Finding confidence in freelancing

“You’re gonna be paid poorly and will probably live a very hectic lifestyle,” one of my instructors wrote to me when I asked him what he thought of freelancing for a living.

Having done it for four months and come out on the other side with a job because of it, I can say that he was right, but that he left out a few crucial points. Most notably, he forgot to mention that the biggest hurdle in making freelancing work isn’t the profession itself — it’s you. And if you can get over your own internal hurdle, success is possible.

I could plug in the Nike slogan here — and it really is as simple as just doing it — but the real value to be learned from freelancing is something that needs to be experienced.  

Unlike my calculated desire to start journalism school and build my portfolio through a campus publication — something I felt was obligatory in order to succeed in the news industry — my decision to start freelancing was largely unintentional. By choice, I spent the months of May, June, July, and August living out of a backpack filled with a camera, a laptop, a voice recorder, and a few personal necessities.

The lifestyle was incredibly taxing and often made me question why the hell I kept doing it. In rarer and more fulfilling moments, however, it exposed a side of me that I had never seen before — a side that wasn’t only able to operate in a high-stress environment, but to thrive in it.

Since I had no permanent address and no consistent place to sleep, getting a nine-to-five job was out of the question. The idea of crashing in the Student Learning Centre from 5 to 11 p.m. — which I frequently did — only to wake up and wander the streets until the building re-opened, all while maintaining a minimum wage job, seemed pointless.

However, I needed to clear roughly $300 per month to keep living like I was. Expenses that I needed to cover included: my phone bill to stay connected, a 24-hour gym membership so I could shower and workout any time day or night, food, clothing and transportation. Thus, I decided to take the unbeaten path: I started taking photos and writing articles to pay my way through life and, surprisingly, it worked.

Photo by Augustine Ng

Photo by Augustine Ng

When I entered my first year of journalism school last year, I was slightly meek in my approach to reporting. I remember the anxiety that came with writing my first story, the numerous times I stuttered my way through interviews, and the stress that accompanied trying to find an “expert” that could fit into my story, all within an eight-hour deadline. All of these barriers in school were somewhat flexible, but in freelancing, they were obstacles I was required to overcome. It was a sink or swim situation, and I swam my hardest.

The first article I ever got paid for was for Vice back in late-May. I wrote about my experiences growing up as a male with an eating disorder and worked it into a narrative about the Internet fad of the “dad bod.” It took me about a week to get everything done and I remember getting an email from my editor (now boss) Josh saying that the article was great and that I could send an invoice his way. Immediately, my passion to write no longer felt like an obligation, but a genuine drive to create.

I continued freelancing over the summer and I became pretty efficient at working in strange, unconventional environments, all while still living out of my backpack. Getting a hold of sources turned from week-long excursions to something I could do in mere hours. Instead of needing a clear workspace like school offers, I learned to type up copy and do interviews on streetcars, in coffee shops, and behind the restaurant where my mom worked. I was clearly dedicated; as my confidence gained momentum with the more articles I produced, so did my ability to take on bigger projects and finish them on time.

This self-sufficiency is something I treasure and hold close. By living as a freelancer for a few months, I acquired an invaluable amount of passion and skill for journalism that exists solely and wholly for myself. Freelancing revealed exactly how bad I want to work in the journalism  industry and the things I need to maintain — sleep, my health, a social life — in order for me to be happy doing so.

If you have the opportunity to take a risk by not worrying about money for a few months, jump over your hurdle and freelance your life away. No matter what your craft is, it’s vital that you think about life on your own terms for a bit. Try isolating yourself beside the passion you’ve sworn yourself to and see how you fare. The answer might just surprise you.

Featured image by Sumi Siddiqa