A green Chameleon's head

Image by muscapix

My old employers and I used to have an agreement. They’d pay me money to sit in the same place five days a week and tell me what to do, and I’d moan about sitting in the same place being told what to do five days a week.

To temporarily escape those barren grey planes of brain-haemorrhaging office tedium I’d anaesthetise myself with seemingly compulsory purchases of shiny things that I didn’t really need. Those short-lived bursts of materialistic excitement were just enough to drag me through the week to the forced joviality of ‘dress-down Fridays’. Then I had Saturday to undo the previous week’s corporate indoctrination before spending Sunday preparing for it to start all over again.

Sounds awful doesn’t it?

Anyone would think we didn’t have a say in the trivial matter of what we do for 250+ days a year and how we inevitably define ourselves. I accept that not everyone resents their nine-to-five salaried job, but it’s hard to ignore the barrage of Monday morning status updates along the lines of “FFS only 4 more days til Friday : (“.

Andy Nattan’s ‘Fear of Freelancing’ post on The Professional Copywriters’ Network opened up a few old wounds (as you might have guessed from my vitriolic opening). In his post, he wrote about three common fearful obstacles to going freelance, all of which I’ve experienced.

That’s one fear for every year I’ve been a freelance copywriter in Leeds and it serves as a convenient (if tenuous) little segue into my thoughtful ripostes on each of those obstacles and how I try to defeat them.

Fear for your finances

There really is a lot of economic (and general) doom and gloom in the media, but I believe it’s what you make of it. Like now; the recession has happened already so there’s no point worrying about it. Work will always need doing, it’s just going to be harder to find. And with companies shedding in-house marketing resources and costly agency contracts, there’s room for more cost-effective and flexible freelancers to plug the gap.

Plus, if you can survive now as a freelancer in one of the toughest financial climates of recent history, you’ll thrive when we’re in the subsequent capitalist boom. But I wouldn’t wait around for the right time to go freelance though, there won’t be one. There’s always something in the media to get depressed about.

It’s also surprising how little money you actually need to live on, a bit of careful pruning of luxuries and a make do and mend approach. I ditched the passion for gadgets, a gym membership, eat less meat and cycle more instead of by bus and car. A big realisation is that money doesn’t equal happiness too – a profound thought that’s worthy of a separate blog post.

“But what about paying the mortgage?” you ask. I’ve got one too. But with a little foresight, saving and relinquishing materialism it’s possible to engineer a sustainable lifestyle. It’s these prudent sacrifices that make the cool waters of success all the more sweeter when that drought of perseverance and confidence in your first freelancing year finally dissipates.

Worried about missing the security of a guaranteed wage? Ask yourself if it really exists in a salaried position. In the past I’ve twice arrived at different jobs to be told there’s no company to work for any more and that was long before any recession and its now familiar watchwords ‘pay-freeze’ and ‘wage-cut’.

Fear of uncertainty

Can you correctly predict the future? I can’t and I’m pretty certain none of my old bosses could either. At least now as a freelancer I make decisions that respond to new and changing circumstances, instead of someone higher up a ladder whom I’ve never met, making choices that directly affect my life.

As a freelancer you create your own opportunities. Yes it’s hard work and your work-stream is unpredictable, but that’s what makes it exciting. You quickly learn how to market yourself indirectly through honest word-of-mouth, and the best bit is that it’s ethical and intuitive: do a good job and don’t be a ****.

Sounds infinitely better than depending upon an unscrupulous sales and business development department doesn’t it? It just takes time and patience to pay off – that’s the real obstacle.

Fear of failure

Andy is right, failure is the biggest obstacle to going freelance, and being honest – I suffer with this one too as a perfectionist (and I don’t use that term lightly either). But as humans, we’re destined to get things wrong and make mistakes, it’s an essential part of learning. It’s how you adapt, refine and get better at your chosen art.

Failure is never as dramatic as you imagine it to be anyway. That vision of you out on the streets begging in rags is just an overly catastrophic culmination of relentless worrying. There are so many stages (and escape routes) before you end up drinking meths under a viaduct.

In reality, failure and mistakes just bring you closer to happiness; whether that’s satisfied clients, a clearer sense of self-worth and your place in the world or simply having more of the freedom that makes freelancing such a challenging but rewarding career.

Crush your reptile

I don’t think we’ll ever beat fear altogether. Joseph Conrad agrees:

… as long as [man] clings to life he cannot destroy fear; the fear, subtle, indestructible, and terrible, that pervades his being; that tinges his thoughts; that lurks in his heart; that watches on his lips the struggle of his last breath.

Fear is a hideous impulsive relic of our reptilian days that’s designed to keep us wary and anxious of risk. It stifles ambition and maintains the status quo – and if you carry on doing more of the same, guess what you’ll get? More of the same.

But with steady progress and arduous battles with self-belief you can outgrow fear. And to me, freelancing and self-employment feels like a natural way to fulfil our intrinsic need for challenge, problem-solving and innovation under our own steam.

I’ll end on this thought, perhaps hindsight for my former self; smashing my head against the man’s desk in search of sensation three long years ago. If your comfort blanket of nine-to-five salaried employment is getting a bit itchy, maybe it’s time to crawl out from underneath it, otherwise you’ll suffocate.

Escape.

Freelance. You know it’s what you were meant to do.