Commentary: The freelance life is passion made possible but not for all
Becoming a gig worker is all the rage right now but the secret to succeeding as one is by loving, not hating what you do, says a full-time freelancer.
SINGAPORE: It is 9am on a Monday morning and I have just rolled out of bed, still in my pyjamas. There is a cup of strong Italian Moka pot-brewed coffee waiting for me in the kitchen. Well, it is barely tepid by now because my partner brewed it about an hour ago, before leaving for his office.
I reply to WhatsApp messages and scroll through Instagram as I caffeinate myself. How idyllic isn’t it? It sounds like the life of a taitai, or some might say, #freelancelife.
Well, hold up on the eye-rolling for a moment.
What you don’t know (yet) is that I’ve worked for a month straight, weekends included, to complete various time-sensitive writing commissions I have taken on.
On this specific Monday, after stealing a short moment of relaxation, I switch on my laptop at 9.15am and will continue chugging away at writing and editing articles, sending out interview requests and replying to enquiries for the next 10 hours.
The next day, and every day for the foreseeable future, I will rinse and repeat this schedule as a freelance writer all over again.
LOVE, NOT HATE
The gig economy is booming. About one in three American workers are freelancers and while there are no official figures in Singapore, smaller studies, like one recently conducted by insurance company Manulife indicate there is a significant number of gig workers here too.
Among the respondents, 49 per cent of those currently in traditional employee roles indicated interest in becoming a part of the gig workforce, a sign that the allure of freelancing is strong.
There are many reasons people give for switching - or wanting to switch - to freelancing. It typically boils down to variations of these two: They hate their current job; or they want a more flexible schedule.
These are certainly good reasons to try something different, but becoming a gig worker won’t necessarily be the solution to these pain points.
Here’s the real deal. To earn a decent living as a freelance worker, whatever skill you might be selling (writing, photography, coding, graphic design, cooking, personal training, you get the idea) has to be good enough that people will pay you money for it. This means you have to have developed a certain level of proficiency at it.
Chances are, the thing you intend to do as a freelancer is likely to be at least somewhat related to your full-time profession, where you arguably have a competitive advantage.
I was a newspaper journalist for 4.5 years before I quit my full-time position. With no real plan in mind, I figured I would take on freelance jobs to pay the bills for a few months before finding another job.
Over the months, the writing gigs gradually increased in volume and scope and six years on, I have found myself back in the position of being pretty much a full-time, albeit freelance, journalist.
One thing is clear - I have always loved writing. I may have been bothered by some aspects of my previous jobs such as the daily stress, but very essence of the work continues to appeal to and inspire me. This is why I continue to do what I do.
But if you are experiencing a strong aversion to the nature of your current full-time work, those feelings probably will not magically disappear the moment you exchange your office cubicle for a kitchen table while still doing something similar.
In that case, you might be tempted to try your hand at a job that is entirely different. A humble suggestion: It might make sense to start this as a side hustle first so you are assured you can support yourself with it. Either way, the key here is that you actually should have a passion for what you do, not hate it.
According to the most recent figures by the Ministry of Manpower, in 2017, a full-time employee worked about 45.9 hours per week. By my count, I certainly clock those hours too, if not more. And I need to, or I would not be able to make a living as a gig worker - this is the case for many other full-time freelancers too.
Sometimes, I laugh when I think about how I tried to escape the hours of a full-time job, only to end up still doing it, and more, in any case.
Gig workers who are in it to earn a living, which differentiates them from those who are doing it for supplementary income, will have to put in the hours.
You are not restricted to working typical office hours, which gives your schedule a certain amount of flexibility, but it is unlikely you will gain excessive amounts of free time.
After all, to make up for that opportunity to go for, say, late morning yoga classes (guilty!) or high tea on a weekday (guilty too!), the tradeoff is foregoing nighttime cocktails at the latest hip bar or missing weekend social activities because work and deadlines beckon (ditto to both).
During those moments, you better be loving your freelance gig or the perk of a flexible schedule sure won’t seem worth it to give up the security of a steady, monthly income for ad hoc paid assignments.
Karen Tee is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer. Six years ago, people thought she was crazy to leave the security of her full-time job. Today, most want to know how she does it.