I like freelancing. I get to (mostly) choose what I write about and when I do it. It’s also a learning curve, and I’ve learned the hard way how to deal with late payments, how to tactfully tell your client he’s wrong, how not to pitch for new business… So, in honour of National Freelancers Day on November 19th, I present to you the Five Stages of Freelancing.
The stages of freelancing are experienced by freelancers in all trades. Freelancing occurs in response to a number of different situations: loss of a job, realizing that your company is making a lot more off your work than you are, or the need for a challenge. There are five stages of normal freelancing and everyone spends a different amount of time in each stage.
Freelancing may cause you to evaluate your own feelings of self-worth. It definitely challenges your fortitude. You may not go through every single phase and you may not follow this exact order, just consider it a guide through the process of getting started as a freelancer.
The first reaction to starting to freelance is excitement, denying the reality of the situation. Feeling as though you are completely free is a normal reaction to the overwhelming emotion of not actually having to do anything.
This euphoria is a defense mechanism that cushions the blow of no longer having a steady paycheque, providing us with the ability to approach every task with enthusiasm. It’s a condition that carries us through the first days or weeks of freelancing.
2. Fear and Worry
When the masking effect of euphoria begins to wear thin, reality catches up with us. That first or second bill comes due and we’re not prepared. We’ve been rubbed raw by the worry, the small voice in the back of our minds that asks ‘How will you pay your rent?’ and we watch the money we saved dwindle. We feel vulnerable, worried that we’ve made the wrong choice. We try to fill in the gaps of what will happen with all of the things that could go wrong.
We redirect our emotions and aim it to inanimate objects like our laptop or the freelancing website we’re using, friends who invite us out for drinks we can’t afford, or family who thinks we’re just playing around on our computers. Rationally, we know it’s not their fault. Emotionally, we’re transferring our anger with ourselves onto others.
3. Fight or Flight
The normal reaction to something we don’t know or understand is fear. When we’re afraid and the consequences of our actions are unknown, our survival instincts are triggered. After the euphoric stage, we’ve seen some successes and a lot of failures. This stage is where we choose whether we sink or swim.
If we choose flight, we quit freelancing and start looking for a new job to provide us with the stability human nature craves.
If we choose to fight, we learn from our mistakes and work harder or smarter. During this period of transition, it’s helpful to think of times when we’ve gone through similar situations, how we handled them, and what the result was.
This stage is a resolute decision and quiet preparation to kick ass at freelancing. We develop a laser-like focus that’s more sustainable than the euphoria stage. We stop worrying and start acting, planning out what we need to be successful. This phase may be eased by reading resources or seeking help from fellow freelancers, but in the end this is something we have to do for and by ourselves. We learn more about ourselves here – when and how we work best and whether we truly have the discipline and tenacity to do what we do.
At this point, the word weekend ceases to have meaning for us. Friends are a distant memory. We convince ourselves that this is for us.
Reaching this stage of freelancing is not something everyone manages to achieve. There may not be enough demand for our skills in a freelance capacity or the working style doesn’t suit our personality. It is not a mark of failure to look for a steady job when you’ve done everything you could to make ends meet – you have gained valuable skills and followed your heart.
This phase is marked by calm. We’ve gotten into a rhythm and can see the sun on the horizon. Those who have arrived consider themselves freelancers – in our eyes we have made it. Getting to this stage does not imply a predetermined definition of success such as making six figures or having new clients every week has been achieved. Arrival is the starting point, the foundation of a successful freelancing career.
In case you couldn’t tell by the GIFs, this was a satirical take on the 5 Stages of Loss and Grief.