When I was a teenager, I always pictured myself in a pencil skirt and blouse, rushing around every day at my high-flying city job. I pictured myself as a decision-maker, someone who was in charge, who had the skills to oversee big projects with big contractors and firms. I saw myself as a true city girl who would become a woman in power.
Fast-forward almost a decade, and both my dreams and my reality have majorly changed. I studied digital media and graphic design instead of law or business, which certainly altered the career path I’d imagined for myself. My personality had changed too. Although still determined and driven, I was much more interested in being creative, carefree, and — most importantly — working for myself.
When I had my son in 2015, that goal was amplified. I immediately knew I didn’t want to leave him every day, barely seeing him because I needed to be at an office from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. When I thought of dropping him off at a daycare, I realized it wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted for him or myself.
I decided to brainstorm ways I could make money using the skills I had developed in college. I knew I was capable of social media management, copywriting, and graphic design, so that’s how I positioned myself as a freelancer. I marketed myself, but gaining clients was an incredibly slow and painstaking process. Thankfully, after I bagged my first few clients, the workload continued to flow.
When I started working from home, I was happy with my pace of life and the gradual, steady stream of income — but I could sense that not everyone around me agreed that I’d made the right choice.
They simply envisioned me sitting in my living room, legs propped up on my table, cup of tea in hand while doing bits and bobs of work when I felt like it. While they were out working all day, to them, I was just at home.
These friends would occasionally send me job alerts and emails with links to job openings. Although I was never explicitly told that I was doing something wrong, they made me feel as though I was. To me, sending someone a job application means you want to assist that person in looking for work — but my friends were very aware that I was a freelancer, and that was my job.
I think the norm in your 20s is to work your way up the career ladder, position yourself well within your chosen industry or company, and work hard every day to move up within the rankings. I wasn’t doing that, so I was seen as a bit of an anomaly.
I wasn’t technically working my way up any ladder, and I wasn’t striving to be a senior exec of a Fortune 500 company. People didn’t quite get that.
As for my family, the support was surface-deep. I got a pat on the back from everyone, but they kept bringing up jobs I should apply for and the amount of money I could make if I switched to full-time work.
I quickly came to the conclusion that those closest to me thought I was wasting my time and skills by being a freelancer. Although they supported my work because they love me, I knew that, deep down, they didn’t see freelancing as a legitimate career path or a viable option for someone who deemed herself “ambitious.”
They didn’t see the potential or the entrepreneurial aspect of it. All they saw was me sitting at home in my pajamas (admittedly, sometimes true) tapping away furiously at my laptop.
Little did they know that I’m not the only one in search of a different and somewhat nonlinear lifestyle. I live in the U.K., and according to research by Kingston University, 1.77 million people in the U.K. work as freelancers for their main job, and another 234,000 people work freelance as a second job. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of freelancers in the U.K. rose by a staggering 43%. Moreover, freelancers like myself, contribute £119 billion (more than $155 billion) to the U.K. economy.
I like to see freelancing as “the new normal.” Not everyone understands it — it’s a relatively fresh concept for making money, and it completely throws out the traditional notion of a 9-to-5.
But am I lazy just because I work from home? Am I less ambitious because I don’t leave my house to go to work? I really don’t think so.
In fact, I think it’s the complete opposite, and here’s why.
Freelancers really struggle – jobs are hit and miss. Some months are great financially, other months are virtually dry. Self-motivation is probably the number one skill a freelancer needs to have; we are essentially our own boss, which means we constantly have to find ways to keep ourselves on our toes.
We have to market ourselves, which is a job in itself. We have to set our own targets. We have to deal with our own finances. We have to be disciplined, determined, persistent, and engaged, and steer clear of procrastination at all costs. We essentially have to be a jack of all trades.
The way I see it, freelancers and others who make money working from home (e.g. buying and selling goods, crafts, etc.) are very much in the bracket of small businesses.
We are killer multitaskers who work incredibly hard to juggle a mass of responsibilities. Our ambition stretches further than usual because we see our opportunities as endless – it just depends on experience and imagination.
There are so many career development opportunities available to me, and so many ways I can try out different projects in different fields.
So I don’t see freelancing as limiting. In fact, I’m expanding my opportunities. I’m not unambitious or lazy. Instead, I’m ambitious and brazen enough to take the plunge and work for myself. I’ve got entrepreneurial spirit, just as many other people at big companies do. The difference? I just happen to work from the comfort of my own home.