Spill It: Did You Choose Freelancing, or Did It Choose You?

About four years ago, I walked into my publisher’s office and handed him a resignation letter.

I didn’t do it as a negotiation tactic. I wasn’t trying to force his hand. All I wanted was to give this freelancing thing a shot: to be my own boss, pick and choose my own projects, and have the time and energy to write more of my own stuff.

No salary range… no full-time dream job… could have lured me back to the corporate workforce.

The thing is, many people in my life just assumed I was looking for something better. They didn’t see freelancing as a viable career option. One well-meaning friend even offered to treat me on all future meals: “… just until you find a new job,” she said.

“This is my new job!” I replied.

Now more than ever, it’s easy for the traditionally employed to make this mistake. According to a recent survey, 24 percent of freelancers only went the self-employed route after being downsized.

And while I think that entrepreneurship is a great option for those who have lost their jobs and want to have greater control over their careers, I’m sick of people assuming that the work I do was a last-ditch move made out of desperation.

I feel as if I’m constantly seeking out legitimacy in the eyes of those who just don’t get it: You’ve been published in BLANK? I’ve never read it. You’ve earned your certification for WHAT!? Why would someone pay you for that? You wrote a book? Is it a REAL book? (Um… I earn royalties on it. Does that make it “real”?)

I’m curious: How many of you chose freelancing, and how many of you came to freelancing as a means of surviving unemployment? For those for whom it was a Plan B… are you dying to find a new full-time job, or are you sorta digging this? For those who went full-time freelancedom of their own volition, is there anything that would tempt you back to Corporate America? And how in heck do y’all describe your career to other people in your life?

Related: Crowdsourcing: Does the Corporate Ladder Still Beckon?, Pinpointing Dream Job #328, When I’m Not Home…


  1. I’m just starting to freelance write part time while I hold on to my editor day job and I’d love to see if this takes me far enough to be able to do it full time! I’ve always looked at it as the ultimate goal- never as a source of last resort.

  2. I chose it, period. I got serious about freelancing while I was working at a doctor’s office during graduate school. My job was SOUL SUCKING, to put it nicely, and I quit it once I realized freelance writing for some local papers was earning me more money for the same hours I was working at the office. Quitting and making the leap to freelancing was a no-brainer.

    And I completely understand your frustration with people not understanding what you do. My grandmother is always making comments like, “Well, you have so much free time” or “Maybe you should get a job” as though I sit around my house all day long picking my nose and watching Teen Mom. I always tell her, “I DO have a job and I DON’T actually have as much free time as you think.” Then she laughs it off like she was just kidding, when really she doesn’t understand that with a computer and internet connection I can stay home and still make money writing. I don’t make as much as my husband makes– YET. I’m slowly building my business, meeting new clients, learning new skills like copywriting and resume writing… and honestly, there’s not a whole lot that would convince me to go back to an office job and give up freelancing. It would have to be perfect for me (and have central air. That’s one of the big things I miss sorely about working in an office during these swampy summer days! My oscillating fan just isn’t as nice… haha)

  3. Amen! I know just what you mean. I chose freelancing and at first, I had a lot of people assume that it was just temporary or that it wasn’t a “real” job. Drove me crazy!! By now, the people who know me well know that I’m serious about freelancing for the long-term.

  4. I’m just getting started in the freelance arena but my ultimate joy would be to freelance full time. Although I write for the corporate world by day, I long for the personal fulfillment that freelancing can offer. So glad I stumbled upon your blog, Steph! Some great information as I continue to get my head around this freelancing thing and the best way to drum up clients!

  5. Thanks for writing this! I can so relate to this point: “I’m sick of people assuming that the work I do was a last-ditch move made out of desperation.”

    Like you, I chose freelancing, and it’s been an uphill battle with certain people in my life–I often feel like pulling out my bank statements to “prove” that it is indeed a real career path. Interestingly, I got the most flack when I quit my FT job to freelance not from people completely outside any creative industry, but a handful of fellow magazine friends. They couldn’t believe I would willingly leave a “dream job” to set out on my own.

  6. First I got downsized. While emailing resumes and going on interviews, my husband suggested freelancing. It wasn’t even on my mind. I researched how much I could freelance while still collecting unemployment. When it looked like freelancing was about to take me OVER that line, I was offered a round 3 interview as a marketing coordinator at a large company you’ve all heard of. I turned it down and said, “Nothing you can offer me right now will be better than being able to pick my kids up from school every day.”
    Freelancing eventually led to Ownership of a design firm – and that’s where I still am today. Now when I do stuff on the side, it’s usually unpaid for a nonprofit or family member.

  7. It’s been a battle for me freelancing. I think I was looking at freelancing from the opposite perspective for awhile, and now I’m just starting to see the other side, thanks to some tough love from friends.

    I could understand relating to the “Did freelancing choose you?” mentality, but I know many writers who take it as seriously as any full-time job.

    More than anything, I think freelancing is something you just do, period, if you love it. Don’t worry about what anyone else in your life thinks-and if they have doubts tell them to shove it (This is advice I should be giving to myself as well.)

    But it IS a real job, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand. I’ve hedged and hawed when people ask me if I’m looking for a “real job” and especially when I meet new people who make it sound like I’m unemployed-but I’m not. I’m writing, and that’s the part I love.

  8. Great post! I have to admit this question has crossed my mind when I meet freelancers of consultants. That’s part of the reason why I don’t like to use those terms. I definitely chose it and truly value self employment. Part of the reason why I don’t introduce myself as a freelancer is because I don’t want to leave people wondering and I’d love to talk about entrepreneurship. I also see freelancing as part of the process of building a business.

  9. Well this is about the best question I’ve seen asked about the industry since I started! I’d have to say freelancing chose me – only I didn’t know it until recently. Multiple problems and failures at the workplace weren’t strong enough hints. It was only after I started freelancing professionally that I figured out it was what my personality was built for. Better late than never I suppose…

  10. John Tangney says:

    Freelancing chose me, in the sense that after one too many layoffs, I decided that the “security” of a “permanent” gig as an employee was an anachronism. I’ve now been independent for ten years.

    Along the way I took in some bigger jobs too, requiring me to bring in some extra hands. But I never grew the business any larger.

    Right now I don’t much like freelancing, not because of any social stigma, but because I am really struggling to make ends meet. I have an unbelievably great client and a gazillion billable hours, but self employment tax is killing me, and I feel I never have time to work on the biz itself.

    I am considering getting a “day job” again….

  11. My perspective is a little different, since I only freelance part time. Writing magazine articles always appealed to me, but I really got my butt in gear and started sending out queries when 10% of my company was laid off a couple years ago. It felt like a good back-up plan. It’s been great to have an extra source of income and some new challenging projects to work on. Plus, it isn’t always easy to feel a sense of validation at my day job, and working on my own freelance projects helps me feel a real sense of accomplishment and growth.

    I have considered freelancing full-time, but I value the stability and community I get through my day job. It’s tough to give up benefits like health insurance and paid time off. And as a single woman living alone, I like to work in an office. I think I’d go crazy if I was working from home. I’d get lonely real fast. But freelancing is obviously a fantastic option for many of you, and I love hearing about all your success stories.

  12. I really admire anyone who succeeds at making a living through freelancing. I tried and did not make it. Now I have become a successful innkeeper. What I really want to do is write, but there is so little time …

  13. I guess it was a mix of both. I’d always wanted to try it and unemployment just happen to push me further in that direction. Now although I have a full time job I choose to actively pursue freelancing on the side so that one day I may be able to do it full time 🙂


  1. […] etc. Perhaps we’re getting an imbalance of this view because these days, a lot of people didn’t choose self-employment. They became freelancers by accident because of the […]

  2. […] Spill It: Did You Choose Freelancing, or Did It Choose You? (Writer) […]

Speak Your Mind