And we aren’t rushing back to the traditional workforce
I recently read a piece on LinkedIn that I genuinely thought was a satire about how the work-from-home (WFH) movement was destroying careers. Unfortunately, the author was serious. It seems this person genuinely believes that without face-to-face interactions in the hallways and the ability to be mentored (and monitored) by those with more experience, those working from home are lazy and lack ambition.
After my initial disgust that I had given the author the attention they were obviously seeking, I took some time to reflect on my WFH experience. I am a freelance writer specializing in writing for the legal space. As a freelancer, I don’t have an employer. I have clients. I don’t receive benefits, stock options, or PTO. Am I trapped in a predatory system designed to allow others to profit from me without offering me the “comforts” of full-time employment?
That seems to be the narrative a handful of fans for the return to the traditional workforce is peddling. After a careful look at my own journey, here is what I have learned.
Freelancing Isn’t the Right Choice for Everyone
There are plenty of people who joyfully returned to the traditional workforce when the pandemic eased. They had missed the structure, sense of community, social interactions, and coworkers’ input. These people thrive in their work environment, and that is fantastic.
Others gave freelancing a try and found it discouraging. It can be brutally hard to get started as a freelancer, and there are many ways to be taken advantage of.
You operate without a safety net, and the risks can be daunting. One of the most daunting tasks for freelancers is learning to sell yourself. This is followed closely by difficulty in determining what your abilities, experience, and expertise are worth.
I know other freelancers who loved their freelance lifestyle but could no longer tolerate the risk. For any number of reasons, they needed to return to the relative safety of steady paychecks, company-provided insurance, and a traditional work schedule.
Whatever the reason for preferring the traditional workforce, I think we can all agree that we are glad the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, and we have a choice about where and how we work.
Freelancing Is the Right Choice for Me
I am an introvert with a skill set that translates to money-making opportunities in the gig economy. I also love to travel, and the ability to work from anywhere with a wifi connection is a huge bonus. I have worked from camping sites deep in the woods, the beach, and hotels in various cities, and in the summer, I log more work hours from our RV than from our house.
I make an income that is comparable to what I would make in the traditional workforce, but that is because I have chosen to prioritize a work-life balance that works for me. That didn’t happen right away.
I am three years into freelance writing, and my career has grown exponentially. Yes, I happily took jobs writing for a few pennies a word in the beginning. Thankfully, a little research convinced me not to stay there long. I found my niche, did my market research, and started to charge appropriately. I don’t regret those early days, though. I was learning, often from my mistakes, and building confidence in my skills.
We talk more about work-life balance now, and we discuss it with more depth and understanding of its meaning. It means something different to everyone. For me, a healthy balance between work and life means merging the two more. I love what I do for a living, so the balance I need is the ability to combine those two worlds.
Don’t misunderstand. Though I love my job, breaks entirely away from writing are essential. I just returned from an 8-day cruise where I did not take my laptop or purchase an internet package. I needed time away from work to focus on my genuine relaxation, my husband, and being fully present in the experience.
However, I am not blurring the balance when taking my laptop on a camping trip. Some of my best work was written from a camp chair with a bonfire. Working while simultaneously getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life is a unique privilege, and I try not to take it for granted.
My idea of work-life balance may be different from yours. Perhaps work isn’t your passion, but it is how you finance chasing your passion. Maybe your children are small, and you have realized how very fast time goes by when raising tiny humans. Your goals may be tied to having more time to spend with your children, your spouse, aging parents, or your own mental health.
Three years ago, I read about this fascinating new gig economy phenomenon. I didn’t cautiously dip a toe in — which might be the wiser move. Instead, I took a running leap and jumped. The first year was rough. My goals were laughably small. Since then, the business has grown at a steady pace, but there have been plenty of ups and downs.
Some months, I am turning down work at an alarming rate because there are only so many hours in the day. Other months, I hit the panic button because clients go silent, and work slows to a trickle. Slowly, I am learning to flow with the uncertainty of the day-to-day and focus on the big picture, which I measure by hours worked and annual income.
A Workforce Revolution
Technology exists that allows many of us to work from almost anywhere. The pandemic forced many companies to explore remote work, and many are never going back. Ask a hundred people working from home why they continue to do so, and you are likely to get a hundred different answers. The same is true for those who have returned to the traditional workforce.
The real issue is that we have collectively changed how we define success. There is a quiet rebellion taking place where much of the workforce is collectively reevaluating what they want and how to get it.
Without fanfare and social media trends, people are deciding to pursue the things that matter to them in ways that make sense for their goals. I can only assume those that are crying that it is career suicide to work in a non-traditional setting are afraid of a loss of control. However, I genuinely believe most of us are celebrating the wealth of opportunities to choose our own paths.