How Freelancing Transformed My Miserable Work Life

When I hear my friends complain about their 9-5 grind it makes me think about my previous life, where I often skipped lunches and worked late into the evenings to meet monthly quotas — with barely a grunt of recognition from senior execs. I needed something more, something that would excite and challenge me, and give me purpose. So, I handed in my notice and started my own writing business. But freelancing is not for the faint of heart. You must be highly self-motivated, know how to prioritize your time effectively, provide a service that others want to pay you decently for, and wear several hats. But once you’re finally established, with a handful of good clients who give you repeat business, your life transforms in ways you may not imagine.

Negative stress has greatly decreased

Stress is stress, right? Well not exactly. The negative stress I experienced in the past related to the long drives to work that left me stuck in traffic for hours at a time. Most mornings, I would rush out the door with barely a coffee in my hand. Breakfast was usually on the fly and contained more calories than nutrients. My workday often began with morning boardroom meetings that left grown men in tears. From there, the knot in my stomach would grow, until I would finally return to my car for the long drive home.

The turning point for me happened as I left work one evening. I passed a car on the side of the road and witnessed a man who had apparently had a heart attack. He was sitting bolt upright behind the wheel. He appeared to have been dead for quite some time.

Stress is everywhere, you can’t escape it and freelancing has its own stressors. But going my own road provides more positive stress. Positive stress happens when a stressful experience — let’s say a deadline — leads to an improvement in overall performance and productivity. This, in turn, increases creativity and self-esteem. Negative stress, on the other hand — like when your boss yells at you — leaves you frazzled and impairs your overall productivity and health. Being responsible for my own business certainly pushes me to succeed, but it’s on my terms.

I’m in control of my own career

Many hours are often spent trying to climb the proverbial corporate ladder, which may or may not happen. When you work for large corporations or even smaller businesses, your career is largely in the hand of your employer, which is why many millennials try to fast track their careers by flipping companies. As a freelancer, I still want to grow as a professional and rise to the top, but my career is in my own hands. When I think about my long-term goals, I think about growing my business — not about my next promotion. Running your own business is actually the ultimate promotion, because there’s no one higher than you in your world.

It provides better work/life balance

Freelancing allows for a better work/life balance when you’re at home.

I think one of the biggest reasons people choose to go freelance is to create a better work/life balance. I don’t have children, but if I did, freelancing would allow me the opportunity to spend more time with my kids. What I can do is break during the day to exercise, or pop my pets over to the vet if necessary. I can also work on the deck when weather permits, or take an extended lunch if I want.

When I worked 9-5, a large part of the weekend was spent thinking about work. By the end of the weekend, I was already mentally preparing for the week ahead and dreading Monday morning. Anyone who’s ever experienced the Sunday night blues knows what I’m talking about. When you freelance, your time is your own. Provided you’re meeting your financial goals, you can basically work when you want and for as long as you want.

It gave me my freedom back

Most people don’t want to commute long hours to sit in a cubicle, which is why the idea of freelancing is so popular. Several trends support the prediction that working from anywhere will soon be the new norm. But for now, this perk mainly exists for freelancers or those who run an internet business. Freelancing allows you to work almost anywhere. There is an absolute sense of freedom to the idea of being able to take your office with you, even if that’s only to the local coffee shop or your front porch.  

But, there are no guarantees

Needless-to-say, lousy commutes, overwork, poor management and being paid beneath your worth are all great reasons to go freelance instead. Yet, although there are lots of positives, it would be irresponsible of me to suggest that it could work for everyone — because it can’t. Full-time employment offers security, bi-weekly paychecks, health plans and in some instances a 401(k).

As a freelancer, you create your own income level, which means putting money aside each month for taxes, vacations, healthcare and retirement. If you work hard enough, and break down the right doors, you can succeed at making a decent living. But work is never guaranteed and there can be lean times.

You may not travel as much as you expect

I have read dozens of posts suggesting that freelancing is the gateway for travel. While you can take your laptop with you and work from the road, you still need a lot of dedicated time in front of the computer. If you’re not committed to doing that, you can’t make money. And without money, you certainly can’t travel. So, while many photos depict freelancers on mountaintops working their business, it’s not realistic. A good portion of my time is spent on my laptop in my home office — not on a sunny beach with a margarita in hand. But I may be the exception rather than the rule.

It can get lonely

Freelancing can get lonely if you’re working from a home office.

Working independently within your home office can also be a little boring at times. So, if you need frequent face-to-face contact with coworkers, then freelancing may not be for you. That said, I also communicate with some awesome people around the world, some of whom I would never have had the opportunity to meet if it hadn’t been for freelancing.

All-in-all, freelancing has changed the way I work and play. It’s something I dreamt of for years before I finally took the leap. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and a strong work ethic, then freelancing may be the career for you.

— Katherine Marko  

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