I don’t eat coffee for lunch. Sleep deprivation is not my drug of choice. And I’ve never referred to myself as a doer. I have, however, worked as a freelancer, both full-time and part-time, for the past six years.
Since I started, freelancing has become more mainstream. Aided by the freedom of the internet and new tech platforms, today’s self-employed workers have access to a better infrastructure for finding work and trying to support themselves. There are resources (like this site), online communities, and even a union. In many ways, freelancing has gained acceptance as a viable occupation. But in one major way, it hasn’t: public perception.
Freelancers, we’re told, are hustlers. You see that type of language pushed everywhere by companies that have turned contract workers into commodities. The most egregious examples get called out as tone-deaf and manipulative. But plenty of people still celebrate this line of thinking. The rush of the freelance hustle. I’ve come to hate this narrative.
What are we really saying when we refer to freelancers as hustlers? By the most generous definition, we’re calling them grinders, the kind of people who never stop moving or working. They meet any deadline even if it leads to sleep deprivation. Then there’s the other way to define a hustler—as a con artist. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we use this language to describe freelancers. They may not be picking pockets, but it implies they’re scheming, crafty, a little desperate. They’re doing whatever they can to get by.
We want people to stop thinking of freelancing as a hustle and start thinking of it as a career.
We originally launched The Freelancer to help everyone. We aimed to give self-employed creatives a place of their own. We built a space full of resources, stories, and a bit of self-deprecating humor. Over time, we added job listings and more concrete work advice. For the most part, I think we were publishing useful stories. But our mission was too broad, so we stepped back to re-evaluate our approach.
After some soul searching and analysis, we’re back with a better mission: to correct this misperception. We want people to stop thinking of freelancing as a hustle and start thinking of it as a career. Despite the romanticized views of hustlers you see in subway ads, TV commercials, and op-eds, freelancers will be in a good place when they have the stability and respect of the working world. If some freelancers want to grind away and sacrifice sleep, that’s fine, but only if doing so will help them advance in the same way it would for a full-time investment banker, lawyer or anyone else in an “established” field. What we don’t want, however, is for freelancers to put in obscene hours under bad conditions just to scrape by without health insurance.
So what’s going to change on The Freelancer? Think of this as a subtle shift in our approach. We’re still going to offer tips, how-tos, interviews, personal essays and some humor. We’re just going to refine the way we present some of that content so it speaks to a more professional audience. Because whether you’re a full-time freelancer or someone pursuing a trade in your spare time, you deserve that level of intelligence and respect. Just like you deserve a job that lets you eat more than a cup of coffee for lunch.