Freelancer, the Lazy Bum – An Essay
“Free” is both exciting and scary, always followed by skepticism. If something is free we wonder what the catch is, so no wonder the “free” in “freelancer” makes us shady people. I mean, how can we say we work if we don’t have jobs, if we just sit at our computers all day…at home! I mean, the only people who do that are lazy bums, right?
Freelancers are the black sheep of their circles, idealist flakes, slackers who embrace laziness, and are sources of embarrassment to their corporate parents. In an article on annoying questions freelance writers get asked, right here on FreelanceSwitch, commenters mentioned what they go through as freelancers:
- A freelancer and stay-at-home mom is asked, “but you’ll go back to work once your daughter goes to school, right?”
- A guy’s wife thinks he’s playing computer games all day.
- An author is excited about showing her mom a copy of her book not because she’s proud of her work, but just so she can show her mom that she works for a living and no, she doesn’t need to borrow $20, mom.
Why do people think we’re slackers for opting for freelance freedom? Freedom might be something we all say we want, but freedom is also highly feared and misunderstood.
Job as the Societal Norm vs. Freelance Slackers
Throughout history humans have been expected to abide by certain norms and in olden days (and even in certain societies today) if you were different you might even be killed so not to disturb the order, you know, by giving others any pesky ideas, such as the belief that one has the right not to be enslaved.
Freelancing isn’t a new idea, but the norm in modern societies is to have a job that you can go to every day, it’s just what people do. Even housewives who clean, cook, iron and take care of their children are traditionally thought of as non-contributing members of society (and seen as having it easy), as largely you’re seen as productive if you work for someone else and you’re considered successful when you have that corner office. Equating freedom to success makes you an idealist who will eventually ask your friends and family who have jobs for cash.
Mobile Freelancers Must be Lazy Vagabonds
In my case, as a mobile freelancer I’m seen not only as a lazy bum, but also as a loser for having chosen not to have a fixed address for some time. I’m asked why don’t I just get a job and settle in the same tone that someone might be asked, “Why don’t you put that broken arm in a cast?” But if I tell someone that I don’t want a job, that I like going where I want, when I want, their first reaction is “you must be rich!” which is followed by an intense expression of envy in every one of their body cells.
If I tell them that I’m actually poor, that I like my life and that they too can do what they want with their lives I set off their defense mechanism, which releases a black cloud of resignation above their head. “But I have a job! I have responsibilities!” they’ll exclaim.
Explaining that I actually work though I don’t have a job hardly has an effect, since people don’t have jobs because they want to work, they have jobs because they want secure paychecks – forget about explaining that I too have responsibilities, as they firmly believe I have a personal assistant who even feeds me magic grapes.
Humans Need Security, but What About Freedom?
But that word secure… Mostly humans want security and that goes way back to when we were cavemen running from hungry tigers. This need for security is still with us today, if not instinctively then because of real danger, or because of made-up dangers found in the news.
Freedom on the other hand is not secure. You want to hear of the ultimate freedom? I used to volunteer with the homeless and once a former big-league college basketball player (yes, who’d become homeless) said to me, “Don’t feel bad for me. I have to worry about getting something to eat, but I choose to be on the streets because this is where I can be free.”
I thought he was just crazy, but I came to understand what he meant when I started working with people who were enslaved by their paychecks, by their bills, by their fear of failure and of doing what they love; in fact, I became one of those people and only recently have I become comfortable with the idea that a job doesn’t imply automatic unhappiness.
Office Job, Not the Purpose of Life
Sometimes I actually consider going back to an office job, keeping in mind a list of things to watch out for and to ask for. But again I’m now living in Amsterdam, where work is not the purpose of life and where it’s common to work 32-hour weeks.
I mean, there are many perks to an office job. If it’s a slow day the job-holder can surf the web or take 25 coffee breaks. It doesn’t really matter because the company’s in charge of getting the work; whereas, the job-holder’s in charge of doing the work.
If clients don’t pay the company the job-holder still gets his paycheck, benefits, holidays and whatnot. Should the job-holder hurt his hand he’ll go on sick leave and still get a portion or all of his pay. In this sense, a job-holder relies on his ability to work, but not fully on himself to meet his needs, so trying to explain to him what it’s like to rely completely and solely on oneself for everything is usually futile.
Having a traditional job isn’t easy, but the preoccupations that come with it aren’t all comparable to those of a freelancer, who, like the homeless basketball player, can enjoy his freedom as long as he can get enough to eat.