One morning in April 2013, I walked into my office just as I had over the past 11 years. However, unlike other days, this time I was greeted by the head of HR and my boss. Long story short, my services were no longer needed.
So, I did the expected thing. I updated my resume. I hit monster and other job sites looking for new opportunities. I even took a couple of skill-boosting classes so that I would be more marketable.
Then I stopped. I pulled my resume off the internet. I stopped taking calls from recruiters. I dropped my classes. Instead, I made a very deliberate decision that I was going to focus on growing what had been a side gig into a full-time career as a freelance writer.
Why would I do that? Why would I set aside a career spanning 20 years in my 40s? Ultimately, losing my job gave me a choice. I could continue on in a field that I had no passion for, or I could reboot my life. I chose the latter.
Doing something I had grown to dislike intensely was not emotionally tenable. Had I not been fired, I have no idea how long I would have lasted in my field. I had entered my field out of financial necessity. Twenty years later, I had grown to hate it. I was disillusioned, bored, and eager for something new. Losing my job forced to me to seek that out. I was fortunate to have found something I loved, and to do it on a part time basis.
I was no longer going to base my life around arbitrary social constructs. Just like my peers, I was taught that I was supposed to prioritise certain things. I was supposed to get a traditional education. I was supposed to find a job, and work my way up in my field. I had done both. Forty hour weeks, home ownership, retirement plan – you name it, I had checked them all off my list. I was doing what I had been told I was supposed to do as part of generation X.
I realised I would be happier pursuing a natural talent. I was very good at my job. However, that wasn’t because I had natural talent or passion. My skill development came from classroom training, on the job experience, and simply ‘reading the manual’. I was never going to be a master of my trade. Had I been in a union, I would have been a life long journeyman.
Writing was very much different. I was good at it without any real training. I enjoyed it as a hobby, and a means to earn money. Learning and improving my skills, often by visiting the best sites with writing advice, was something I liked doing and didn’t feel like drudgery.
Freelancing gave me the opportunity to work around my life. Even if I had loved my job and had been passionate about the field I first chose, there were things about being a full-time employee that were problematic. I had next to no choice when it came to my schedule. The time I could take off was also limited. On paper, the standard five days sick leave, two weeks vacation, and three days personal leave sound okay. At least that’s what Americans are taught to value.
Unfortunately, all it takes is a case of the flu that hangs on too long, or a family emergency to eat up all of that time. As a freelancer, I have much more control over my days. Nobody tells me I can’t work with a sick kid lounging on the couch next to my desk. Nobody monitors how many times I walk into the kitchen for coffee.
Freelancing also offers me location independence. Basically, if I can hook up to the internet somehow, I can work anywhere. My office is my backyard, the park, the beach, a cafe or the next city over. I can take my work on my vacation and even manage to visit distant relatives.
I can’t say for certain that I would have been brave enough to take the leap that I did if I had never lost my job. I am grateful that I was forced to take a life-changing decision. I couldn’t be happier today.
I don’t make as much money as a freelancer, but that’s a result of choice. I limit the work that I accept intentionally so that I can focus on other things. I’ve also cut expenses and down-sized.
Anybody who is considering freelancing should definitely explore their options. It’s a rare company that doesn’t view their employees as commodities.