If you count the paper round I used to do every Friday, I’ve been in some form of service or retail industry job since I was 14. That’s two decades of pubs, clothes shops, telesales — all the glamorous stuff.
Six months into my freelance copywriting career, I’m beginning to appreciate what a different world I’m now working in not just in the change from employee to self-employed, but in the attitude of the people you meet.
At a vague guess, it’s something like this: there’s a book whose name and author I forget (helpful, I know) about people who work in an office and whose back cover says something along the lines of ‘getting on with people you’d usually cross the street to avoid’.
Shops and pubs are no different, you’re often lumped together with people with whom you have nothing in common other than working in the same airspace.
Of course there are people you get on with and make friends with, but how many times is it based on shared loathing? I know I’ve had jobs where it’s the co-workers who made it bearable, but only because we all hated it so much.
Freelancing seems, so far, to be completely different. At first, one might expect it to be more cut-throat, with people diving over each other for commissions and contracts.
I’m sure there are instances where it’s like that but, generally, I feel like I’ve wandered into a stock room in one of my old jobs and stumbled out the back into a world of people who genuinely want to help each other.
With a little research and holding my nerve long enough to walk into rooms full of strangers, freelancing has opened up a world of friendly advice, freelance meet-up groups, Whatsapp groups and shared workspace programmes.
Things run by people who like what they do and want to help others. For someone who has always worked in jobs they’d rather not do, but that needed doing to pay bills and line stomachs, that’s quite a revelation.
This attitude extends to other areas as well. As a musician and author long used to articles, seminars and books that begin ‘it’s nearly impossible to make any money or have any level of success’, freelancers’ positive attitude is wonderfully encouraging.
The ‘if you get any clients’ cynicism that’s been ingrained in me from years of urinating in the wind is replaced with a ‘when you get clients’ attitude. What’s doubly lovely about it is that it’s so matter-of-fact. You want to be a freelancer doing something you enjoy, and you can and will be (assuming you work at it).
I only wish I’d discovered this world earlier in life. Thinking back, there were glimpses but – having been bought up in a world where all my family worked in some form of office or retail job, and in an education system (and society) that, generally, seem to ignore other options – the idea of doing this for myself seemed too good to be true.
I appreciate that I’m ignoring the hard bits that come with freelancing, but I’ve been up since 6 with a very awake 5-month-old who’s thrashing around on my lap as I try and type this, so you’ll forgive me for focusing on the positives and signing off abruptly.