Disclaimer: this post does not in any way mean I regret my choice to quit my job. I'm very glad I did and would have done the same thing if I were to go back in time.
Yesterday I got a letter in the mail that made me drop my cup of ginger tea all over myself. It was a letter from the Swedish tax authorities letting me know I have an ENORMOUS amount to pay over a very short time - expenses connected to my closing down my company since I moved to the UK and setting up UK self-employment instead. It will be sorted out, so don't worry about me! But it made me think of how the freelancing lifestyle is often sold as a Dream Lifestyle...and how it really, really isn't.
Two years ago, any magazine article encouraging you to "quit your job and live your dream!" would have inspired the socks off me. Not so today, when I've actually, you know, been there, done that and got the £3 Primark t-shirt. Today, these articles just make me angry. First of all, they help spread the notion that being employed somehow means you're "selling out" and "not living the true, amazing life you're meant to be living", which several of my happily employed friends (not to mention me in late 2010) would agree is a load of bull. And second of all because they commit the crime of drilling into people's heads that being an entrepreneur is the way to happiness for everyone. I find it a bit dangerous to subscribe to an idea that ONE lifestyle is ideal for all people. I trust my readers are intelligent enough to free me from the obligation to explain why this is ridiculous. Aspirations, talents and aptitudes change wildly from person to person - and even from time to time in the same person. As a teenager, I dreamed of being a famous actress, a lifestyle I'd never want today. Also, not everyone is fit to be an entrepreneur, for various reasons. Lastly, not all entrepreneurship entails quitting your job - you can write a novel in your free time or set up a side business, to name a few. Bottom line: you can be whatever you want...which is not necessarily an entrepreneur, and that's okay. Here are a few myths on freelance life, debunked:
Myth: it's all jolly, happy-go-lucky boss-less "freedom"
Fact: you now have several bosses. Every client thinks they're entitled to full-time-style commitment from you, even if they're paying you peanuts. "But I can just stop working with them!" you exclaim, you newbie. Sure you can, but don't come crying to me when your electrical company switches your power off because you haven't paid the bill. Sad but true, the more clients you have, the better you're off financially, so you're basically going from one boss to two...or more, if you're good (and lucky).
Myth: you can sit around in your PJs all day...and that's fabulous.
Fact: you can and it IS fabulous! But only for the first three days. After that you just feel like a lazy slob and work accordingly. In the end, you end up getting up at the same time every morning, getting dressed and doing your makeup...sound familiar? Oh yes, it's what you were doing when you had a job.
Myth: waking up whenever you want is amazing.
Fact: it is. But after a few months, you stop appreciating it. Saturdays are no longer special. Yes, you no longer get that Sunday night feeling...but you never get that Friday afternoon feeling either! Every day is your Monday morning and your Saturday night.
Myth: you'll be able to earn enough money to lead a decent lifestyle.
Myth: you can go on vacation whenever you like.
Fact: Right. Sure. Let's just remember one thing here: while your employed friends have paid vacations, you, obviously, don't. Of course they have to take their vacations when their company lets them, but chances are you can't even afford to go on vacation in the first place. Or, like me this Christmas, you're going, but you'll have to work the entire time.
Myth: you can now meet your friends whenever you want.
Fact: you'll sip your third Starbucks latte on your own at 4:32 pm when most of your friends are at work.
Myth: you won't ever miss your coworkers. You'll meet quirky freelancers at freelance cafés and meetups.
Fact: you'll meet some adorkable geeks at Google Campus, say hi and never see them again. Truth is, freelancing is one of the loneliest lifestyles I've known. If anyone has ever met friends through freelancing meetups, I'd love to hear your story!
Myth: it's all easy and you'll feel happier than you ever have, liberated and like you're finally alive.
Fact: you won't understand your tax return and eat lentil soup for a week because that client STILL hasn't paid your invoice.
If, after all this, you're still ready to chuck it all in and go for the freelance life, I say do it. There are lots of rewards to freelancing: you learn so much from it, you're challenged every day and you get to do something you really love. If you're a writer, I'd say you need to have at least one period of freelancing in your career.
But please don't tell me that entrepreneurship is The Dream for everyone - it isn't, just like being a superstar athlete/having kids/moving to Australia isn't everyone's dream. Let's not forget that we're all different, which is what makes the world so amazing!