2013 will be my 11th year as a freelancer. I’ve actually freelanced off and on longer than that working projects and PT jobs during my years at grad school, but this February marks 10 full years as a freelancer. I sometimes wonder how I’ve managed to make it this far as I didn’t have any expectations beyond the fact that freelancing was the best solution to the conundrum of working without full time childcare, which was unaffordable for us at the time. Indeed, at the end of every year there is always a sigh of grateful relief at the acknowledgment that I made it through another year.
I have on a few occasions wondered if I’ll ever go back to a full time office job (and now that I think about it, I’ve only actually had 4), but those thoughts are usually driven by fear and insecurity and not necessarily by any pressing financial need. The truth is, freelancing has been very good to me. I’ll admit that I haven’t had to hustle that hard for jobs because the majority of my projects come from long-term steady clients and referrals that I’ve built up over the years, many of them from grad school contacts. Though the nature of freelance is up and down (and I know that I have expressed weariness of that instability here), I’ve been fortunate with a steady stream of work. For the most part, benefits aside, I’ve been able to earn a higher salary than any full time job I’ve had. The flexibility has played in integral role in the way we have raised our kids and it’s enabled us to build our business, but the girls are older now and in school. We still have childcare needs, but they are less pressing and working a full time job is more of a realistic possibility than ever.
Last year was a down year, the first since the early days when Mia was a baby. Many projects were put on hold and some went away. For the first time I seriously wondered if it was time to get a full time job. I’d like to believe that I would never compromise the livelihood of my family for this freelance lifestyle that I was used to and quite frankly, preferred, but I have to admit that the thought of a full time job was daunting. I had been working from home for so long that even the thought of looking for a job was intimidating. I didn’t even know where in an agency hierarchy I would fit in. What position would I apply for? How would I adjust to a daily commute or a desk job and what would that mean for my general health? (I can’t sit for more than an hour or 2 at a time without pain because of back and tailbone issues). How would we be able to run our business if I was gone 9-10 hours every day? Although some of these concerns were very real, I wondered if they were just excuses to deflect the fears and insecurities I was feeling about my career as a designer, and one who wasn’t getting any younger. All of this made for some serious soul searching.
In the end, we pushed through the Fall which was admittedly tough and I’m back to juggling multiple deadlines this month. I know we are in a good place and we try to do all the responsible financial things. I may not, however, be any closer to facing some of these tougher internal questions and maybe I won’t have to if the work continues to stream in, but I also know that anything is possible and nothing is forever. If there was ever a point where I would feel like I’d need to find a full time job to put food on the table, I’d “man up” and do it in a heartbeat, but I’m committed as ever to making freelance work for another 10 years as I enter into my 11th. I know that this in part is due to the fact that I know so many other freelancers and small business owners now like us and I’m inspired by anyone who is committed to making this life work. This wasn’t always the case when I was starting out 10 years ago. Perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right places for support or maybe the recession has forced many of us to be more creative with our employment, but there are a lot of us out there. Even though last year was the toughest year we had in awhile, I’m glad to have gone through a rocky period. Upon reflection, it just proved once again that we could adapt and be flexible. It was a good lesson learned and everything ended up being ok. It makes you a little more humble and it makes you question everything. That is always a good thing.