Why I'm proud to call myself a freelancer

I want to reclaim the term freelancer


I have no shame in calling myself a freelancer. I know that for some people the term freelancer has negative conations. It's got the word "free" in it which implies we do work for free, plus there's that myth that people who freelance only do so because they can't get a real job. 

I want to reclaim the term freelancer. For me, it encapsulates the ethos of how I work for myself on my own terms. I'm proud to call myself a freelancer. In doing so, I hope to change the narrative around what freelancing is and what freelancers do.

To start with, free doesn't just mean "unpaid", it also means freedom. And have you ever looked up the original definition of the word? It’s brilliant. It dates back to the early 1800s when medieval knights would fight for whichever lord or nation paid them the most money and as such, a "free lance" was someone who sold their swordsman services to the highest bidder. The first written reference to a free lance is in Sir Walter Scott's novel, Ivanhoe, where a feudal lord refers to the paid army he's assembled:

"I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment."

As modern-day freelancers, it often feels like we are going to battle. Rather than fighting physical wars, we come up against unfair working conditions and late payments. I've written before about how I feel like I'm putting on metaphorical armour every time I chase an overdue invoice. In moments like that, I often think about those medieval mercenaries. They weren't tied to any individual or commander, instead, they were out forging their own path and only taking the best offer for it. Talk about knowing their worth. 

I'll stop with the references to the medieval knights now as I do also recognise that they did, well, go out and kill people... so I can only take the comparisons to them so far. My broader point is that they were doing their jobs and not accepting any bullshit along the way. A philosophy I think we can all learn from. 

It's no accident that I called this newsletter The Professional Freelancer. For some people, the idea of a professional freelancer is a contradiction in terms, but I wanted to show that freelancing is serious business. The more we take ourselves as freelancers seriously and treat what we do as a profession like any other, the more companies and the rest of work culture will start to pay attention and treat us with the professionalism we deserve.