The Creative Life of a Freelancer

In one big sigh, I finally released all the frustration and disappointment I have been carrying around for several months. It caught my husband’s attention and with immediate concern, he asked,

“What’s wrong?”

“I just have so much to do.”

I am sure this confession was confusing to him. For months I have been acting like I have everything handled, things were slow but that was a good thing. I needed some downtime. Money was still flowing from other sources. In my mind, and from what he understood, I was doing what I wanted and needed to do.

But in that moment and all of a sudden, I was overwhelmed.

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The Freelancers Life: No Boss, No Deadlines, No Commitments

I have been freelancing for 12 years now. My favorite thing about being a freelancer is the freedom to refresh your career. I recently heard Satya Nadella on NPR talking about hitting refresh on Microsoft. He used the browser as a great metaphor of what it means to refresh.

“The browser has this beautiful logic when you hit refresh on your browser. It doesn’t replace everything. It replaces only those pixels that need to be replaced. “

That is a perfect metaphor for refreshing a company, including one as small as an individual freelancer. I tend to hit refresh every year around this time. Some years I have replaced quite a few pixels. This year I am more focused on rearranging the pixels.

I can do this every year because I have no boss who needs to approve my decisions. I can take my time on implementing the changes, and if a change is not working out the way I thought it should I can pull back.

But last night, all at once, I saw how my pixels should be arranged. At the same time, I knew what I had to do to rearrange those pixels and I was all of a sudden overwhelmed.

The Freelancers Life: Brand, Sales, Clients

I think we all understand that the world of work is rapidly changing. Developers continuously introduce tools to automate tasks. Professionals are expected to increase the breadth of their expertise. An emerging generation with new ideas and assumed expertise are competing for work at lower rates.

When you are on your own, defining your offerings, seeking work, pricing your offerings, and delivering expertise, the world will change and pierce through everything you have built or think you know.

This is why I refresh every year. This is why being a freelancer means being a creative. If you are building your brand and offerings on fulfilling an obvious and existing need, you won’t last long out here in the wild. Like an artist, a freelancer has to look for the connections that other people miss. A freelancer has to have a vision of where they would like their industry to go. A successful freelancer has to have a desire to make a mark on this world, if not a ding in the universe.

My favorite definition of a brand comes from Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” That means to have a brand you have to be interesting enough for someone to say something about you. You have to stand out. To achieve sales you have to stay top of mind. To keep clients you have to remain the expert, navigating through the rough waters of change.

That means to be a freelancer is to be a creative. To live the pain and sufferings of a creative. To wallow in the doubts and darkness the way that creatives do.

And to emerge with a new vision and an urgent and overwhelming need to get to work.