Time is the most valuable aspect of our lives. It is the only thing in our existence that we cannot get back. Young professionals are well aware of that fact, and the result is a shift in tolerance of the 9-5 workday. Unlike generations before us, we have new technology at our fingertips enabling us to work from anywhere with an internet connection. That new technology has also exposed us to the possibility of diversifying our career goals. We're not looking to do one job or climb the ladder at one company for the entirety of our careers. This school of thought leaves us with the drive to experiment in a variety fields. All we need is the autonomy to maximize our time, using the same tools that introduced us to the possibility of redesigning the typical workday. With that, the appeal of freelance work is more intense than ever before.
To date, 53 million Americans are freelancers, which makes up roughly 34% of the population, according to Freelance Union. Out of that 53 million, 77% believe that the best days are ahead for freelancing. If you're a creative, chances are you're foaming at the mouth from the thought of ditching office life to work from your bed and on own your time. The idea of such freedom is what lures most creatives into freelance work. Many wish to push themselves further and jump into entrepreneurship. This is especially true with millennials. According to Forbes, surveys showed that 40-50% of millennials entering college said that their desire was to own a business. However, Forbes also reports that although 6.7% of Baby Boomers and 5.4% of Generation X are entrepreneurs, while less than 2% of millennials say that they are either self-employed or business owners. Are we confusing the need to own our time with the need to own a business? Are we all being honest with ourselves about our readiness and discipline as it pertains to owning our time?
Rae Witte is a shining example of the freelance life-gone-right, specifically through the lens of entertainment and pop culture. As a writer, her work often graces the bylines of Complex, Dazed, Hypetrak, High Snobiety, and many more reputable web platforms. When she's not painting pictures with words, she's helping Genius with their social media. The power to control her own schedule and workload is one she doesn't take for granted. She's her own boss, choosing what responsibilities she takes on and how often. Through Rae's experience, we can take a closer look at whether or not we are romanticizing the concept of freelancing and entrepreneurship.
As a youth, Rae was raised in upstate New York. Her mother was a librarian while her father worked for UPS. She deeply appreciated her parents, but she always knew she couldn't live the same professional life. There was no way she could do the same daily tasks until retirement. Rae also had a deep, organic love for music that drove her to make consistent visits to record shops and to create mixtapes for her friends. Whether she knew it or not, it was the combination of that love for music and the disdain for predictability that would be the catalyst for her lifestyle today.
Expand Your Palette
"There are people who have jobs that they fucking hate. So I think it's really important to invest in the things you love and find out how to monetize them."
A big reason for the jump in freelance work is because of the earning potential. The more work you can handle the more money you can make. However, it is the ability to monetize more than one specific skillset that opens the door to far more opportunity. Being good at one thing, and one thing only, is the quickest way to lose value. Creating multiple streams of income must be a way of life if you want to be a successful freelancer. Creating those multiple streams means that you've got to have a willingness to challenge yourself.
In the field of pop culture and entertainment media, there is an influx of people looking to break into the industry. Writers, videographers, social media managers, content developers, and more are all fighting for space and consistent work. The people who are seeing success aren't afraid to add new abilities to their repertoire. Over-saturation in the job market is indeed a factor when it comes to getting freelance work, but you can't use that excuse as a crutch. While working for Complex, Rae found herself in a position where she had to challenge herself in order to remain a necessity, and it ended up expanding her creative pallet. As an editor, she was suddenly put in a position to monitor growth and retention in the Style section of the platform. It was work she had zero experience in handling.
"I don't think out of a place of over-saturation as much as [I do] from a desire to be the best candidate. I was a music writer, and I got a style editor job. I didn't have experience as an editor, but I had experience with data and Google Analytics. Someone else will have the skills if you don't. You want to be capable of handling things all by yourself."
We transitioned from her rooftop overlooking Brooklyn to her living room where she was prepping to host her radio show on Waxx.fm for the morning. Her friends were in attendance, drinking wine and laughing over inside jokes and short stories. Anyone looking at this as a fly on the wall would be drawn to the fact that work and play seemed to run parallel for Rae. However, what looks like fun and games is actually a tremendous example of the self-discipline required to produce quality work.
"I stay in on the weekends while most people are out. I don't think people understand the level of self-discipline you have to have."
Being able to make your own hours and govern your own process for completing work sounds like a slice of heaven, but it comes with a price. As a young professional, you have to do an honest self-inventory and decide if you're disciplined enough to take on that responsibility. The larger point here is that many of us are so anxious to escape the walls of traditional employment, that we ignore the mentorship factor. While we may have a youthful understanding of how the culture is moving, and new tools for optimizing productivity, we still need to learn. Being under the tutelage of managers or directors with experience is not a terrible thing. As genius as he is, even Kanye West had mentors.
"A lot of young people hit me up right out of college saying they don't want to work for anyone. Get that full-time job and learn as much as you can to take away from it. Working for somebody else sucks, but it's a necessary evil. You're only going to learn to be a better freelancer by working for other people."
We are what we eat, and we consume social media posts all day that tell us the right thing to do is to free ourselves, and become our own bosses. However, doing this prematurely can be detrimental if you're not careful. It's the in-house experience that allows us to learn from the mistakes of our employers. We also get the chance to learn from our own mistakes, without wasting our own money in the process. If you're going to learn, learn on somebody else's dime!
Build with Your Friends
As the saying goes: it's not what you know, but who you know. Surround yourself with friends who will put you on to opportunities and vice versa as you all climb the ladder of success. If and when you decide to jump into the freelance world, your relationships will be an integral part of getting new work. This concept does not only apply to freelance, as you'll find that even within the structure of the corporate world, your connections will be the reasons you get an interview and hopefully hired. Remember, the name of the game is to give and receive. Don't be the person constantly taking, without putting anyone else on.
Make Your Next Move Your Best Move
A great man once said, "Your next move can't erase your last move." Our futures depend on the decisions we make today. Ignore your timeline and ask yourself what's best for your professional advancement. Remember, while your social media apps may be littered with people telling you to "take the leap of faith"; keep in mind that less than 2% of your age group are active entrepreneurs. Use your own long-term goals, and develop your own timetable before making the decision to be a business owner or a freelancer. At the same time, make your decision through the lens of fearlessness draped in calculated thinking. Never fear taking a leap of faith into freelancing or entrepreneurship if you believe in yourself. At the same time, don't let your fearlessness cloud your judgement. Even the brightest minds had moments where they jumped the gun.
Witte has moved through many different influential platforms in her career, this experience has provided her with a unique perspective of how media has gone through quite the shift in regards to producing content. The internet became the Wild Wild West of information, and clicks became the measurement of success for platforms we all looked to for solid coverage and conversation surrounding pop culture, hip-hop, fashion, and more. The problem there is that along the way integrity was lost. We turned to listing the Top 10 sneakers of the year instead of conversations surrounding design concepts. We gave coverage to artists with a high follower count regardless of the quality of music. Whether or not you freelance, if your job function is to create, the time is now to bring integrity to the platforms you create for. Engagement is the new standard, make sure that you're creating content that will generate conversation. Otherwise, you'll just be making noise instead of making a mark in your industry.