Do I want a real job?

When freelancing doesn't look so appealing anymore

Over the last few months, I’ve found myself day-dreaming about having a staff job. 

I’ve imagined waking up each morning, logging onto Slack to gossip with a colleague. I thought about regular one-to-ones with a boss, I’ve even wanted to begrudgingly take part in a Zoom quiz on a Friday afternoon. 

For the first time in my freelancing career, I want a real job. It’s a jarring feeling because I remember how I used to sit at my desk in an office job and daydream about working for myself. 

Of course, what’s different this time around is the underlying reason why I want to change my circumstances. Back then, I wanted to leave traditional employment because I thought I’d find more fulfilment working for myself (as it happens, I did). Now, I’m really struggling to freelance because we’re (still) in the middle of a pandemic. 

When I drill down to what it is about a staff job that’s calling to me, it’s not the promise of security. I’m under no illusion that I’d be safer economically if I sought out in-house employment. No, it’s that I really just want to be told what to do. I want a higher-up to tell me in corporate-speak that they’ve got a “roadmap” that’s going to get us out of this mess. I want a strategy, some kind of direction. 

I also want to feel like I’m in this with others. I think about the time I was put at risk of redundancy in my first job. Sure, on the whole, that experience was awful, but I think about the times I spent with colleagues who knew exactly how I was feeling, commiserating in the pub or over a jacket potato in the canteen.  

I realise it’s pretty off-brand for someone who’s built a career on freelancing to be talking about staff jobs. When the urge to start checking jobs boards started to creep in, the first thing I felt was shame. But regardless of whether your job is to fight for freelancers’ rights or not, all of us find ourselves justifying our work at some point or another. 

I only have to look at the language I’m seeing freelancers (myself included) use when having these conversations. We talk about quitting freelancing to get a “real” job. Freelancing is a real job! And yet we find ourselves having to endlessly explain our work. 

So it’s not surprising that a two-tiered work system emerges. As I’ve said many times before, you can’t compare freelancing to in-house positions because it’s not an either/or situation. Self-employment isn’t “better” than in-house work and vice versa. 

So, it’s OK to want to go and get a staff job. Freelancing doesn’t have to be for life. It can be a season of your working life which serves you until you’re ready to move onto to something new.  You don’t need to make an already precarious situation worse by shaming yourself for it. 

As for me, I’m not planning on stopping freelancing anytime soon. But I have to remind myself that it’s more than fine to daydream about it.

This is the online version of The Professional Freelancer, a reader-funded publication and community for people who want to be happy and successful working for themselves. If you sign up with your email, you’ll receive weekly posts like this which also contain work opportunities and curated links that will make your working life better.