So Thursday 7th June I'll be chairing an event with a bunch of fabulous women including Annie Ridout, Lisa Williams, Candice Braithwaite and Kelly Ford and we'll be talking about all the challenges of the freelance life. It'll be at this cool, new working space called The Cuckooz Nest and kicks off at 7pm (think tickets have sold out so sorry this is a bit late in the day to flag it up).
I have mixed feelings about it (not the event but freelancing generally). The thing is I worked in a corporate job for a long, long time. I spent much of that time fantasising about being free. I envied the people around me who sat in coffee shops with their laptops, doing cool stuff (no idea what but it looked more interesting that my average day which was oftentimes spent in meetings). It's easy to think the grass is greener.
Now a year after being made redundant, I've had a chance to sample freelancing and it's surprised me in many ways.
There is no one to talk about lunch with
First off it can feel pretty isolating. I spend my working days typing away on my bed (yes I've seen all the 'desk porn' online but we live in a small house and there isn't the space for a desk). I talk to the cat. I sometimes watch 'Loose Women' as a treat at lunchtime and find myself talking aloud as I prepare my lunch as if I'm starring in my own YouTube video (perhaps this is something I could launch- a freelance lunch channel where people talk about what they're eating that day?). One of my favourite activities at work (and there weren't many) was discussing lunch. This discussion started at 10am most days and went right up to the moment when we'd selected the lunch place and it then continued afterwards when we dissected our choice, our level of happiness and what we might eat later that day.
The quiet periods are like a horror film
I always got paid even when it was quiet. Okay we'd go on some business drive and have more frenzied meetings about who to contact but the money kept flowing into my bank account. I could spend a bit more time browsing Oliver Bonas and ruminating about lunch. Now a quiet patch introduces nightmare visions of being homeless, unable to afford even a Lidl shop (the freelancers supermarket of choice), my daughter not having a new school uniform in September etc. It's also exhausting to be hustling and looking for opportunties. It's like those people who stand in the street and try to force eye contact with you so you'll stop and talk about their specific charity. Sometimes you don't feel like looking at people. Or being positive. In an office it's far easier to hide when you're having one of those days (I used to sit in the canteen or I'd just pretend to be on my mobile when a colleague I was trying to avoid was walking towards me).
The laptop is constantly attached to your eyeballs
When you freelance you don't tend to do much else on work days (and non- work days) but stare into your laptop. I often feel like I'm living in a futuristic film where real life no longer exists and I just have a screen projected onto my eyeballs with different tabs open. The tabs might not always be work related and could include a recipe for your lunch that you will eat on your own (like today I've been looking at this sweet potato thing with blue cheese but can't decide whether to have it in an hour or this evening- what are you eating today by the way?)
Professional jealousy is rife
I know I know. We are all women. We love and salute one another. We want one another to do well. Blah blah blah. But really? Oftentimes I am thrown into a rage when I see another freelancer succeeding with a book deal/fab event/sponsorship/new podcast. Can I just be honest and say I DON'T WANT THEM TO DO WELL. I WANT TO BE THE BEST. This morning I fell into a depression after seeing that someone I used to be on a creative writing course with (and is fab and deserves it) has got a book deal. In my old life I never felt jealous of anyone at work in the office. This was because a) they were sad b) I didn't want their job title because it was usually a made up one and would change within a couple of months to something else. Now in the freelance game I'm more jealous.
'The thing is all women are bitches,' my friend said to me yesterday. I nodded and agreed.
The thing is we're not but we also are. Or at least I AM.
As a parent I have a first class degree in guilt and this has been amplified by freelancing. When I commuted into my office job I felt like I had a strong sense of purpose. I was getting paid. I was the breadwinner. I tried to forget my daughter's sobs as I dropped her at the nursery. I was one of those cut and thrust working women with a blow dry (and usually my skirt tucked into my tights) and I was off TO DO BUSINESS.
Now I have two days of childcare and I am not actually earning the money that pays for that childcare. I feel bad watching 'Loose Women' whilst another person looks after my daughter. I only allow myself ten minutes (usually when Janet is doing a good rant - I know she's unpopular but I do love her). I don't feel very cut and thrust anymore. I often have egg yolk on my jogging bottoms. 'Mummy you still have your dressing gown on,' my daughter said this morning as I walked her to the childminder, 'It's a kimono darling. A KIMONO.' 'But what about those slippers?' She was right. I like to wear my slippers unless I'm going to a meeting (which is not that often).
The illusion of success versus the reality
'Wow you're nailing it,' 'You're really doing well,' 'God how do you do it all?' These are some of the comments I get when people meet me at events or in my pyjamas on the way to the lovely childminder. 'Am I?' I reply. I am often dumbfounded. The thing is I'M NOT. Or maybe I am but can't tell anymore. When you work on your own most of the time and your only colleague is a cat and then some social media, it's hard to gauge how successful you are. I know I'm not earning as much money as I did. I know I can't afford anything in the Selfridges Beauty Hall and have to satisfy my cravings for beauty products in Superdrug. I also know that I watched almost all of 'Loose Women' last Thursday. People see your posts on social media and think you're bossing it. They don't see the woman talking to herself in her dressing gown whilst she prepares her lunch.
So I realise this is a rant about freelancing. Can I just add a) I love it most of the time b) I don't miss airconditioning which dried my skin out c ) I don't miss having to wave a pass to get into every door, toilet, photocopier, canteen, stock room, hallway, meeting room etc d) I don't miss Oliver Bonas either.
Now is anyone interested in talking about what they're going to eat for lunch today?