Freelancing — A Career Choice or Lifestyle?

Freelance LifestyleWhat does it mean, exactly, to be a freelancer?

This is one of the toughest questions that we freelancers have to answer. It’s especially difficult when people close to us, like friends or family, are the ones who are asking.

There are many people who don’t understand what it means to freelance. There are even a few people who still think that we’re all sitting at home in our pajamas eating chocolate and watching television all day long. (You’re not doing that, are you?:-) )

For those who are accustomed to the traditional workplace, the concept of freelancing (or self-employment) can be somewhat fuzzy. You’ve probably heard some of your own friends make strange generalizations or outrageous comments about your freelancing business.

So, what’s the right answer?

The Truth About Freelancing

So, you are the boss.” One woman said when I explained that I owned my own business. “That must be so nice, telling everyone else what to do.

The truth is, for most freelancers, we are both the boss AND the employee all rolled into one. We have both sets of responsibilities.

One of the reasons that people are so confused about freelancing is that for many of us it goes beyond a career choice and becomes a lifestyle choice.

In most companies, your employer determines your ultimate career path. However, if you choose freelancing as a career the picture is quite different.

Freelancing as a Career Choice

From many perspectives, freelancing is an excellent career choice with very few limits:

  • You can choose the most challenging or rewarding projects. In a nine-to-five job your manager brings the work to you. They may even dictate how that work will be done. Not so for the freelancer, who can say “no” to any project that seems unreasonable or unrewarding.
  • You determine your pay. How much you earn as a freelancer depends on how smart you work, how much work you take on, and how much you market your product or services.
  • You set your own hours. Getting time off in a traditional job can be a real hassle. Usually you have to get permission from a manager, who first checks to see if someone can cover for you.
  • You decide where to work. Freelancing is largely location-independent. In most cases, you can work wherever there is an adequate Internet connection.

Recently, I was describing what I did for a living to a friend who is interested in freelancing.

Basically,” I said, “Your business can be as big, or as small, as you would like it to be.

I don’t think that I was too far off the mark with that comment when you consider freelancing as a career.

For most of us, though, freelancing is much more than a career. Freelancing is also a lifestyle.

Freelancing as a Lifestyle

While the career advantages of freelancing draw many, it’s usually the lifestyle advantages that keep them freelancing. Personally, I’m not sure how happy I would be in a typical 9-to-5 job now that I’ve been a freelancer for a while.

Here are a few lifestyle perks of freelancing:

  1. Save money. Many freelancers actually save money when they start to freelance. Freelancing can reduce or eliminate the following costs: commuting, parking, lunches away from home, need for a professional wardrobe, and more.
  2. Be there… for friends or family when you need to be. Having a sick family member can be a real hassle with a traditional job. For the freelancer, a sick child or family member can be right in the next room while you work.
  3. Off-hours shopping. One of the biggest benefits that I enjoy is shopping and conducting other business during non-peak hours. Most folks do their banking, grocery shopping, car repairs, and other chores during the weekend when it’s crowded. The freelancer doesn’t have to wait in those lines.
  4. Mobile lifestyle. Are you feeling cooped up in your home office? Pack your work and go. With WiFi and today’s mobile computing devices your office can be practically anywhere — choose between working across town and working across the globe, or do both.
  5. Creative control. When asked why they freelance, control is one of the most frequent answers. Most freelancers enjoy the ability to do a project the way that they believe it should be done and not the way that someone else requires them to do it.

In a nutshell, freelancing allows you to arrange your job around your life, rather than requiring you to arrange your life around your job.

You can probably think of even more lifestyle benefits to freelancing.

What Do You Think?

Is freelancing a career choice, a lifestyle choice, or both? How do you explain freelancing to yourself, your friends, your family?

What do you like (or dislike) about freelancing?

Leave your answers in the comments.


  1. says

    Freelancing = Freedom. You can get pretty engrossed in your work to the point you work more hours then non-freelancers, but you can still take that break when ever you need it.

  2. says

    Being new to freelancing I tend to look at it as a career choice, the freedom and flexibility is nice, but with everything from marketing to accounting being your responsibility it’s all a bit scary.

    Maybe freelancing take getting use to before it can be looked at as a lifestyle.

  3. says

    Sometimes I don’t feel like my own boss at all — especially when I’m on a deadline, or fulfilling some client requirements! ;) But, overall, I feel like freelancing is definitely a lifestyle. It works around what I want to do, and I can cut back if I feel like things are becoming too intrusive.

  4. says

    I would have to say freelancing is both. As a career it gives us freedom. Opens us up to things we never would normally see. As a lifestyle it opens up doors for us to connect with various people and live a certain way.

  5. says

    I’m one hundred per cent sure that it’s a combination of both of these and many others will agree with me. I’m thinking about taking on a 4-hour per week job at a store just for the social aspect, which I find the only problem of the freelancer ‘lifestyle’.

  6. says

    I think freelancing is most definitely a lifestyle choice, simply because making freelance your career definitely allows for some changes in your lifestyle as well. A lot of the time those changes are desired ones, and freelancing allows for someone to make those changes in their life.

    I feel freelancing gives more freedom, over everything else. That’s why I enjoy it. :)

  7. says

    I can see it considered a career but I think I lean more towards it being a lifestyle. You can choose your own schedule and when you work. I think it hard when starting out but gets easier as your business grows.

  8. says

    Laura, this is a fantabulous article! I think freelancing is both a career and a lifestyle. Like you mentioned, we don’t get to tell the world what to do–we have to be flexible and “answer to our clients/editors (our bosses, really)” if we want to be successful.

    I get tired of explaining freelancing to people. I recently had someone ask me: “What do you do, post your little poems on MySpace?”


    Seriously, people have NO clue! LOL


  9. says

    A career choice because of the freedom and a life style for the flexibility. It just depends on what side takes the edge of the other one. For me, it’s definitely a life style.

  10. says

    I believe that freelanceing is both, because I think you really need to dicipline yourself to do these things as you are the only one there able to get yourself into gear. You need to stop and think and plan ahead so you can get this freedom and flexablity.

  11. Julian says

    Freelancing is great, especially now that I’ve continued with university. I make more money in less time than I ever could working part-time as an employee in someone else’s business.

  12. says

    For me, freelancing is a choice. I choose to work for myself and I choose to write on a schedule of my own making.

    There are times, especially in this economy, when I would prefer that someone else would give me a paycheck, but that isn’t my present reality. Then again, even as challenging as things can get, I’m not sure I’m willing to work as a corporate communicator with little control over my writing.

  13. Eneko Erce says

    Both of them, sure. It´s a great career choice, but you gotta work hard in order not to fail… Keep in mind that you need to learn and improve each day -at least being a web developer, as I. But that’s the good point, too… Some people like to go to university when they are over 25, but I don’t feel to, ’cause is like I’m studying new subjects every single day. And is a lifestyle, you must like being a freelance, facing each day the problems of this type of work… If not, if you are not made for it, you will just give up in a matter of time.

  14. Eneko Erce says

    Both of them, sure. It´s a great career choice, but you gotta work hard in order not to fail… Keep in mind that you need to learn and improve each day -at least being a web developer, as I. But that’s the good point, too… Some people like to go to university when they are over 25, but I don’t feel to, ’cause is like I’m studying new subjects every single day. And is a lifestyle, you must like being a freelance, facing each day the problems of this type of work… If not, if you are not made for it, you will just give up in a matter of time.

    Oh, I almost forgot: great post, it’s made think a lot about it for the last half an hour… :-)

  15. says

    for me, freelance is a lifestyle more than a career,
    I like the freelance nature to work any where, I just hold my laptop, and go any where and set up my working office (my laptop is my office)

  16. says

    Freelancing is definitely a lifestyle. No matter which career we choose, there is a subset of professionals in each that just needs the wiggle room–we’re born with metaphorical wings, if you will.

  17. Gaurav says

    For me freelancing means – Being there for your family and friends when they are in need.

    I am not a full time freelancer yet but it is the most important aspect which is drawing me to freelancing. Just imagine when your wife or parent or child falls ill and you have to ask for permission from your boss and he gives it reluctantly, that too for 1 day max, because a project needs to be finished 3 days from now which can be done easily by your colleague. Grrr…..

    I read somewhere – “If you die, your company can easily find a replacement for you but your family can never find your replacement. So, give priority to your family. At the end family matters.”

  18. says

    Freelancing means working comfortably, yet, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy, there are just certain factors that make it easier than a normal office jobs. Being stressed and bombarded with projects in this field is a choice. When you want to be preoccupied with many things, then accept many projects, if not, then relax your mind with minimal assignments. Income also depends on how you make your time productive, at the end it all depends in you. No one to blame and to reward but yourself- that’s what I like with this job.

  19. says

    Great post. Thanks!

    I wrote a similar post on my blog that is more speific to designers entitled “Graphic Design: Hobby or Career?” It might be of use to your freelancing designers who read this blog. I’ve linked to it in my name. Cheers!

  20. says

    Not Sure its Career or Lifestyle, but one thing to remember, if you choose it as lifestyle, it will effect those who are close to you in relation. In some countries, or in some families, like mine, I do freelancing but still my relatives thinks that I better do a job, otherwise people will think that you are staying home & doing nothing Lolzz.. as here people’s mentality is positive for jobs only :S

  21. says

    I think freelancing is what you can make it, you can have all the skills in design that you could possibly but its still possible for it to fail, again you can have less skills then other people and make a very sucessful career. I believe its all about how you apply yourself.

  22. says

    For me freelancing is a lifestyle. I switched to freelancing because I wanted to do the work I was interested in, when and where I wanted to do it. I never worked harder than as a freelancer, but never enjoyed work more. There have been plenty of times when I’ve had to put friends and family on hold in order to finish a project, but that was always my choice. The trade off is that there are plenty of times when I’ve set aside work for things I’ve wanted to do. I get to spend the more time with my family while freelancing than i ever could as cubicle jockey. Over the years I’ve gone in and out of freelancing, but nothing beats it…as long as you can pay the bills with it!

  23. says

    your site is giving errors. this is coming up at the top of the site on the header.

    Warning: session_start() [function.session-start]: The session id contains illegal characters, valid characters are a-z, A-Z, 0-9 and ‘-,’ in /var/www/vhosts/ on line 89

    you might want to disable the plugin that is causing this error…

  24. Kristin Ray says

    Wow – great post. I’ve been on-the-fence about going freelance for quite a while, but this clears it up a lot! On the one hand – I can’t stand having so little control over what work I do, when I can do it, how I can do it or even if the company I work for stays in business(!). On the other – The prospect of being all things at once and having to have everything balanced to get the job done – that’s scary!

    I like to think though, that the choice to be freelance is a lifestyle one. Money is money if you work for yourself or another – but freelancing takes certain determination, self-drive and courage that some lack. In the end it is your choice to live your life the way YOU design it.

  25. says

    As i am currently a tweeny of both Freelance work and Full time work i would without a doubt say the aspiration to be a full time freelancer is merely down to ‘Freedom’ which would equate to lifestyle. But surely your lifestyle is your career choice as well.

    My current career as a PPC/SEO guy is because i love to use the web. Thats my career choice. To do that freelance would be my lifestyle involving my career choice. Surely you cant put a price on that.

    I think been able to work on your own projects is a part of Freelancing which appeals to me. There is also the fact that in the winter months there is nothing worse than having to commute to work in the cold weather. Its a depressing time to be working for the man. I think we all strive for the freelance lifestyle so we are able to be in control of our own careers. Thats my urge for the future anyhow.

  26. says

    For me, it’s definitely about the lifestyle. My previous job was slacker heaven. I was underworked and overpaid. But two years ago, I took the leap.

    I’ve never worked harder, but I’ve never had more fun. I get a huge kick out of the mobility, especially since I bought a netbook. I toss my little monster into my purse and off I go to work anywhere I like — whether it’s taking the train to visit friends, working on the balcony at a beachside hotel watching the sun rise, or something as mundane as being sick of my house, so I go to a coffee shop to work.

    For me, it’s my dream job.

  27. Katie says

    The type of freelancing I do requires me to be away from home a lot as many of my clients are based in another country. I was living there until recently but decided that I wanted to live back home (and with my other half). This is very difficult as it stops me from building a proper life back home and, when I work from home, it is difficult to make friends in a new city. As a result, I’ve decided to give the 9-5 job a go as what i’m craving is stability and I can’t get that in the job I’m in now. Sadly, there aren’t many permanent jobs in my career so it will requre a career change. Freelancing can be a brilliant lifestyle, but it depends on the sector.


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