The late great Dostoevsky once wrote: “If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely devoid of usefulness and meaning.”
As a woman (for the same punishment is meted out against us too) writing for a living in 21st century England, I can testify to the truth of Dostoevsky’s sentiment, not in my current guise as a freelance hack, but in my former oppressed state as a cog amongst countless other unknowns operating under the dubious auspices of a corporate enterprise.
All too often, we forfeit our lives by giving up control of our days for the sake of somebody else’s vision, a vision orchestrated by the beings at the top of the layer cake of shite who care little for your everyday experience and a lot for how productive you are.
We find ourselves desperately clawing for pockets of time outside the 40 hour working week, or on weekends, or in stolen moments of the day in the gaps between the arbitrary schedules that determine our movements. Time, meaning and substance compressed. It’s no wonder so many are suffering from stress, anxiety and a severe case of misemployment.
Okay, we need the corporate giants, we need structures and systems just as we need distinct professions. After all, not everyone can join the revolution else there would be no system to rebel against and no source for the angst that fuels a dive into the unknown — freedom.
The pursuit of happiness
Each year more people choose to go freelance or work from home (nearly 6 million in the US, 4.2 million in the UK) embracing an alternative life that doesn’t see you spending every day wishing time away, lining someone else’s pocket in a Sisyphean struggle for meaning.
Personally, and like those millions of others who have had the epiphany/good fortune/grace/courage (delete as appropriate) to take the leap, life’s meaning comes from a self-directed voyage of discovery that enables me to work with ideas and people that I value.
Writing for a living, for myself, gives me the pleasure of findings things out, as Richard Feynman might say. And as Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. The point being that as sentient beings with a conscience, and the capacity to weigh up the ethics of the choices that face us, it would be a waste of our limited time on this planet to live as automatons, blindly following a path laid down by others.
It may sound clichéd but it’s a universal truth worth acknowledging — you only have one life, one precious opportunity to make the most of what the world has to offer. The question is, do you want to be another foot soldier of the economy, and have your days filled with noise? Or do you want a life less ordinary?
In this brilliant piece of advice offered to the scores of wannabe journalists who aspire to be like the journalist and campaigner George Monbiot, he advises against falling into the trap of an existence amongst “the living dead”, saying:
“What the corporate or institutional world wants you to do is the opposite of what you want to do. It wants a reliable tool, someone who can think, but not for herself: who can think instead for the institution. You can do what you believe only if that belief happens to coincide with the aims of the corporation, not just once but consistently across the years.”
With freedom comes responsibility
It goes without saying that freelancing isn’t an easy option. Far from it.
In between the moments where ideas pepper your cerebral sky like fireworks, dark clouds circle with question marks and pound signs, and the lists you make to keep you sane, your finances in order and your ideas in check, plague your sleepless nights.
But the pain is also the pleasure. All that floating cerebral matter is a sign of a mind alive with boundless opportunity.
And while you may be free of the corporate shackles, there is still the pressing need to make money, to be productive, to motivate yourself, to handle your IT, your admin and still be creative. There is always a balance to be struck.
Again, the vital difference is that you are now working to live, not living to work. You can earn as much as you need to pay the bills, or you can opt to work harder and buy the means to the ends you desire.
Just remember to stay true to your own vision, to your values and your ideals. As Anais Nin cautioned, “There is an ugliness in being paid for work one does not like.” That applies to freelancing as much as it does to the 9–5.
I couldn’t be happier to have left behind “the wasted days, the days without meaning, the days of bosses and idiots, and the slow and brutal clock,” as Bukowski described it, in favour of days where there is no ticking time bomb governing my days. I get to salute the sun in the morning and listen to the birds before I decide what I’ll do with my day.
The good life
In case you’re left in any doubt as to why the independence afforded by freelancing beats the false security of full time employment, here are some final thoughts:
No thanks: Monday mornings checking in and out of Oceania, aka the office, counting down the hours until the end of the day, the end of the week, month, year, your life…..
Yes please: An unhurried self-determined schedule that includes the optimal amount of work, play relaxation, brain fodder and muscle exertion.
Stick it: Office politics, management speak and the mindless drivel spouted by automatons to disguise their lives of quiet desperation.
Keep it: interesting chats with genuinely inspirational people in between many moments of solitary, natural bliss.
Hell: Meetings about meetings for meetings’ sake where everyone has something of no importance to say.
Heaven: Meaningful communication as and when required with whom I choose wherever I please.
No way: External control, saying yes when you don’t want to, doing things that repulse you, writing things that shame you.
Always: Independence, self-directed discovery, fully informed decisions, mistakes of my own making and lessons of my own learning, a self-determined quest for perfection with all the associated stumbles, joys, pitfalls and success.
Freedom, nothing beats it.