The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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For the record, I’ve now emerged from my basement, and made peace with it. Part of the problem was, of course, admitting I had a problem. Now, as is always the case with finding yourself in a bit of a pickle, the way out of a rut is through direct action.

In a stunning departure from the usual tone around here, I’m being open about not having answers to this particular problem – feeling quite lost, disconnected and with little purpose. Right now, the best I can do is chart how I’m dealing with it, and hope that’s useful to any other dazed freelancers hoping to find their own way out of their basement.

So if step one was admitting there’s a problem, step two is:

Deciding what to do next

Perhaps it’s middle age, but the idea of legacy – smearing a grubby smudge on humanity has escalated from a nagging whisper at the back of my mind, to a full-blown yelling voice that I can’t ignore anymore. Like many freelancers, I enjoy freelancing, and the projects that drift along (largely by accident), but much of my work doesn’t particularly mean much to me. It comes and it goes without me feeling soulfully invested in the bigger picture – a bigger cause I can get behind.

This presents a particular dilemma for a human freelancer because the ideology – earning just enough so you can spend the rest of your time having fun, is predicated by work being a necessary evil – a tolerable sufferance that’s a means to an end.

But what if the means was as meaningful and fun as the end? What if there was a deeper sense of purpose and drive behind what you do, instead of mere utility?

That’s what’s next then. A thorough exploration of meaning and purpose.

Follow the meaning

To be clear, step 3 is shaping up to be a quest for purpose and meaning. Real existential crisis shit.

The way I see it, things become meaningful to you when they resonate with your core. It’s hard to describe why something or someone is interesting to you – it happens at a deep emotional level, in a part of the brain that doesn’t deal with words.

So at present, I suspect that long-term, sustainable fulfilment (and endless drive) lies in getting more of this feeling into your work. But what is it? How and when does it happen?

For that we need to look at your whole life: the experiences (good and bad) that have made you you. This is where we have a head-start as conscientious, reflective freelancers. It comes naturally to us to learn and grow from our art. It can help to have a guide though, so to this end I’ve been sketching out ideas with the help of exercises like this and this one in particular, based on the work of Simon Sinek.

Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why‘ has been on my reading list for a good couple of years now. It’s all about the significance of what gets you out of bed in the morning and why that should be central to everything you do with your life. I only wish I’d read it sooner. Because it has nudged me down a path towards finding firm common ground between me and the clients I serve – based on shared values and a common purpose.

Nothing new here, you might say. Everyone wants more work that aligns with their values. For years I’ve been ‘keeping an ear out’ for more socially and environmentally useful projects – but that’s generally where it stopped. I’ve never sat down and examined what purpose is, and where it comes from.

You’re smart – you probably have a good sense of what your core values are. I know I’ve sat down more than once and written down a list of criteria about what’s important in my professional work. But have you ever stepped back and looked at how they all thread together – not just professionally but personally (think hobbies, friendships, life’s ups and downs), to make a compelling story – one you can use more like a magnet, than a filter for finding meaningful work?

That’s where we’re at right now

Part of the reason I’ve never done all this is because it feels a bit indulgent and introspective. We’re humble, self-effacing people us human freelancers – we don’t like to dwell on ourselves. But after taking the advice of others, if you find yourself in the place where I am now you must ask ‘well how well are things working out for me they way they are now’.

If you’re in your basement, the answer to that is not particularly well. There’s probably much more you can contribute to society, rather than squandering it all in your basement.

So let’s frame this whole exercise in a different way. It’s not about you, it’s about your duty to other people and your talents – surrendering yourself to that bigger, more noble, cause we spoke about earlier. A place where your work absorbs you, and life and work all meld into one fulfilling whole.


The Human Freelancer book

LOOK! There's a book full of this shit and more!

Self-help business books perpetuate the myth that success is relentless growth and more of everything means progress. They preach about bookkeeping and market research: things you might need to do of course. But let’s face it they’re fucking boring.

The Human Freelancer book is your antidote: stuffed full of emotional support and insightful advice for vulnerable newbies to self-employment like you.

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