Is This Freelancer a Fake?
January 8, 2010 7 Comments
I call myself a freelancer, but I might be an impostor. First of all, I spend half my time working as a teacher in adult education. It’s a position I very much enjoy, but it’s not freelancing. Four days a week, I go to a school, where I run a classroom (several in fact), interact with colleagues, share an office, and comfortably inhabit the workplace culture. When I’m not teaching, I do editing and writing that might be more traditionally called “freelance.” But, frankly, it doesn’t feel especially entrepreneurial, since I’m not really building a business — and I’m quite happy with that.
You see, I do my best work when other people are depending on me, expecting me to produce. They might be students in a classroom, editors who need me to help them meet deadlines, or writers who are (by their own admission) swimming in their own verbiage without a guiding hand. But what so many freelancers tell me they love about independent work life is the ability to build your own little enterprise — in effect, to own your own labor.
I’m not much of an owner, though. Don’t get me wrong, I like the partial control I now have over my schedule. But I still get much more of my energy from fulfilling others’ needs than from cultivating my own. Knowing that another, specific person is waiting for my work — even at the other end of a cyber-connection — is what motivates me to deliver and to excel.
My freelance life, satisfying as it is, is pretty much devoid of self-advancement goals, beyond the basic earning of a living. That doesn’t mean that I’m not exceedingly busy, or that I’m not motivated by excellence. Anyone who has ever worked with me would tell you I’m a stickler for quality — and a discerning critic of how quality is defined. But the rewards I get are not quite “mine”; they’re the benefits that direct recipients of my work derive.
Take, for example, the blog I wrote for Harvard Business until last December. The editors wanted something from me every week, and I was chock full of ideas, and often five or six weeks ahead of schedule. The writing came easily to me, as I imagined delivering the best possible product to an editor on the other end. Furthermore, that editor needed my work on time — and often benefited from my early delivery of it. Sure, the whole thing felt sort of self-indulgent, given that it was a blog about my own career transition. But the fact that someone was waiting for me to deliver my drivel made it feel less like drool and more like lip-smacking food I was cooking up in the kitchen for someone else — someone I know — to taste.
Nowadays, my blog posts don’t get “received” by anyone whose face I would recognize on the street, beyond a few friends and colleagues. I put them online at will, and anonymous readers (not very many) wander in and out. Some offer lovely comments that I deeply appreciate.
But I have to tell you it’s not the same. I’m not terribly motivated to write posts without being able to feel a direct need from a person with whom I have a professional tie. And here you are reading my blog. And here I am disrespecting you by saying that that’s not enough, not enough to write about “freelancing” for an audience (of freelancers?) whose hands I cannot touch.
Is that irony or hypocrisy — or just downright boring? Can you even relate, fellow freelancer, fellow reader of drivel about a stranger’s career transition? Set me straight.