The Definition of Freelance
So, I’d like to think I’m the only one who’s ever had this conversation: Individual hovering somewhere between acquaintance and friend in your social strata: “You still with [insert the name of whatever wildly successful firm at which you once played Creative Director]?" You: “No—I went freelance about 6 months ago." Said individual—with satirical, knowing twinkle in his/her eye:“Ohhhh… so you’re unemployed."
Like I said, I’d like to think I’m the only one who’s ever heard that, but my own short experience (and the sympathetic groans of every designer to whom I’ve recounted the story) tells me otherwise.
It seems in the eyes of these individuals, the Webster’s entry for “freelancer" looks something like this:
free.lanc.er ['frE-"lan(t)-s&r] noun : a quasi professional whose sub-par portfolio and mediocre intelligence preclude gainful, let alone enviable employment.
While this is unfortunately, undeniably true of some, I’d like to posit a few key reasons “freelance" DOES NOT = “unemployed."
VARIETY: Some call it the spice of life—for me, it’s more like the bread and water of creative life. I crave it. I devour it. I thrive on it. As an independent creative, [still think that’s about the coolest title in the world] I have learned about industries from botanical skin care to high-precision metrology. I’ve worked with mayors and farmers, with kitchen-sink chocolatiers and board rooms full of executives. Every challenge requires new skills, every question pushes me to seek new ways of looking at the world.
FLEXIBILTY: I used to find myself blushing slightly every time I had to tell a client “well, I’m not at my computer at the moment…" because I was, in fact, half-way through a mid-day trail ride or 10,000 feet up a mountain. Why did I answer my phone at such times? Good question. Don’t get me wrong, the freelance life requires as much, if not more discipline than corporate employment. But, now, I rejoice in the flexibility it offers. I can work when my mind is most alert, in the environment best suited for the job: be it my 4-foot strip of dining room, a rock on the shore of a glacial lake, or open mic night at a coffee shop downtown.
RISK AND ACCOUNTABILITY: While most of the standardized tests high schools employ as career counselors would not recommend graphic design and a profession for adrenaline junkies, I get a thrill out of knowing that (serendipity, karma and divine intervention aside) I succeed or fail on the basis of my own merit, ingenuity and hard work. I love that there’s no one else to blame. I enjoy the butterflies bumping around my insides every time I submit a proposal. And I love knowing that every week, month, and year is going to require something new from me.
So, here’s to the freelance life!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an unemployment check to cash.