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The Freelancer’s Lament – No Work, Freaking Out

Invoice, Maple World Translation

Maybe I need to refresh my Gmail.

Maybe the Internet is broken, like that day at the office when we all thought we had a quiet Wednesday just to learn in the evening all emails had been delayed because of a server issue (IT had notified us… by email!).

Maybe legit emails ended up in the spam folder. Let’s see… nope. None of my clients sell Cialis.

Oh wait, maybe I should log into this old account I haven’t used in twenty years, just in case!

Never mind. I’ll just put on my shoes and walk to the mailbox. When was the last time I received an assignment by regular mail? Never. Don’t judge, I’m desperate.

It’s like being 16 again and expecting a text or a phone call from a crush—except I’m 34 and I’m waiting for work assignments, an activity which is normally much less likely to cause a broken heart.

Yet, I’m freaking out because the past few weeks have been unusually quiet. No, I’m not a masochist. Remember: I’m self-employed, I’m a one-woman company, the CEO and slave of Maple World Translation. No work means no invoices, no cheques—not even the “lost in the mail” kind—no Interac e-transfer notices. To add to my stress, August is my fiscal year end and thus, September is the beginning of the new one. If starting every single month with $0 income and no guarantee to even make minimum wage is always a daunting prospect, kicking off a fiscal year with much less work is downright scary.

Freelancing is a game of ebbs and flows” as the saying goes. I usually say this with a shrug when the odd quiet day pops up or when I’m answering emails at 2 a.m. And it’s completely true—sometimes I’m swamped for no apparent reason while sometimes, it feels like I’ve been blacklisted.

But it’s September. It should be busy.

My unpredictable work schedule still follows a pattern. For instance, I’m rarely busy before 10 a.m. or even noon, because office people (i.e. my clients) usually deal with internal emails and meetings before they start assigning work to freelancers. Monday mornings are often as quiet as Friday afternoons in the 9-to-5 world. However, my Friday afternoons aren’t relaxing since I’m assigned what has to be completed by Monday and can’t be done over the weekend by employees on the payroll. The end of the Canadian government’s fiscal year (March 31) can get busy because departments and agencies want to use up their budgets, while the holiday season is peak time for the private sector.

I’m used to it. On the bright side, I can manage my time efficiently. I run errands and work on personal projects when it’s quiet. I used to hate being stuck at the office with nothing to do, because there are only so many unblocked websites you can visit and only so many cups of coffee you can drink with co-workers. But on the downside, no work equals no income. And it’s not like I can turn a green light on to announce I’m available—clients contact me when it’s convenient for them, not for me.

I hold my breath on the first of each month. Once I reach $1,000 on my Excel spreadsheet, I heave a sigh of relief. When I get to $2,000, I smile. Above, I feel like I’m on top of the world and you can find me at Lindt buying fancy chocolate bars.

But beyond financial issues are psychological considerations. I love my work, it gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment. I like being contacted by clients, providing a solution, putting verbs in sentences and fixing commas. I feel useless when I’m not making money. I can’t help worrying. Is this a sign that my freelancing years are over? Did I do something awful, like forgetting an “s” or a full stop? Am I charging too much?

The situation isn’t that bad. I don’t have debts (mostly thanks to getting my university degree in France, where tuition is extremely cheap) and we don’t live beyond our means. Yet, at the back of my mind, I have this nagging urge to work and save money, because if I don’t take care of myself, who will? We have no safety net, no employee retirement plan, and no assets. It’s not like I’m trying to get rich—I just know it’s easy to fall into the poverty trap.

Oh, aren’t we all in the same boat…!

Maybe I’m just gonna refresh Gmail one more time.

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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