FOR MANY FREELANCERS, THE CHALLENGES INHERIT TO THEIR CHOSEN LIFESTYLE DEFINE WHO THEY ARE.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. However overused that line is you have to admit your circumstances change you. They change how you act, how you think, how you work. The circumstances we experience as freelancers can be trying much of the time. Does it kill us? No. Does it make us stronger? We’d like to think so. Freelancers today experience a more difficult path than a full-timer. Not because freelancing is inherently more difficult than being an employee, it’s because right now, despite the growth of freelancing, our country’s economic and professional norms are still not suited to freelancers. There are societal, cultural, and political issues we have to deal with that others don’t. It can suck, but it can make you stronger, if you let it.
Freelancers are reportedly more politically active and politically literate than employees. The reason being, our labor laws really don’t support us. From health-insurance to unemployment to other benefits like vacation days, maternity leave, and even weekends, freelancers aren’t guaranteed any of it. So much of our economy in the US is based around having a full-time job. When that’s the case, freelancers need to get smart about how to survive. That means understanding tax laws, local work regulations, money saving methods, and more. Full-timers simply don’t need to worry about that stuff in the same way we do. On the other hand, freelancers get tired of having to do and know all this stuff when employees don’t. They want their laws to work for them rather than against them and many feel underrepresented by the government in general. For these reasons, we are more politically aware and active and will go out of our way to support candidates, policies, and groups that advance our interests. Freelancers have started unions in the US and abroad, and other organizations have popped up to try and provide freelancers with things that would be hard for them to get otherwise like disability insurance or reasonable bank loans.
If your freelance friends remind you of your cheap uncle who sneaks candy bars into movie theaters, understand why before you judge them. Freelancing has plenty of potential for making good money, but our paychecks don’t hit our bank accounts every two weeks like clockwork. Especially early in one’s freelance career, one’s pay will be very inconsistent. Because so many of our expenditures (rent, utilities, insurance, car payments) occur on a consistent cyclical basis, it can be difficult to afford things when your income doesn’t reflect that. A freelancer could make exactly the same amount of money in a year as a full-time employee, yet the freelancer struggles with their bills and the full-timer does not. The reason being is that a freelancer could make most of their money for the year in a four month stretch and then spend another four months making next to nothing. Inconsistent income like that requires a freelancer to be incredibly disciplined with their spending in a way that an employee does not. An employee’s income is already structured for them and doesn’t require such planning or restraint. Not only does this make us more organized and fiscally responsible, it makes us value seekers. We can smell good deals, solid products, and worthwhile memberships. If you’re curious which airlines offers the best loyalty program, ask your freelancing friend.
The average freelancer will have a lot more jobs or work experiences than the average full-timer. This means a much higher chance of encountering tasks that may be outside your realm of experience. The best way to keep up: education. Freelancers are information addicts. Not only do we feel the need to stay abreast of trends in our industry, but to learn new skills outside of it. Who knows what task the next job might throw at us? This doesn’t mean freelancers don’t have a particular skill set like an employee. We can’t just take any job under the sun (well technically we could but that’s not the point), but our daily work isn’t so set in stone the same way it might be if we were employees. It behooves us to know as much as we can. Plus, when you’re constantly searching for new work you’re also constantly analyzing your own resume. It’s not a shock that you’d want to add to it as much as possible. Every few years when a full-timer is looking for a new job and feel they may want to beef up their resume, that’s what freelancers feel every day.
The hope is that one day this article will be irrelevant. Today that is not the case. If you’re a freelancer or thinking of becoming one, know that certain cards are stacked against you. Know too, that you can and will continuously overcome those struggles, and hopefully end up better for it.