I recently—unflinchingly—turned down a full-time job. It was well paid, in line with my interests and, all extras aside, a pretty good job. But when asked if I wanted to sign on the dotted line, it was a complete no-brainer to stick with my self-employed status.
I’m not the only one to favor the flexibility over a traditional 9-to-5; self-employment is currently at its highest ever, reaching 4.6 million in February 2016. By 2020, freelancers will make up more than 40 percent of the overall workforce.
Of these, a large percentage are set to be women. A recent study found that of the 1.88 million freelancers in the United Kingdom, 40 percent are women. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of self-employed women in the U.K. has risen nearly three times faster than that of men.
What’s more, whereas self-employment was previously considered a last resort, increasingly, men and women of all ages are looking at it as the most preferable option. A recent study by Contently, a technology company and network of freelance creatives, concluded that despite the complexities involved with freelancing—wage instability, lack of benefits, etc.—76 percent of freelancers do it because they want to, citing independence, flexibility and greater opportunity as the main deciding factors.
“I walked out of a permanent job at a production company and haven’t stopped working since; it was the best decision I made in my life,” says Amalia Rosen-Rawlings, a 30-year-old video producer based in London. “I realized I’m much better suited to work with people rather than for people; I like to be my own boss and decide which jobs I’d like to take on.”
Joss Meek, 28, who heads up digital press at Wired PR, a London-based startup public relations agency, says: “I am a firm believer in productivity percentages. Twenty percent of our day counts for 80 percent of our productivity. Some of us work faster than others. Why should I have to stare at a laptop for eight hours or more when I know I can complete the task in four hours or less?”
Indeed, it appears that today, these types of considerations rank highly on many individuals’ priority lists, perhaps even more so than stability of knowing where your paycheck comes from. “It’s the rise of generation DIY,” Rosen-Rawlings explains. “We’ve been told we can be whatever we want to be in life, so with that frame of mind, we’re go getters and will find a way to make it happen.”
Thanks in large part to technology and the internet, it’s never been easier to build and sustain something from scratch, evident in the rise of millennial entrepreneurs, or “millinepreneurs.” Thanks to my thriving digital network, I’ve worked with a number of publications and brands over the years, and all from wherever I happen to be, laptop in tow. Why would I give that up?
As Joss puts it, “I’m not squeezing my square shaped self into a round hole of timeless employment structure.” Although women in traditional employment are still arguably undervalued, attempting to compete in a system complete with gender inequalities, pay gaps, confidence gaps, workplace sexism, sexual harassment, etc., research suggests that women can carve out their own niche as thriving freelancers.
I’ve spent many-a-morning lamenting my decision while chasing yet another payment and struggling with impostor syndrome. No matter how rosy it looks when we’re writing from bed with a plate of avocado toast, it’s not as easy as it might seem.
As Kyran Low, a 32-year-old fashion stylist based in London says: “Endless negotiation of rates. Chasing payments for months on end. Not knowing if you’re ever going to be booked again, ever. Friends with ‘normal’ jobs not understanding that making plans, or rather sticking to plans, is basically impossible. Learning to be an expert in your field and every other field, too.”
When you work for yourself, you don’t get paid when you’re sick or on vacation; you don’t have access to employee benefits, maternity leave or pension schemes (a study found that 60 percent of full-time staff in the United Kingdom had pensions compared to only 16 percent of self-employed adults).
As people are increasingly equating success with things other than material possessions, focusing on cultivating relationships, on healthy mind and body, and a greater work-life balance, this shift is arguably only natural, and a good thing. “I think women might be more attracted to a lifestyle which allows them to more easily balance the other areas of their life, such as raising children, traveling or not wanting to work full time for someone else,” suggests 48-year-old Seattle-based media platform owner Kristen Gill. “Home-based businesses are on the rise because of the freedom it presents, and the flexibility of working during the hours you have free, rather than predetermined hours.”
Meek agrees. “I love my ability to be able to work whenever and wherever. I can travel and work; I can be sick and work; I can have a late night and start a little later,” she says, citing a flexibility that’s evidently increasingly important to an up-and-coming generation.
Everyone from Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, to Cher Wang, co-founder of mobile technology company HTC, to the next girl uploading a perfectly filtered selfie to Instagram is, these days, managing to start, maintain and often thrive in their self-created, self-employed world. Why would anyone wish to chain themselves to a desk to build someone else’s dream for less money, less flexibility and less autonomy (unless they really had to)? Could stability here be a sacrifice, rather than an asset?
“Make lemons from lemonade” is a familiar phrase. For this generation of women, we’re making lemonade empires, and regardless of the extra work required to do so, the pulpy extract tastes all the sweeter for it.