The five-day a week, eight hours a day format of work did not come about because organizations believed that leisure is essential for a balanced life. Some would associate it with Henry Ford, who realized that “Leisure is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market. Working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products, including automobiles.” So for years, we did not drift away from the weekday-weekend cycle of earning and consumption.
But there was always change scratching at the horizon. Simmering, brewing and it has finally burst out in to the scene. As Gustavo Tanaka, a Brazilian entrepreneur and writer said in this insightful piece, “No one can stand the employment model any longer. We are reaching our limits. People working with big corporations can’t stand their jobs. The lack of purpose knocks on your door as if it came from inside you like a yell of despair. People want out. Take a look at how many people are willing to take up entrepreneurship, go on sabbaticals, or suffer from work-related depression, or are burnt out.”
Thanks to technology and its positive impact on seamless collaboration and communication, everyone can have their voices heard and crafts seen. Suddenly, everyone can be part of the gig economy. This is why, after a decade of neat career boxes and spending more than one-third of my days in air-conditioned cubicles, I returned to my real interests in 2016. It was the love of trivia, travel, flexibility, and freedom. I could direct my discontentment with gender issues and work culture into something meaningful. But most of all, it was about “doing something about writing”.
It took me a good year-and-a-half, a mini-sabbatical and two resignations to go from thinking about independent and varied work to actually doing it. The safety net of a job and the mini wins of happy clients are hard to give up, but I don’t regret the delay. So here I am, giving my two-cents on giving up the comfort of monthly paycheques.
Preparing for change
Get some clarity
Be clear about your life priorities and commitments. If it is important for you to be surrounded by people at all times, by the water cooler or in meeting rooms, independent work can get incredibly lonely. If your life’s kicks come from annual appraisal cycles and well-earned designations (which is hardly bad thing), independent life might seem a little demotivating. If you have EMIs to pay or ageing parents to take care of, figure out where that money will come from when work is slow to come by.
Sort out your finances
Let’s get real. No matter how many calculated risks you are willing to take and how footloose and fancy free you imagine yourself to be, everyone has bills to pay. Make sure you have at least six months to one year worth of expenses in your bank account. Nothing puts a hard stop to dreams than lack of funds or, in my case, discomfort with financial dependence.
Don’t shut the door on full-time employment
You will not know the pros and cons of independent work and lifestyle will work until you actually do it. So shutting the door on employment or a far from graceful resignation are not the way to go, no matter how frustrating your current job might be.
Diving into the new phase, head first
Choose your platforms wisely
Share your unique family dinners on Plateculture. Sell your craft through ecommerce with a little inspiration from the likes of Alicia Souza and Indu Harikumar. Independently write, design, photograph or write code for money by finding work on freelancing marketplaces like Upwork or social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Entertain like-minded travellers on Airbnb and Couchsurfing. Share your travel and food stories on your monetised blog or podcasts. The platforms are yours for the taking, as long as you are willing to flex your social muscle. Choose smartly.
Diversify your income
I have observed that most people who have successfully taken to independent/ freelance work or have chosen to follow a passion have more than one source of income. For me, it is a balance between communication consulting because I was employed to do it for a good ten years and I enjoyed it, and writing for money because I want to pursue the interest. Pursue the “need to do” and the “want to do” with equal gusto. In my opinion, that is how responsible, practical adults follow dreams and take risks.
Learning to say no when needed
This is especially crucial when you are looking to make money from a hobby. Without the backing of finance and legal teams of a registered corporation, clients will sometimes expect the moon for free or for little money. When you have a monthly paycheque coming in from your day job, a little free work on the side to fuel your interests does not feel demotivating. But when it is your only source of income, it is important that you either get paid what you deserve (and on time) or you politely decline. Don’t waste your time pursuing opportunities that are a no-win proposition for you as far as income or quality of work is concerned.
Believe it or not, independent work needs more patience than full time employment. From waiting in the wings for your pitches to turn to real stories, for your clients to make a decision to their credit terms, working independently is an endless game of waiting. If patience is not your top virtue, then it is time to learn the ropes.
Build a support system
I will say it again. Working independently can often get very lonely. With no colleagues to share your lunch and nuggets about the bad and good days with, it is easy to fall prey to social isolation. Whether you make friends at the shared workspace or find old friends who work in similar set ups as you, it is important that you have a support system that shares similar experiences of independent work as you. It is the freelancing equivalent of tea breaks in office – everyone needs it.
Clearly, it is not impossible to pay the bills from your hobbies and create a life of flexibility and freedom around them. But it is important to know what you are in for and what you really want out of your life and work. It is a good first step.