FREELANCE STRUGGLES: ADVENTURES IN THE 9 TO 5

by Sara Harrington

Read Part One of Freelance Struggles here; part Two here.

This series aims to vocalise and explore the realities of working as a creative freelancer in amongst a world of ‘nine to five-ers’. By collating a diverse array of stories from a variety of creative professionals Sara hopes to contextualise the working art world and give space to discuss what it really means to become your own boss.

“Great, welcome to the team”

A decisive hand offers a qualified handshake as I go to leave. It’s brisk and practiced, a clear powerplay perceptive to all those who encounter its efficient grip. Escorted down the stairwell and out of the premises, the automatic doors swish shut, the carefully constructed professional demeanour and gentile phrases I cultivated for the occasion are left behind. I’d got it.

But this is the story about how I quit my grad job after just three days.

Earlier that morning, I’d pulled the only pair of trousers I own out from the wash pile (ensuring to brush away errant dog hairs) and did my best impression of ironing a vaguely suitable shirt, in an attempt to cobble together some form of professional looking attire. I heaped make-up onto my face aiming to obtain that ‘polished’ look, my scruffy ‘haircut’ only serving to frame the whole ensemble. Today I was going to be presentable, because today I was going to sell myself.

Focusing on new work became impossible as I worried about where the next job might come from.

After being fully freelance for seven months and fully dependent on my partner for at least four, the novelty of being one’s own boss began to wane. Feeling trapped in the house and unable to afford groceries until my partner returned home from work made having the freedom of my own time feel restrictive. Focusing on new work became impossible as I worried about where the next job might come from. Caught in the cycle of staying home to save money, I would encounter two living creatures a day (one of whom, my surly dog), sometimes more if I ventured to the supermarket with my partner’s wallet. In between these bouts of worry laid inspired sessions of joyous drawing and creation and gig-laden weekends as we travelled to play to no one. In spite of this, it never felt enough.

So, I searched the Arts Council website, scoured university postings, filled in many applications and eventually I got a job.

Skipping out the automatic doors, elation brimmed and spilled out my lips. I was a professional. This boss had shaken my hand, severing it from my body to balance it on the office scales, weighing my handshake with my relevant experience, employment history and my most appropriate greatest weaknesses. I was judged competent. Laced with a stable salary and my very own office chair, I felt I had made it onto the first rung of that mysterious ladder we’re all scrabbling in the dark to find. The one that improves your credit score and convinces banks that you will one day be able to afford a mortgage. The one that props your wallet up as you nonchalantly buy new shoes when your old ones have worn holes in them, and lets you buy tea for distant friends (even though tea is hot coloured water and no one should pay a pound for one). I had finally cashed in what was promised all those years ago when I was pushed into university education, I had gotten myself a grad job.

Fran from Black Books typing in a silly manner as she pretends to know what her job is

A stuffy induction greeted my first day, a checklist of officious non-tasks to welcome me to the team and acquaint me with my new work environment. Whilst reading clear formatted document after clear formatted document it began to dawn on me the true extent of my actions. The quaint daydreams of working a ‘sit-down’ job in a nine-to-five and all the overdraft I would no longer have, had blinded me to the realities of offering 40 hours to your desk job. But this was a creative job, I was now an ‘in-house designer’ and ‘social media champion’. I was getting to use the skills I use everyday as a freelance designer for free in exchange for the most amount of money I would ever earn (read: what most people with decent jobs get paid). I could buy coffees and pencil in meetings. Schedule ‘one-to-ones’ with project leads and abbreviate all the words. I could be a snappy dresser and give out my extension number on my very own office phone. So why was I conjuring visions of burning the contract I just signed and running away to live on a boat, never to be seen by the working world again?

Regret tinged my tongue as I terminated my three-day-old contract. It felt rash…

If I had great aspirations of living to work, this role would have been a great opportunity – but as a touring musician with vague aspirations to illustrate it dawned on me that I was to forfeit valuable time for money. Regret tinged my tongue as I terminated my three-day-old contract. It felt rash, like I was a failure acknowledging that the commitment to a nine-to-five, forty hour, no holiday til you die contract would not fit me. This job is the job that many aspire to, that five of us competed for face-to-face in a series of group tasks. I was a failure for not wanting it. I shirked what was kindly granted me and welcomed myself back to the deadbeat rhythms of the part-time freelancer, full-time loser. And I regret nothing.

I sincerely hope that my would-be, almost employer knows that my short tenure in their office was not a bad experience. It was a truly charming office, full of people dedicated to their roles and actually good at their jobs. However, just for now, I think I will continue living the pyjama-pant, freelance dream and tell myself that I am not stupid to pass up stable employment.

Featured image  © Sara Harrington, who not only works as an Arts Contributor at The Norwich Radical, but is also a full-time Illustrator. Check out her doodles of dogs and feminist related ramblings here: www.saraharrington.co.uk


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