Every single time I drop the word “freelancer” in a conversation, I see people’s eyes lighting up. In a city like Ottawa where the main employer is the federal government and many residents are 9-to-5 office workers, it is a bit like telling a kid you are working in a chocolate factory.
“Flex time!” “All-you-can-take holidays!” “No one to boss you around!”
The freelancing dream is very much alive and yes, perks exist. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about this career choice. People get the wrong idea of freelancing, and often think that…
…You can work in your pyjamas!
Well, first of all, I sleep in my underwear. While it is a comfortable way to catch some z’s under two thick blankets, Canada is a bit cold to sit at my desk wearing just Calvin Klein undies. So, you know, like most people, I get dressed in the morning.
It is psychological: sleepwear is to sleep and lounge around—two things I am most certainly not doing when I am working. So I follow a routine shared by millions of workers around the world. I wash my face, brush my teeth, fix my hair, and put on clothes I could be seen in public with.
It is true that I don’t have to follow a corporate dress code. I usually wear a nice pair of jeans (even if it’s not Friday), a t-shirt and a sweater, my casual yet professional outfit. But if I were to bump into a client at Starbucks, I would not be embarrassed, because I am not a pAjama-wearing slacker!
…You can work in your bed!
Technically, I could bring my laptop to the bedroom. But I don’t feel like working from my bed because… I don’t know, because my bed is where I sleep? Because I am most certainly not sleeping when I am trying to find synonyms of “governance”? Because I don’t see the point of working from my bed?
Some people think freelancing is the chance to do something crazy and irreverent, to rebel against corporate rules, and to stick a middle finger to the man. Yeah, sure, have fun behaving like a teen for a day or two. Take a conference call while—gasp!—warning pyjamas (turn off your video, though), lying in bed. Sign an agreement while your nail polish is drying. Text from the bathroom. And then what? No one cares as long as the work is done.
What matters is having a comfortable workplace, and frankly, desks were invented for a reason.
… You don’t even need to send kids to daycare!
This is probably my biggest pet peeve because I did try to work while taking care of Mark and I ended up burned out. Except maybe for the first few months when infants still sleep a lot (…or not!), you cannot work with your child around, unless you enjoy being interrupted every minute. Young kids do not play alone quietly while mommy works. They do not stay quiet while you are on the phone. They have no concept of a deadline. They demand attention, right here, right now.
When Mark was a newborn, I would put him in the sling and work on my laptop. For a few weeks or months, he mostly needed the comfort of being skin to skin with me. After that, I could only work when he was sleeping or napping. I never completed anything with him around, but for the occasional quick look at my phone to see if my assignment had been received.
… You don’t have a boss!
Technically, I don’t. However, I do have clients. They pay for my skills, work, and advice. They set deadlines and requirements. They approve the work. Basically, they do what a boss would but throw me a Christmas party—the dynamic is very similar.
I want to please my clients to succeed and get more assignments, much like employees want to please their higher-ups to be considered for bonuses and promotions. This means dealing with the occasional nonsense, impossible requests and other corporate BS.
… You can take time off anytime!
France, China, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, South America… ahem, yes, I can see why a few of my acquaintances believe that I can easily drop everything and take off. But they don’t know the other side of the story.
In short—yes, I can take time off whenever I feel like it. Unfortunately, if we don’t want to eat Mark at the end of the winter because the fridge is empty, well, I have to work. Besides, my clients expect me to be reliable and available when they need me.
What freelancing allows is flexibility. Work ebbs and flows. When it flows, I work all the time. Yes, including weekends, evenings, and nights. When it’s quiet, I try to do something else—like travelling.
I also work when we are away. I don’t take up huge demanding projects, but for example, during our last trip, I edited a book for one of my clients.
And no, I didn’t work in my swimsuit.