When I ask colleagues, friends in staff jobs or students on my workshops what they would fear most about being a freelancer, many mention the same thing: uncertainty. Fluctuating income, not knowing where the next pay cheque might come from, or the one after that, and never quite being sure what you’ll be doing next month.
They’re right. The unknown can be a scary prospect. Particularly if your life depends on it. It might not literally be a life or death question, but getting that next job could be the difference between paying the rent on time or maxing out the credit card at the last minute.
On top of that, not really being able to plan your life around regular work hours is inconvenient at the best of times. Friends and family of freelancers will be able to tell you all about it. Unless they’re freelancers themselves: in that case they will probably be missing a lot of dinner parties, dates, birthdays and holidays too.
When I’ve struggled to make ends meet at the end of the month, while still working 80 hours a week and missing numerous social events, I got that damning question a lot: why do you do it? Why do you put up with all that, just to be your own boss? Is it really worth it?
The answer, of course, is hugely personal. What’s worth it in everyone’s life is measured by different criteria. For me, it depends on whether the ups are greater than the downs. Uncertainty, after all, can go two ways: it can lead to things better or worse than what you had before.
Every year at New Year, I take a step back and check the balance: if there has been more progress than stagnation, more new opportunity than the same old stuff, more growth in some areas than decline in others, more profit than loss, but mostly more passion and inspiration than boredom and frustration, it ultimately has been worth it.
With these criteria in mind, I make my strategic decisions throughout the year. Jobs, commissions, projects, trips, events, risks, gambles, innovations and experiments that will help me reach that positive balance by year-end will get a ‘yes’, or at least a strong ‘maybe’. Everything else is a no.
There’s still downs, of course, and times when you really don’t know when things will be on the up again. But the one certainty amid all the uncertainty is that there always will be another up. And once you reach it, it will boost you enough to get you through the next down, and on the road up once again.
The ups and downs of life as a freelance journalist are tackled hands on during the Journopreneur Workshop on 31 May 2014. For more info and booking, have a look here.
[Photo: Scott Ableman/Flickr/Creative Commons]