Unless of course money is the only thing that matters.
Are you a full time writer on Medium? Do you make enough money here to maintain a decent standard of living? Have you even started making money? Do your friends and family understand what you do? Are they appreciative of it?
Enough of the questions. Let’s get straight to the point!
In this article I’ll be bringing out the very subtle and not so subtle differences between freelance and corporate work, and the major factors people fail to take into account while comparing the two. I’ll also elucidate on why it’s erroneous to even be comparing these highly dissimilar working styles in the first place.
Regardless of the amount of money that’s being made, they’re two very distinct career paths, each with its own set of pros and cons. And to compare them is akin to putting one above the other, saying that this is the one true path to success, and the only righteous way in which things should be done.
It’s quite frankly Apples to Oranges.
The back story
Let me give you some background for perspective.
I’m a full time writer here at Medium. I write each and every single day. Yes, every single day. Because that’s exactly what you too would do at a full-time job whether you liked it or not, wouldn’t you? I might not publish every day. A lot of the hard work happens during research, collating of information, and editing. Secondly, I follow the “quality over quantity” principle. So it really doesn’t bother me when I don’t click ‘publish’ each and every single day like some of the other writers on here do.
My parents constantly berate me for being a freelancer when I could be employed at any one of the thousands of MNC’s that have sprung up in my city over the last decade, and taking home quite a comfortable paycheck. But they come from a generation that valued money (read survival) over knowledge and productivity. They don’t understand that today, most of the learning and earning can be done right from the comfort of ones home office.
They also don’t understand that for most companies out there, work is less about productivity or results, and more about dominance and control. And that thousands of people, sick and tired of this “feudal bullshit”, are leaving the workforce, and by extension, a conventional way of life for exactly that reason; to become their own bosses under the freelancer economy.
For people from my parents generation, being at home equates to being on a holiday. Maybe you’ve fallen sick, have errands to run, or worse, are unemployed. They come from a generation where, there existed a concrete separation from home and work, figuratively and quite literally too (which might have not been such a bad thing after all). So I really don’t blame them for thinking this way.
They constantly nag me and point out to some of our family friends. How such and such person works at this or that esteemed organization, and how they work so hard and take home six figures despite looking after a family at home at the same time.
They overlook hundreds of other factors that act as catalysts for why people do what they do. They forget to factor in priorities. They forget about personalities. They forget about other peoples diverse and dissimilar backgrounds. They terribly fail to notice how so many people are where they are, not because of academic achievement but because of their connections and family name. They forget about privilege!
Here are a few of my reasons for not joining a corporate workforce or following a conventional life path. Some of you might relate to some or all of these factors. The list isn’t conclusive.
- I do not have the same priorities in life as “suchandsuch” person.
- Unlike them, I do not have a heap of loans and bills to pay off.
- I do not own a vehicle or a house. I still live with my parents.
- I can afford the luxury of working for free and building a knowledge base (on here) as a freelancer till the money starts rolling in, unlike “suchandsuch”, who already lives in another city paying rent.
- I do not have the same aspirations as them: starting a family and having kids, and the yada yada yada of materialistic stuff that’s required to facilitate that lifestyle. What am I gonna do making six figures? Eat all the food and buy all the clothes? My present (limited)income allows me to do that and let’s me follow my passion, which is trekking and wilderness exploration.
- I’m not materialistic. I’m quite the minimalist actually. I might buy clothes once or twice a year, and rarely shop online.
- I purchase experiences (see my bio) and not things. Which is well within the budget of what I earn from my side gig. (If my parents heard about the ungodly amounts of money some of my friends splurge on parties and materialistic stuff, they’d probably faint)
- I don’t constantly fly internationally like they do. Nor do I aspire to do so. The last time I took a flight was 6 years ago.
A mindset shift
Being a freelancer requires a planetary change in mindset. Call it a kind of entrepreneurial shift if you want.
You just cannot passively work like how you used to before. You’re your own boss now. You need to do all the marketing, sales and service/product delivery yourself. You also need to raise invoices, bills, work contracts and other documents all on your own. Additionally, you’ll have to do client meetings and win contracts all on your own. It’s you whose doing all the branding and advertising too. (unless you’ve reached a point where you’ve further sub contracted those jobs to other freelancers)
It’s solely on yourself to upskill as well. Remember, you aren’t part of a company anymore where they conduct routine training sessions for their employees. From this moment on, you are the company itself.
Boomer parents very conveniently forget that not everyone wants to follow a conventional way of life, or has the same aspirations as them. Things have changed drastically from what they were 30 years ago and when there’s such meteoric change in the resources available to us, so must our wants, needs, and aspirations. Living with a 90’s mindset despite having access to modern day technology and resources is not only foolish and stupid.
It is backwards evolution.
We are suffering from the ripple down effects of overpopulation and climate change because natalists and pro-lifers still want to follow an outdated way of living despite all the abundance, technology and richness around them.
So are freelancers just life hackers and escapists? Depends on the way you think. It also depends on your outlook towards life. People with common miseries love each others company. And so it is from the same line of thinking that I cannot even fathom hanging out and socializing with my friends from back in college as all of them have taken the highly materialistic, and responsibility laden path of family life.
I could totally relate with what Jessica Wildfire wrote in her recent article berating hustle culture, that even talking to one such uber hustling type made her to want to nap:
“I’ve got friends who hustle. I zoomed with one last week. She’s working on all kinds of projects. Just talking to her made me want a nap. She doesn’t have any kids. She’s had a very different pandemic.”
A majority of the hustler types have caved into the pressure of marriage, kids, and the whole 9 yards that comes with just those two things. It’s not like my parents aren’t pressurizing me to do the same!
I’m just going to keep stalling as long as I can. I don’t want to make the same mistakes in life they did. If some of y’all took up the family life thing as a choice made solely by yourself, then good on you. But don’t push it onto the rest of us as an all-or-nothing way of living.
Life isn’t a grocery list. And we shouldn’t be making it look and feel like one.
At the end of the day, I think (unless you come from a place of wealth and abundance) family life is just a pair of handcuffs which agonizingly enslaves you to your job, the banks, the government, and what not. The farther I stay away from those institutions, the better. And let’s not kid ourselves with the skyrocketing suicide rate in today’s world, especially amongst those living in family system.
The conventional path
So what exactly does work look like for someone following the traditional, or rather, outdated path of life?
To gain an insight into that, we’ll have to look at what a typical day at work looks like for the professional working at a big Multinational company. I’m not talking about smaller firms who are still on their way to their first million or haven’t even gained their first 1000 employees. I’m talking about established companies who have been existence since decades and keep expanding to newer locations, diversifying their portfolios, thereby bringing wealth and abundance to newer locations of the world.
One of the job roles that I’ve played in the past includes that of a Technical Writer. It was a fairly easy job, and is in fact, a subset of the content writing field itself. There were the highs, where we would be loaded with work well beyond our days. And then there were lows, where sometimes entire weeks would pass by just chatting with colleagues and whiling away the hours at the cafeteria.
In that time, could we have learnt and picked up additional skills that would boost our productivity, or even helped us upskill in order to bag better jobs? Sure. It’s not like our computers were being used by the company for any kind of internal process or anything. They were just lying there.
But the company wouldn’t let us. The managers used to sit in the same bays along with us, and could get a birds eye view of everyone’s systems in the entire bay without even as much as looking our way.
Neeramitra Reddy, in a recent article titled, “Why Peak Productivity Is Exactly Like Sprinting” lends further credence to my point:
“The in-vogue toxic hustle culture has morphed pulling 12–14 hour workdays into a brag-worthy thing. Not only is this unproductive, but also counter-productive.
Short and incredibly focused bursts of work easily beat long near burn-out ones. The research is clear on this. Such a style of working is also manifold better for your long-term mental health and energy.”
So are corporate employees more productive and successful? Not necessarily. Most of them get paid to just sit there and wait for work to come. They’re paid to be available to the company on-demand and tackle issues just in the nick of time. They could very well be doing something better with all that free time on their hands. But the company won’t let them.
This might vary from one company to another and there might exist companies on both ends of the spectrum. For all I know, there’s people working in corporate environments twice as hard as me. So what’s my point? Comparison. Stop comparing every freelancer you see to the best award winning corporate employee out there.
Because for both classes of workers, there’s always a spectrum with people residing on the extremes as well as in between!
Today’s world is radically different
Not only do the conventional 9–5 jobs of today yield lower returns, unlike the prosperity it led to back in the day, they yield negative returns! And by that I mean negative life returns. Negative returns on physical health. Negative returns on financial and career stability. Negative returns on emotional and mental health.
In a nutshell, negative returns on overall life satisfaction and prosperity.
Every day there’s suicide and murder stories splashed across the pages of the newspaper.
Every day we hear of new ways being adopted by criminals to commit online fraud, theft, rape, murder and assault, that just kicks me in the guts. Even the bad guys are getting innovative.
Every single day there’s news articles about some kind of family drama ending up in someone being brutally injured or killed.
Every single day I am constantly reminded why I chose the wiser option.
The family life narrative in reality, isn’t the Cinderella story that’s constantly been played on repeat to you all through childhood. There’s bitter fights. There’s sibling rivalries over business and property. There’s divorce. There’s nasty custody battles and massive alimony payouts.
There’s also cancer. It’s not all snow white and the seven dwarfs rolling on the grass and laughing on a bed of roses in the evergreen forest of life.
Let’s put this debate between mainstreamers and contrarians to rest with one very fundamental question.
Who’s really being “productive” right now, at this very moment?
My 6-figure income friends, who’ve probably finished their work for the day and are chatting up their colleagues at the cafeteria over a cup of coffee. Or me, earning survival money, with 15 tabs open and 5 drafts simultaneously being worked on?
Not everything is as it seems!
Here’s a perfect illustration of that: