Audio Version Available
We were streaming out of church. Covid means that we couldn’t stay to mingle but some were still catching up outside the gate.
Me? I was desperate to get away. Having been on the job hunt for more than six months, I was tired of people asking me if I’ve had any luck.
I avoided eye contact but still no luck, someone caught me.
We hadn’t met in a year. “Hey John, where are you working now?” he asked.
How do I respond? Could I deal with another sympathetic interaction that would leave me stressed and ashamed?
I tried something new.
“I’m doing my own thing,” I replied.
Which was true. I’ve been freelance writing, training and facilitating discussions for organisations for two months.
“Oh,” he faltered, “That’s nice to hear. All the best,” he said, and left.
That short conversation felt like a triumph. That was the first time I ever took ownership of my self-employed status and felt proud of it.
To be clear, I’m still new at freelancing and I’m no expert, especially when it comes to other gig work like food delivery or logistics.
I’d be the first to admit I still have much to learn. And I’m certainly not here to convince you to rush to quit your full-time job for this life. But for those who are self-employed, I hope my sharing gives you an idea on how you can treat yourself better in moments of self-doubt.
Taking a scary step
If you asked me what my life plans were in October, when I left my previous job, freelancing was not on the list.
I wasn’t doing well at my previous job. I had been given a Performance Improvement Plan, or PIP, which laid out my shortcomings and set clear guidelines on what I needed to do. In short, get better, or get sacked.
So I left.
Although I was scared of the unknown, I wanted to pause and consider my career goals.
Some question giving up the security of a steady paycheck.
I confess. I felt more insecure working full-time.
If you struggle in your full-time job (as I did), you worry about losing it.
In today’s Covid world, where businesses are under more pressure, employees are pushed to perform even more. In critical industries, like healthcare or hospitality, frontliners are struggling, serving others while worrying about their own mental wellness.
In freelance work, your work depends entirely on you.
That sounds like crushing responsibility but there’s also great liberty.
The quality of your output is no longer dependent on a colleague you may not work well with. Or a boss who doesn’t believe in work-life balance. There is security from having control over your quality of work.
The biggest difficulty for me?
To change the mindset that it’s wrong to be self-employed. This mindset has been difficult to overcome because I’m constantly reminded by my parents that I can’t make a living as a freelancer. These conversations fill me with anxiety.
There are times when I think: “What am I doing with my life while everyone is getting ahead in their careers?
While people are saving to buy a home, I’m earning a few hundred dollars a month.
While others are making an impact, I’m writing articles that I’m not sure anyone reads.
These are the times when I remember to be kinder to myself.
Respect what you do
There’s no shame in being self-employed. Some people have the idea that self-employment means that you’re not working, like you’re lazing on your bed and having a break!
However, the biggest shame to overcome is within yourself. When I first started freelancing, I was ashamed of telling people that I wrote for a living.
I didn’t respect the work I did.
Respect your hustle. You’re depending on yourself. You’re not relying on someone else to pay your bills. You’ve courageously made the leap into the great unknown. Pat yourself on the back for that.
There are days where you feel that you’re never going to make it. You see your bills and your income, and you think, “I’m going to throw in the towel. I can’t do this.”
I admit. I feel this every day.
Write a letter of encouragement to yourself. When self-doubt creeps in, read it again. Remind yourself of all the qualities you have to make it this far.
Such positive reinforcement reminds me that I’m doing this because I can and I want to. Not because I need to.
Making ends meet
Last month, I earned $860.
Yes it is much less than a full-time salary. But the silver lining is that it has forced me to consider what I was buying. I realised that I was buying things I didn’t need, to please people I didn’t care about, to mask the dissatisfaction of a job I didn’t find fulfilment in.
Earning $860 has been liberating in letting me see that actually, as long as I could cover my daily expenses like food, what was more important were the relationships I had, not the size of my salary.
We all know someone who earns more than us but doesn’t have the time to enjoy it. I’ve laughed more in the past month than I have in the past 10 months.
I have less spending power… but more freedom to determine the work I do, the people I work with, and how I want to spend my time.
One major caveat that I have is that I’m blessed with not having to worry about a roof over my head. That is the biggest expense for many young Singaporeans and I don’t want to sound as if my life is all sunshine and rainbows. Everyone has different challenges and responsibilities.
Enjoying the little things
Yesterday, I was cycling in my neighbourhood when I saw a boy I recognised. I’ve tried to talk to him before but never got a reply. Later, I realised he has special needs and could only say a few words.
He was on his bicycle and I chased after him in a spontaneous game of tag. He squealed with laughter, shouting ‘Stop! Stop!’ and raced off to the nearby void deck.
It seemed silly, but it was fun. That game left me out of breath but I was glad I had the time to pause to enjoy the little moments in life.
Sometimes, freelancing feels like this.
You’re hustling, never knowing what to expect. You may be worried about when the next job will come. Or how you’re falling behind your peers.
But then there are these sudden moments of pure joy. And you’re there to catch them. These are the moments worth living for.
You may be having a lower income, fewer benefits and less prestigious assignments, but you are not a lesser person as a result of that.
See courage in yourself and the love for yourself in daring to do something unconventional, in seeing success beyond a salary; and in the freedom to make a living.