• Abi Prowse

Something to Prove: Why Freelancers are Tormented by the 9-5

We’ve all felt it: that strange, unwelcome sense of guilt that settles into your stomach when you realise you’ve only sat down to start working at 10:30am; the imposter syndrome which strikes you as you arrange to have coffee with a friend at 3 in the afternoon; the defensiveness which bubbles up when people assume you’ll be free in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. As freelancers, we’re constantly singing the praises of our flexible schedules, revelling in the fact that we can tailor our workday to best suit our lifestyle. Why is it, then, that freelancers are so haunted by the idea of the 9-5?

It’s true that, slowly, the world of work is beginning to spread its wings and embrace variety. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, which shook up the lives of everyone around the world in some way, workplaces and employers are coming to understand the importance of your life outside the office: of achieving a work-life balance that won’t cause burnout. Over the past few years, Iceland have famously been trialling a 4-day working week – with “overwhelming success”. The study found that workers felt less stressed, and had more time to do the everyday things which often get overlooked, like spending time with family and even doing household chores. A huge number of companies (including the likes of Twitter, Slack, and Spotify) have now also gone fully remote, trusting employees to arrange their working day around their lives – not the other way around.

But still there is a lingering sense of shame in the freelance community when it comes to managing your schedule; a fear of judgment from those with more ‘traditional’ jobs, or a concern that clients and colleagues may think you’re not working hard enough. Because as much as we seem to have escaped the 9-5, many freelancers feel an undercurrent of guilt when it comes to taking a midweek day off, or booking a haircut/coffee date/dentist appointment in the middle of the ‘working day’. Why is it that we are reluctant to make the most of the flexible lifestyle we’ve chosen, for fear of what others may think?

The idea of professionalism is no longer as black and white as it once was. In a time where inclusivity, diversity, and good mental health are all rightly championed, it stands to reason that the definition of ‘professional’ should develop, too. Gone are the days which stiff, starchy suits and grey, soulless office spaces are the marker of a professional company. Perhaps aided by the events of the past 18 months, being ‘professional’ now simply means being good at your job – whether that’s in your jogging bottoms late at night, in a swimming costume at a beach bar, or in a powerful two-piece suit in the early morning. In short, your worth should not be determined by your appearance or by the hours you work.

So why are freelancers so hard on themselves? It’s true that, with no one to answer to, 100% of the pressure of our job/business falls onto our shoulders. And whilst the world is starting to understand the way the concepts mentioned above are changing, some people still aren’t quite there, yet. Perhaps this is why so many freelancers are conscious of the hours they do or don’t work, or are loathe to take time off during the week: there’s an underlying idea that you should be working ‘harder’, or that you’re ‘slacking’ if you decide to take an impromptu half day. Or perhaps it all comes down to imposter syndrome: to freelancers feeling as if they have something to prove against those with a regular 9-5 schedule.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to remember a number of things if that all-consuming freelance guilt starts to sneak up on you. Firstly, remember that you chose this career for a reason: to have freedom over your work-life balance. This is one of the greatest upsides to working as a freelancer or remote worker, and should never be taken for granted. Secondly, if you take care with your projects and clients, and deliver your work on time, no one will mind whether you worked on it at 2 o’clock in the morning, with shaky, coffee-fuelled hands. Your professional value comes from your determination, skill, and passion. The final thing to remember? That you should never compare your journey to someone else’s – whether they’re a freelancer, too, or work a 9-5 job. Keep doing you, and remember that what makes someone happy will look different to everyone.


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