In a full-time employed role, there is often a clear(ish), linear ladder that illustrates the necessary steps to get promoted, to earn more money, to challenge yourself and produce the best work possible.
Also in a full time role, you’ll be called into a meeting every so often to reflect on your progress. Freelancing is very different: not only are you far less likely to receive pats on the back (ever), but you run the risk of feeling stagnant without the boost of validation from a boss-like figure.
School actually prepares us for this model and this model alone. We have seasonal school reports instead of quarterly reviews and have to turn up and leave at the same time Monday to Friday. The free form freelance life, however, we aren’t so much prepared for.
Most freelancers are never offered a ‘promotion’ in the traditional sense because we as the creative create these boundaries for ourselves. Our clients are often short terms and don’t offer us a quarterly ego boosting review.
Setting our own professional goals and benchmarks takes a hell of a lot more effort than having an employer do it for us, and justifying increased fees to clients is more complicated than any of those appraisals ever were. It’s really a small price to pay for the flexibility it affords and the breadth of work I get to do. Plus, a little bit of introspection to work out what I want my career to look like is no bad thing, even if it means abandoning the idea of career progression altogether.
Career progression is of course still very important for us as freelancers even though those traditional boundaries of progression aren’t always set in place. These boundaries instead are in the work we find ourselves – more exciting work, better pay and a wider network.
While you may find yourself uninterested in “concrete” measures of success, setting your own goals and lining up your own “promotions” is key if you want to feel like your freelance career is going anywhere.
If you feel ready, go for it, if not, don’t rush
It’s easy to feel that you should be doing some of your best work and getting noticed early on in your career. However, creating worthwhile opportunities takes time, and that demands patience.
There are times where, no matter how hard we try, we don’t feel inspired and this can feel scary. But now I just take that time to pay attention to the other aspects of my life, making sure those are in alignment. Nothing sustainable is built overnight.
One of the great comforts of the 9-5 is being told you’re ready for new opportunities by someone senior who’s given you a thorough assessment. This doesn’t happen to freelancers, so if you feel ready, you probably are ready. And if you’re not, just work it out as you go.
Promotions can be forced – creating your own path promotes personal growth
Whatever career path you’ve chosen, you’re going to be walking it for a long time. While it may feel great to work for a big name, the ultimate test of your working life is whether you want to get out of bed in the morning to do your job, which may mean you have to work out a whole values system of your own.
Don’t be persuaded by other people and society’s ideas of success
Many won’t understand the scale of freelance opportunities. So when you share some of your news, your friends may not understand why or how that’s such a big deal for you because your career is set in a slightly untraditional framework. That’s okay! Focus on your happiness and your paycheck and keep hustling.
Finally, we can scheme and plan as much as we want, but we’ll never have total control over our career. Sometimes it will feel like nothing new has happened in years, other times that you’re drowning in new challenges.