Why Are You a Free Agent, Independent Professional and Freelancer?
By Chris King

This past week I was interviewing for a possible speaking assignment with a large healthcare corporation. As I shared information about what I do, I mentioned this website. "Freelance living? What's that?" asked the executive director.

As I tried to pinpoint and explain the life of a free agent, independent professional and freelancer, she visibly changed her posture and made a nasty face as if she had smelled something unpleasant. "Oh, I would hate that." It took me aback because I can't imagine ever returning to a full-time 9 to 5 job - which I haven't experienced for the past 20 years.

On my way home, I thought of all of the reasons I both love and hate (only sometimes) my lifestyle. I realize that we are not all cut out to work on our own. I realize that there are always ups and downs, feasts and famines, the good and bad and the ongoing uncertainties of where the next work will come from. And yet, there are the exciting challenges, the thrills of new and different accomplishments, the opportunities that come with taking risks and the realization that every day is different. In this article, I will share some of the reasons I wake up every morning looking forward to starting all over and living the life I love. I will also share some of the other side and worries that accompany this lifestyle. I hope that you will consider your choices and decide for yourself why you are doing what you do, or plan to do, and why.

Let's start with some of my favorite reasons for being a free agent, independent professional and freelancer. Are any of the following your reasons or similar to your reasons? If I miss yours, please send me your list.

  • Flexibility. Every time I have worked on determining my values, I have always rated flexibility at the top, or very close to the top. It is a joy to be able to plan what I want to do and when I want to do it. I am not pretending here that I have unlimited flexibility to spend every minute deciding exactly what to do. I am committed to certain part time roles. For example, I teach a total of eleven fitness classes a week. These are scheduled for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in the mornings. I do have the flexibility of being able to call a substitute instructor if absolutely necessary, but this is a choice I seldom make which leads me to the next favorite reason.
  • Picking and doing the jobs I love. Yes, some of the best portions of my life are the fitness classes I teach. I not only feel and look fit and energetic, but I am also helping a large group of others to feel and look wonderful. It takes a good bit of my time, but the payoffs are terrific and I enjoy every minute - from the picking of the music, the intense movement, the cheering, the stretching, the lifting of weights and the satisfaction of enriching the lives of others. Another of my many career choices is working with web design and development and helping independent professionals and non-profits establish a presence on the Internet. It is rewarding to use every skill I enjoy: design, writing, teaching, computer knowledge, working with others and communicating. Another passion that I pursue is storytelling. Seeing the excitement and pure enjoyment in the eyes of listeners (from two-year-olds to eighty-year-olds) produces a warmth throughout my heart and body.
  • Working with the clients of choice. We don't always get the jobs and/or clients we hope for (see the following section about the cons), but we do have the privilege of not having to work with clients who don't measure up. I am not saying that I have never signed on to do work with a person or group that were far from perfect working partners, but I have had the luxury of not taking on a job that spells trouble right from the start. If I sense that we won't have a good fit or working relationship, I would rather wait for the right client to come along.
  • Continual lifetime learning. Because of the fields in which I work, I must study, read and learn something new every single day. As you know, the computer and Internet offer constant challenges. There will never be a time when any of us will know all there is to know, and that excites me completely. I can't imagine ever being bored - so much is happening and so fast. The area of fitness and health is also constantly changing and growing as more and more studies are made. Even the area of storytelling produces the need to study and learn. Over the past thirty years there has been a resurgence of the acceptance of this ancient art form. There will always be new stories to read, to write, to learn and to share. Being a free agent gives me the luxury of picking what I choose to study and learn and, with careful planning, the time to devote to it.
  • Taking the risks I need to take. When working for a regular company, I can barely count the times I heard, "But we have always done it this way… If it ain't broke, don't fix it... We tried that once and it didn't work." Being a free agent, I am responsible for my own risks, and I can take them no matter how crazy they may sound. I always remember Leo Buscaglia saying, "When people think you are crazy, you can get away with everything. They just figure that `There goes that crazy Chris. What else do you expect?'" It gives one an incredible amount of latitude, thank goodness.

Now that I have shared some of the pros for living the life of a freelancer, what are the cons? I know we would all hope that every part of our freelance life and career would be perfect, but there are those portions and challenges that sometimes make us wonder, "Why am I doing this?" I feel, however, if we know ahead that we will have these to face, we will be more accepting and understanding of the fact that, "This too will pass."

  • The feast and famine experienced with income. This, for me, has been one of the greatest challenges to face. One month the jobs and money flow in with zeal, and then the following month bills remain unpaid and money worries start creeping in. The only way I have found to deal with this problem is to remain calm, use any extra time for marketing, networking and volunteering (all of these generate new business), and keep the strong belief that new work is just around the corner and will show up soon - and, it always does!
  • A job you were sure was definite falls through. I guess the only advice I can give here from experience is that no matter how sure you are you have the assignment, don't count on it until the check arrives (I always ask for one half up front which serves as an excellent commitment on both our parts). Recently, I got excited about a big contract when I was told, "It will be a mere formality to have the Board OK your proposal, and then we will get started immediately." Then I received the e-mail that they had chosen another designer. Fortunately, by keeping my positive attitude, I received two other large jobs within weeks.
  • You have so much work, you become overwhelmed. Because of the Feast or Famine Syndrome, we often take on almost more than we can handle. In my book, however, this is a good place to be. Just remain calm, work like crazy - telling yourself that you can do it - plan your attack step by step and you will get through it with flying colors. I pride myself on keeping well within deadlines, but I also feel that it is important to be up front with clients and tell them if I feel we are slipping behind.

So, I hope I have solidified some of the reasons you both love and hate the freelance life. I know that I wouldn't trade it for a regular job, even if they offered me an almost impossible salary. After all, we all know that money isn't everything - loving what we do is!

I would love to hear from you about this topic. Please send me your Feedback!

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