Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lance that freedom

There's a new four-letter word currently doing the rounds in my life - an 'f' word at that - 'freelancer'. I first realised just how scurrilous a word it can be when, from the respectable confines of a 9-5 job, I joined the despised ranks of those who 'work on their own', the people who spend all day 'just chilling', the freelancers. My responses to the question 'But why are you not looking for a JOB'? - that I really needed my own space, away from stifling and nonsensical office rules; that I was tired of battling office politics and never getting anywhere or doing what I wanted to do because I could never be what higher-ups wanted me to be; that, on a less sombre note, I really hate waking up early in the mornings - cut no ice with well-wishers who were firmly convinced that I was 'too young' to take such a step, that I was throwing my life away.

Two years after I took the decision to 'throw my life away', I find it's working out pretty well, at least as far as the quantum of work and the issues of space and freedom are concerned. Where it's not working out, however - and other freelancers will no doubt know exactly what I mean - is in the total lack of respect I am accorded by the very people who think I am 'mature and experienced' enough to be trusted with 'very important' projects. And this lack of respect, this invisibility, comes only because I work on my own, without the imposing edifice of an organisation to 'have my back', as the Americans would say. Had I been doing sub-standard work, but from within a cubicle, I'd have mattered more.

Why are people so reluctant to embrace the idea that options that are a tad different from the run-of-the-mill definitions of what constitutes 'work', 'success', and 'professional' are just as real? Why can people not appreciate that even without a desk job, I am just as professional - if not more - than the people who give me orders from the air-conditioned confines of their office spaces? And that that professionalism deserves the respect and courtesy that would be due any of their colleagues with office spaces similar to their own? That when they have no problem flattering me with talk of how 'valued' I am, how needed, when there's a dodgy project they need to palm off to someone whom they can subsequently blame if something goes awry, they shouldn't have any problem saying a simple 'thank you' when I turn in work that is of decidedly high quality?

Since beginning my career as freelancer, I've realised that people don't value risk-taking, independence and discipline, all of which form an integral part of a freelancer's life. That my work is not considered 'work' because I do it from home; that my work deserves absolutely no credit because I do it from home, on my own, in my time; that people actually feel it is absolutely all right to dismiss me as 'just chilling' (and this after I had spent time detailing some of the books and journal issues I had recently worked on; that person had no idea how close I came to punching that fat face in), take the credit for my work while giving me absolutely nothing in return; that so-called professionals think it's all right to renege on payments or, at the very least, be tardy about it, while having the gall to ask me why I wasn't prioritising their organisation when it came to accepting projects. (Here's one excuse that never fails to mystify me - 'I was too busy to pass your bill/reply to your email/send you the cheque'. Which category, pray, did my email/bill fall under, if not that of 'work'? Giggly timepass with bosom buddy??)

I've decided, though, that I am not going to let these people - well, most of the world, I guess - tell me how I should feel about myself and my work. I am bloody good at what I do, which is why these same people seek me out - and I am proud of my skill. I take immense pride in my work and my professionalism, and it's perhaps time to demand that respect that is my due. I work harder than a lot of people who sit around in offices collecting pay checks they never earned, and I am not going to allow people to say anything different.

As a friend once remarked, 'working on one's own does not mean sitting around eating potato chips and watching soap operas!' A truer statement has only rarely been uttered.