7 Backhanded Compliments Freelancers Are Sick Of Hearing
When I first ditched day jobs to become a freelance writer, I learned that a lot of the stereotypes people hold about freelancers — including many I held myself — are simply not true in all or even most cases. I also learned that the backhanded compliments freelancers get are not compliments at all when they're based on these stereotypes.
For example, one dream I unfortunately had to let go of was the image of the freelancer lounging on beaches, taking walks mid-day, and benefiting from an endless supply of mental health days. The truth is, this job is more rewarding but also harder than any other job I've held. Freelancers' effort is measured by how much they deliver rather than how much time they spend in the office, which means there are no excuses to slack off or procrastinate.
When people don't understand this aspect and other aspects of freelancing, they tend to make well-intentioned but ignorant comments about what freelancers' lives must be like. Usually, these statements are intended as compliments. But they don't come off that way when people compliment us on things that are patently false — and kind of insulting.
So, here are some compliments freelancers are sick of hearing — and why they're not as nice as you might think.
1. "You Must Have So Much Discipline!"
People often say I must be so strong just to get up in the morning and work instead of lazing around all day. This implies that freelancers don't have to do all the work they do, so it must take a lot of willpower for us to do something that's totally optional. Actually, it's not optional. This varies from person to person, but several of my clients expect a very specific amount of work from me within a specified period of time. Others let me turn in articles whenever I wish, but they don't constitute the bulk of my work. Many freelancers have similarly formal arrangements with clients because it's an easier way to make money than doing sporadic work. And even when someone has not committed to deliver a certain output regularly, they still don't have a choice because they have to make money.
When people with full-time jobs give me this so-called compliment, I like to point out that it takes discipline to come to work when you're on a salary and will get paid for sick or vacation days whether you show up or not. We, on the other hand, lose money for taking time off.
2. "I Envy Your Freedom!"
People who say this probably share the image I once held of freelancers basking in the sun as they languidly typed and clicked. But in reality, I work harder as a freelancer than I ever did at any day job. I imagine this varies from person to person, but when I worked in one salaried position, I got paid just for coming into the office and answering emails. I got paid the same amount no matter how long my lunch breaks took or how much time I spent chatting with the coworker at the desk next to me. And as long as I did what was expected of me in a reasonable amount of time, nobody cared precisely how many hours it took. Now, I get no money for answering emails or sitting in meetings, and I have to deliver something concrete in order to get paid. This means I have to work much more quickly than I ever did before and take fewer breaks.
And to clear things up, being a freelancer does not mean I make my own schedule. As I said, many companies have specified expectations for their freelancers, and many impose deadlines. In my case, if I don't start work around 8 a.m., I have very little hope for finishing what I need to by the end of the day. I can work in my pajamas, but don't be fooled: I am not lying in bed watching Netflix.
3. "Well, It's Something!"
When I first started freelancing and mentioned new gigs to friends and family, they'd occasionally say "Well, it's something" — as if my work were a consolation for not having a full-time job. Well, my job is more than something. It's what I want to be doing with my life, not a backup plan I've followed while secretly wishing for one nine-to-five office job.
Nobody would say "Well, it's something" to someone who just got a full-time job because people consider that much more than something. Any work that fulfills somebody, pays the bills, and keeps them busy should be viewed the same way.
4. "You're Lucky You Can Afford That Lifestyle."
Writers get this one especially because there's a perception that no publications pay well and you need to write for free to succeed in today's media landscape. Some publications really do offer embarrassingly low rates, but I actually made more this year than I did last year, when I only held full-time jobs. Contrary to popular belief, most freelancers are not freeloaders who have forgone practicality to follow their passions. We're resourceful people with a good work ethic, and we didn't get where we are today through any special privileges.
5. "Good For You For Devoting Time To Yourself!"
My job is not a passion project. I am passionate about it, as one could be about a staff or freelance position, but I actually have far less time for myself than I did when I left the office at 5 p.m. Believe me — I wish I had more time to myself. But my job is still a job and it tires me out like any other job would.
6. "That Sounds More Enjoyable Than Working Full Time."
Well, freelancers do work full time — just for more than one company. In fact, I often work 60-hour weeks. When people talk about how much fun it must be to devote less time to my job than other people, it discounts all the hard work I do.
7. "Wow, You Can Really Do That?"
My reaction to this comment usually depends on the delivery, but sometimes it's said in a tone that indicates someone actually can't even believe I am really doing this. I can see them scratching their heads, wondering if I'm relying on financial support from someone else or have some secret side job I'm not telling them about.
I appreciate people acknowledging that my field is competitive and it's an accomplishment to succeed in it. But yes, I am really doing it, and I am supporting myself with it, so please take my claims about my own work at face value rather than assuming I'm hiding something. If you're incredulous, ask how— not whether — I'm making it work. Who knows? You might even learn something that way.