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  • Writer's pictureRebecca MacFarlane

How I Became a Full-Time Freelance Writer – And What I’ve Learned So Far

As cliché as it may sound, I sort of became a full-time freelance writer by accident. Don’t get me wrong – the jobs didn’t just magically fall into my lap. Over the last several months, I’ve worked really hard to refine my skills and build my client base. But if you had told me this time last year that I would be a full-time freelance writer, I would’ve been pretty shocked.

See, I’ve always thought of myself as someone who thrives on structure. Having somewhere to be at a specific time. Having a designated space for work and a designated space for leisure. Even in university, my most productive studying was done at the library because, if I stayed in my apartment, it was only a matter of time before I ended up watching Netflix in bed. I believed I simply didn’t have the discipline needed to work from home and design my own work schedule.

Then 2020 happened and I had no choice but to do exactly that if I wanted to keep earning money. The same was true for many other people. While certain industries have suffered and millions of workers worldwide have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the freelance market in several countries has experienced significant growth, according to a new Payoneer survey. Topping the list was the Philippines, which saw a 208% growth rate in its freelancing industry over the course of the year. Not to mention, in the wake of the pandemic, nearly every single company now uses some form of freelance expertise, whereas only three quarters of companies did prior to the crisis.

In short, from the global workforce to my individual professional life, there have been major changes on both a macro and a micro scale. Like any major life change, the process of becoming a full-time freelancer has been accompanied by many valuable lessons. Although I’m still very early on in my career and have a long way to go, let’s take a look back on everything I’ve learned so far.

1. You’re going to fuck up

When you’re just getting started in any kind of pursuit – a new hobby, a new business, a new relationship – it’s inevitable: you are going to make mistakes. Most of them will probably be pretty minor but, in my experience, they might feel a lot more serious than they actually are. If you’re anything like me, your perfectionism and anxiety can sometimes get the better of you. Oftentimes, this leads to beating yourself up: I should have known better. Why didn’t I triple check that? I’m going to look so unprofessional. It’s a vicious and unproductive cycle.

Ultimately, at the risk of sounding like an after school special, the best thing you can do is learn from your mistakes rather than dwell on them. No one is perfect and no one expects you to be. They do, however, expect you to handle your shit. So, take a deep breath, take accountability, and come up with some solutions. After that, all you have to do is try your best to avoid repeating the same mistake in the future. At the end of the day, that’s all any of us can do: our best.

2. The imposter syndrome is all too real

If you’re a woman, you’re probably very familiar with imposter syndrome. It’s the phenomenon of feeling like you aren’t as competent as you appear to be and/or that your success isn’t deserved. Odds are, it’s been an unwelcome and unwarranted fixture in your life in some capacity. It’s honestly startling how prevalent imposter syndrome is among women – even the most successful of women. In fact, a recent survey found that 75% of American executive women experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their careers and 85% of them believe that it is widely experienced by women working in corporate America.

Now, I’m far from an executive. But I still like to think I’ve been successful in my own right, particularly by the age of 24. I’ve been published, worked in one of the most high-profile federal government departments in Canada, and received glowing recommendations from pretty much every employer I’ve ever had. Yet I still feel like a fraud a great deal of the time. I regularly think I’m charging too much for my services, that the work I produce isn’t quite good enough, that I could have done more. I repeat: it is a vicious and unproductive cycle.

When it comes to combatting imposter syndrome, I don’t have all the answers. On the contrary, I have rather few. The main technique I’ve learned for coping with it is to look at the cold hard evidence of my professional interactions. Recently, one client told me that I’m “amazing at what I do.” Another told me that I’m “worth my weight in gold.” They were literally telling me how well I was doing, so why couldn’t I just believe them? Sometimes, it really is that simple. Sometimes, you just need to read the positive feedback to remind yourself that your success is deserved and that you aren’t doing the bare minimum – you’re actually killing it.

3. It might be the most feminist thing you ever do

That’s right, my feminist friend. Working for yourself may be the most feminist – albeit stressful and challenging – decision you ever make for yourself. Think about it: you’re putting enough trust in yourself to stand on your own two feet in terms of your employment. Instead of working in an office and feeling the sting of your male boss’ misogynistic microaggressions, you get to work for a confident, intelligent woman – you. Since you design your own work hours, you don’t have to worry about justifying your need to leave early to take your kid to a doctor’s appointment, a perk that hugely enhances your work-life balance (an ideal disproportionately targeted at women). Rather than confining yourself to the traditional employment sphere, in which women have historically struggled against bias and discrimination, you’re going around it and carving your own path.

Unsurprisingly, these benefits haven’t gone unnoticed by women, leading many of them to transition into the world of freelancing and self-employment. A 2019 analysis published by the U.K.-based Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) found that the number of women opting to work for themselves increased by 57% between 2008 and 2019.

So, here we sit at the end of 2020. For me, the journey to becoming a full-time freelance writer has been one of my greatest blessings this year. Despite the self-inflicted pressure and inherent stress of being a one-woman show, it has been so incredibly worth it. Of course, there are moments of self-doubt. There are moments where I crave stability and steady money, which lead me to wonder if I should try to break back into the traditional employment sphere. Then I think of every time a male boss or colleague commented on my appearance, asked if I had a boyfriend, or seemed surprised when I performed well at my job and I think…yeah, no thanks*.

*DISCLAIMER: I am aware that being able to work for yourself as a full-time freelancer is an immense privilege that a lot of other people do not have. There are many women who have no choice but to stay in jobs where men often get away with some problematic bullshit. Women with medical conditions who need the insurance cover, women with children, women working to put themselves through school – I see you and I send you all the love and solidarity in the world.

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