As a freelancer, I love my flexible working hours; it’s like that Play-Doh clay that can be squeezed into any mold. A key that fits any lock just waiting for you to turn it.
What I love most about freelancing is the promise of the much-lauded work and life equilibrium. You’ll never have to miss another birthday party; your children’s first day of school; your friend’s baby shower; your favourite concert – because you have full control of your working hours.
Looking back, it wasn’t long ago that I traded in my pressed Zara work suits for comfy pyjamas and bedroom slippers in the pursuit of the sacred work-life balance. I have three loves in my life – my family, IRONMAN training and writing. As I often frame my work schedule around my lifestyle and family life, the flexible work hours allow me to spend time with my loved ones, as well as indulge in the love for leisure interests.
But with every Samson, there’s a Delilah. For every Yin there’s a Yang. There are ups and downs in every freelancer’s life. You know what I mean. So what do I love and hate most about being a freelancer? This is my love hate relationship with freelancing explained in full.
- Sweatpants Everyday
The world is my office.
That and the freedom to work as and when (and where) needed are the perks of being a freelancer.
I’m bound to neither the rigid chain of “office hours” nor a work desk. Actually, my breakfast table IS my work desk where the supply of free-flow kopi is only a hop, skip and a jump away – literally. But most times my work space is wherever I plop myself down when an inspiration hits me.
I have written articles by a sunken pool in Phuket; on the soft-sandy beach of Perhentian Island; and on the plane to Queensland. Being a self-employed freelancer works great in a family environment because I don’t have to seek permission for long holidays or child-care leaves days or a simple chill out afternoon to gather my composition.
Unlike many people, I don’t face the same urgency to get to the office daily – day in, day out. No peak-hour traffic to beat. No morning crowd to contend with. It also means I save on transport cost as well as lunch. I used to spend an average of $17 per day on transport and lunch when working at an office. That’s a $4080 saving per year!
But what is the real cost of this freedom?
I seem to be working all the time. And it’s rather concerning when your whole family automatically excludes you from family activities while on holiday because they didn’t want to disturb your work. They’ve learnt to accept that it is the life you have chosen and as your family they will give you the support you need even if it costs them their interaction time.
I found that the work-life boundary is dangerously blurred. It’s challenging for me to draw the line because I work AT home! The things happening around the home such as kids needing attention, TV, and the daily house chores, can be very distracting and causes breakdown in the thought and work process.
I have to admit – to be a self-employed freelancer requires major self-discipline and motivation! You have to set goals; targets and be in total control of your business as well as having to conduct self-appraisals to keep yourself on track.
I’ve experienced how easily the home life can take over; where you go for days without even a peek at your work, wondering where the time has gone. The downside of not “going to work” is that I’m often tempted to go back to bed after the children had left for school. Re-energising myself to lift the pen could be a mission sometimes.
Honestly, the concept of freedom and work-life equilibrium that comes with the freelancer title may seem enviable but I’m beginning to think that I’m chasing the elusive.
- The Balancing Act
My partner, G, and I have two primary-school-age children (both from his previous marriage). This in itself is a full-time job that requires superlative time management. G’s mother had been assisting us domestically for two years before she had to go home to the UK due to a prolonged illness. As a family, we didn’t want to go down the foreign domestic helper path, which then threw a spanner in the mix.
We tried to cope for a while. At one point I was exasperatedly juggling a nine-to-seven job, running a household and a 10-hour-week IRONMAN training schedule. More often than not I had to work long hours; some nights here, some public holidays there. And they all added up.
I knew it would be only a matter a time till I eventually dropped the ball. Something had to give. And I decided it ain’t going to be my sanity. So when an exciting freelance opportunity presented itself, it didn’t take me long to jump ship.
Freelancing is an ideal alternative to full-time work for parents who want to be more involved in their children’s early development years. And it has always been the social norm for women to stay home and nurture the children. Hence our decision.
I have to say though, the flexible hours may have alleviated the stress from the ungiving pressures of the everyday working life but I am STILL juggling.
Even more so now. I learnt that working from home requires serious time-management skills. Knowing you have an article to write as well as laundry, cooking, cleaning and food shopping to do before the kids come home from school can sometimes seem overwhelming.
Furthermore it takes a while for the family to get used to the idea that you still have to work even though you're at home. Yes, I get the “No time to clear up, I have to get to school/work” excuse a lot, which means more tidying up for me before I could fire up my laptop or put my feet up.
In a nutshell, it is easy to get consumed in family life when there isn’t any form of work structure, especially when you’re working from home.
I know of many career women with families who turned to freelance work during their children’s growing years. That way they don’t have to relinquish their career that they’ve zealously built over time. Unlike their full-time stay home counterparts, they’re still able to network and practise their skills – all set for when they return to the full-time workforce.
Yes, ideally I’d like to return to full-time work in the very near future. I believe some people have made freelancing a career through sole-proprietorship, while others like myself turned to freelancing only as a temporary alternative to full-time work and have developed along the way.
Being a self-employed freelancer also means that you need to know your tax and employee obligations. You need to develop business skills that previously would have been left to your employer to manage. Family life and home management are simply an absorption you need to challenge, whilst freelancing is business management. A whole new kettle of fish. Like most first time freelancers, I was the fish that had to learn to swim as I am not the type to let myself sink.
Freelance may give the freedom and flexibility in the hours but at this stage for me to make it a feasible business, and one that would meet my financial needs, I have got A LOT to learn. And unfortunately, just being able to write well would not cut it.
It is a norm that the editorial leaders such as the editor-in-chief set the tone and culture as well as the editorial direction in newsrooms. It’s generally fast-paced, highly strung and uncompromising. I have worked for publications that expected writers to churn out four to five 500-word articles. Imagine the pressure of having to articulate ideas into 2000-2500 words everyday!
My experience working in a news and content writing environment was a rather manic one. As we all know, writers don’t just write: journalists don’t only write news stories, content writers don’t just compose contents and so forth. Extensive research as well as interviews and correspondences goes into every write up. And when you work for a publication, be it print or online, you times that by loads. Personally, I was so caught in the editorial whirlwind that I wished there were more hours in a day.
Unlike in the editorial environment where more often than not writers are pressured to produce a number of publishable articles per day, the freelance set-up is quite the contrary. I’m definitely in favour of the wide deadlines that freelance writers get for each piece, which I believe is key for high-quality work. On the other hand, freelance work also enables the more experienced writers to take on more work for additional remuneration.
As a freelancer, I have control over my work environment and the workload. Ok, there’s still deadlines but the time frames assigned are realistic and achievable. My work days at home are generally intermittent so being able to set my own pace and targets is refreshing and sure takes the stress away. I am in the essence my own boss.
The control also comes in a form of freedom to scrupulously choose topics for my articles and the freedom of expression, to a certain extent. Picking issues that I would personally like to dissect and discuss makes the written pieces more wholesome and engaging. I remembered someone saying this and it has stuck with me: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block; there’s only people writing about things they don’t know about.”
- Livelihood: When Reality Kicks In
I took a mammoth pay-cut and turned freelancer to have more control over my personal life without sacrificing my livelihood. And I left it to G to bring home the juicy bacon.
But one year in and the reality is this: freelancing doesn’t pay me well; for someone who could only put in 25 hours per week. Come number crunching time, the P&L isn’t favourable to the household budget. The big L is contributing heavily to the sustainability of the family household, so I found myself asking: “At what point does the freelancing become a benefit or a burden of reality?”
My calculations showed that I would have to write 16 articles per week to get the same salary as if on full-time employment. Given this statistic, the freelancing game if run as a standalone business would be in receivership.
I guess it all depends on what you’d like to get out of your freelance career. For some, it’s a start of new journey – the thrilling unknown of a sole-proprietorship business. For others, it’s an income-boosting sideline. And then there's people like me who’s looking for that work-life fit: to feel part of a bigger entity; to be able to reward myself knowing I have given my all.
Freelance may not be everyone’s cuppa tea. The flexibility and freedom calls for vital strategic planning in order to make the business feasible. But done right, you’ll be rewarded with not only profitability, but also control and possibly more time to enjoy the pleasures of life. All in all, it’s about assessing your priorities and life demands. It’s about weighing the pros and cons, and making it work for you.
As for me, it has created room and time for me to be more involved in my family life and smell the flowers often. It’s rewired my mentality to take life less seriously. It is ok to train twice a day and sneak a nana nap in between. Freelancing has opened my eyes to business opportunities for when a time I ultimately decide to hang up my heels. The journey hasn’t been that bad. And so my love hate relationship with freelancing continues.