It feels like it has suddenly become a very trendy thing for smug freelancers and the self-righteous self-employed to moan about jobs – euurghh, jobs, yuck – and even to moan about the people who have them, like they're cowardly, uncreative, and worthy of pity until they finally see the freelance light – oh, those poor drones, heaving themselves to and from the office at the same time every day in an unpleasant metal shape, slogging away their existence for mere crumbs from the table of some bastard millionaire who is casually unpleasant towards puppies.
Some people, indeed, are so convinced about the joys of self-employment that you would assume they stormed out of their last job with two fingers in the air, threw off all their clothes, buttered themselves, and have been chasing a butterfly in a field ever since.
However, the reality of freelancing isn’t all sun and money, of course, and you’d have to be deluded to think that the grass was somehow inherently greener on the side of the fence where you have do your own taxes, deal with sporadic income, and must always take your work home with you. Of course, for many people the pros of freelancing do still outweigh the cons, but there might also be some things you never you knew you would miss until they were gone.
1. Your time is always valuable
When you work for yourself, your time is your own. That’s what attracts most people to self-employment -- the lay-ins, the naps, the frequent snacking. It’s the dream, right? The downside, however, is that all of the time you inevitably waste is also time you’re not earning money. What’s more, because you’re paying for the electricity, water, cheese, and toilet roll while you don’t earn any money, it’s like you’re paying yourself to steal from yourself. You monster.
When you’re working for The Man, however, you’re On The Clock until the boss finally pushes you off it at Five. Generally, you’ll get paid the same whether you are working hard, hardly working, pretending to work, actively avoiding work, or staring dumbly out of a high window, daydreaming about what you'd be doing with a jetpack, or imagining yourself naked, buttered, and chasing a butterfly in a field.
Furthermore, the act of pooing is normally little more than a fibrous obligation. That is until someone else is paying you to do it, of course, when it suddenly transforms into a financially rewarding, leisurely activity, best enjoyed over the course of an hour while playing Angry Birds, or foolishly conspiring to steal all of your companies clients, and go renegade non-poo paid independant.
Like everyone in the Universe, I now live in Berlin where I roam free amongst the freelancers. Back in London and amongst my old employed friends, however, I was the ‘one without a job.’
Indeed, people with proper jobs often imagine freelancers a bit like surfers - lazy, possibly stoned, vaguely out of touch with reality, and available 24/7 to waste time with.
Sure, they understand that you have to do a little something, sometimes, maybe, but they imagine your work more like a hobby than a job. If one of my friends was off work for the day, for example, they would immediately call me. “Paul!” they would announce, “I’ve got nothing to do today either, let’s go out!” Normally, they would win. Then, if I wanted to leave the pub earlier than was apparently acceptable, the same person wouldn’t accept “I’ve got work to catch up on tomorrow” as a valid excuse. In their minds, it just meant I would have to have a slightly shorter lay-in, or hit snooze less before I went surfing, or writing, or whatever it is that I claimed to do all day.
In short, having a proper job comes with an inbuilt respect that freelancing doesn’t. Meanwhile, the self-employed must spend a lot of their time trying in vain to justify how they are a GDP-positive use of oxygen, and not just a person who splashes around in the sea all day while trying to stand on it.
3. It’s the little things
It’s generally true that ‘every little helps.’ For freelancers, however, a better motto might be that ‘every little hurts’ as each miniature expense nibbles on your profit margins like a school of nuisance fish.
Take printing, for example. Your home printer hates you, and is designed to only work when you don’t need it. Which is why it can break, fail to connect, run out of paper, run out of ink, run out of empathy, and do all of the above in the same five seconds before your deadline. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had to call office friends, and frantically get them to print me an important document or boarding pass because my own machine is the actual devil.
Offices, meanwhile, are like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for all of that personal life admin shit. Need a pen or some biscuits for home? Take ‘em. Have to call a high-priced sex line in Australia? Do it at lunch. Need to print an important document or boarding pass for a useless friend who is blaming an inanimate object instead of his own poor organisation skills? Send it over, Paul. Shall I post it for you again as well?
Yes please, Alex. Thank you.
4. A conversation a day keeps the crazy away
‘Water cooler gossip’ gets a bad rap, like it’s obligatory small talk that nobody wants to make, but that everybody has to. Why? Because more than one person suddenly wanted to have water, but then couldn’t go back to their desks to drink it happily alone for some strange reason?
"If only cups were portable. I hate you, Dave."
This is office small talk as I remember it:
‘Did you see the event that happened on The News, last night? Wasn’t that a thing that didn’t affect us but which we noticed simultaneously because of The News, last night?’
‘Yes, yes, it was, wasn’t it. The weather this morning was so weather, wasn’t it? I couldn’t believe how it just seemed to do what it wanted, just like weather always does.’
‘I agree with you. What do you prefer, sausages or The Arctic Monkeys?’
‘I agree. Goodbye.’
The real reason ‘water cooler gossip’ gets such a bad rap, however, is that it is never compared to its self-employed counterpart. As a social person who generally works at home, the closest I get to frequent meaningful interaction is with a block of cheese. Don’t ask me why, but about once an hour I find myself looking in the fridge for no reason at all. I’m not hungry. I don’t know why I’m there. I don’t even remembering getting there, or leaving my desk, or stopping writing. But there I am, again, for the 18th time that day, checking in on the cheese.
‘Hello, Mr Cheese,’ I say, ‘me again.’
‘I’m worried about you, Paul. I think you should go for a walk.’’ Image Source: Costumes By Cameron
5. GooooOOOOOO TEAM!
It’s 5PM! Yabba-dabba-doo! It’s time for you and 90% of the workforce to slide down a big dinosaur, straight out of the building, and headfirst into eighteen pints of post-work beer.
To the pub, Team!
While madmen like me are still at home talking to Mr Cheese because extreme freelance isolation has broken our brains, you are an important component of a group with shared goals and achievements. OK, those goals might be profit for someone else, and, OK, those achievements might be that Company 72B1 just gained a 7 of their 0.18 over a 344%, but, still, that's going to affect the graph, isn't it! Yaaaaay!!
GooooooooooooooooOOOOO TEAM OFFICE SUPER FRIENDS!!!
Except friends will only ever be just friends, because you chose them. Co-workers are so much more than that. They’re people you’re forced to spend a lot of time with, don’t get to choose, might not like very much, and can’t change even if you hate them. They’re family.
As a freelancer, you might one day be lighting a cigar with client cheques in a hot tub full of champagne and unicorn tears, then, the next, be staring into an empty food cupboard, wondering if the wooden shelves in the middle might melt down just enough to serve on toast. To avoid those extremes, you’ll generally have to budget carefully for both scenarios; squirreling away the nuts during the good times, then nibbling on them again during the bad.
Proper jobbers, meanwhile, are protected from the consequences of their bad decisions by modern society’s ultimate reset button... the paycheck. Indeed, you can make quite horrendous financial decisions at any point of the month that you want, and the only thing it affects is how long you have to wait until you can make those horrendous financial decisions all over again.
If you wanted, for example, you could carefully budget for exactly 30 days of delicious desserts, then wait just one more day for the reset button to refresh your bank account. The next month, mad on jelly and buns, you could spend all of that money in one single day by renting a hot air balloon, a brass band, and spending an afternoon haunting a nun with dramatic noises from the stratosphere. 29 simple days of nice nostalgia later, the reset button is hit again.
With a salary, your life really is like one big game of monopoly. No matter how many hotels sting you in the ass on your way around the board, eventually you know you will get to the end of the month, pass Go, and find yourself starting the whole cycle again with 200 big ones in hand like an invincible champion of modern life.
TL; DR: Don't quit your job, or you'll start talking to cheese.