees to spread their wings in different areas. Some of my first jobs were contract gigs decades ago, when “temp agency” was still a phrase most people recognized, and I loved having the ability to try on different roles at a young age, when I was trying to narrow down what I wanted to do. As a freelancer, I can use my own standards to narrow down my work opportunities, and I am able to design my workload to indulge my interests. In this way, I make my work meet me where I am, rather than allowing my job to dictate what the rest of my life looks like.
5. I wanted a truly flexible schedule.
Because I have a young son, many people I meet assume I turned to freelancing to better balance the additional responsibilities of parenthood and, while that certainly accounts for some percentage of freelance parents, that’s not my story. I was a full-time freelancer for years before my son came along. Before I became a parent, this meant I could visit the bank and the post office when there was no line, and that I could enroll in a regular daytime yoga class. In my son’s early years, it meant I could be flexible around naptimes, teething fits, and inevitable infant illnesses, and take advantage of playdates and good weather days. There’s no question that having a flexible workload makes a lot of things about life much easier.
The early stages of freelancing can be tenuous and scary. Any seasoned freelancers will cop to that. But, stick it out. Becoming an established freelancer — with a solid sense of yourself and a good understanding of how/when/where you work best — unlocks a world of personal power that just cannot be found in a corporate high rise.