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The myth of employment
Why I’m not missing job security as a freelancer
For four years, I was steadily climbing the ladder at a fast-growth media start up, with a booming salary, 100%-paid health insurance, an industry-leading 401(k) match… and I quit to take a job with a 10% pay cut where I was laid off after two months.
I started freelancing and didn’t have time for my planned job search, because my work quickly filled my schedule.
Eight months ago, I was offered a full-time job, but I turned it down to remain a freelancer instead.
About twice a month lately, a recruiter sends a message on LinkedIn encouraging me to apply for a staff writer position with some personal finance site. Each time, I thank them kindly and ask if they have any freelance needs.
My mom thinks I’m nuts.
“When you have an opportunity like that…” she says wistfully as I turn down another job.
It seems the key goal of our adult lives is to seek quality, stable employment. Between a volatile economy and shifting corporate priorities, that’s a tall order for anyone of my generation (or the next).
I had it. And I gave it away. I was offered it. And I turned it down. It’s always within my reach, and I don’t grab it.
Sometimes I worry I’m downright ungrateful. For the sake of so many who lost work in the past year, for the women who’ve fallen yet further behind because the world treats us like nothing more than baby vending machines, for the younger me who never believed she could make a living writing… what right do I have to turn down good work?
But I don’t think I’m an ingrate.
I just don’t believe in the myth of employment.
The myth of employment says a job means security. A steady paycheck. A retirement plan. Health care. Upward mobility.
The myth of employment says a job means less worry.
It’s just not true.
I didn’t have to witness nearly 15% unemployment in 2020 to know a job can be yanked from under your feet any second.
I work in digital media — where we watched veterans of print media flock to our sites amid mass layoffs in their industry, only to suffer the same waves of “restructuring” each time Facebook or Google flips a switch in its algorithm.
We don’t expect to keep our jobs. We just hope we’re in the lucky bunch next time the bosses splice the staff and gather a group of us into a room for a meeting they think we don’t see coming.
A job doesn’t mean security to me. It means putting all my eggs in one basket.
All of my income. My savings. My health insurance. My time off. My professional development. My network. My opportunities for advancement. My ability to experiment and learn.
All tied up in a single position.
I’ll digress and point out none of this should be tied to employment, and solutions like universal basic income, public health care and quality education would free us as a whole from depending on jobs to dictate our ability to access basic human needs.
But until those policies exist, our quality of life is dictated by the kind of work we choose.
I don’t want to rely on a single company for my quality of life. I don’t want to be afraid my entire wellbeing could be yanked — again — at the drop of a hat.
Freelancing offers me far more security.
I’ve got my eggs in baskets all over the world, and I’m responsible for my own health insurance, savings, time off and professional development. No single entity’s failure can take all of that away.
Replacing a client can happen in the span of an email — compare that with 40 hours per week of resume tweaking and cover letter writing after 15 weeks of zero employment.
Yeah, self-employment has its challenges, too. But the winner for me is clear.