BEIRUT: Almost five years ago, 31-year-old Dana Lahoud quit her desk job.
Friends and family were both continuously bombarding her with questions about her next step and what kind of job she would be looking for.
“Weeks – maybe even months – before my resignation, I decided working in an office that wasn't for me. At the time, I felt like every day was blurring together: meetings, phone calls, agendas, checking in and checking out,” Lahoud told Annahar.
In the end, it was leaving the young graphic designer and copywriter uninspired, exhausted, and yearning to do her own "thing,” but didn’t have a clue of where to start.
Many have preached about the benefits of the gig economy for both the workforce and clients, especially with the ever-increasing influx of co-working spaces in Lebanon and the region as a whole, to act as a center to attract the lone wolf workers.
“In 2013, I perceived freelance life to be the notion of professional freedom, which meant: freedom to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as I got my work done,” she said.
“That was before I knew better,” Lahoud added.
Having survived half a decade as a freelance graphic designer and copywriter, she has confronted many stigmas, including the notion that people work when they want to.
There are many aspects of freelance life that people tend to not highlight, a myriad of misconceptions that render the idea of being a lone wolf worker all the more attractive to all sorts of people.
Here’s a reality check.
WHAT’S TAKEN IS NOT ALWAYS DESIRED
According to Lahoud, just like people at desk jobs, sometimes the work freelancers are tasked with isn't the most exhilarating, educational or challenging.
“While many freelancers have carved out a network of great clients who they love to work for, and get along with famously, it doesn't mean that their contractors aren't giving them dirty jobs or less-than-sexy assignments,” she explained.
It also means freelancers still have tough people to report to.
“Although lone wolves can say no to work if we don't want to do it, this results in no pay,” Lahoud told Annahar.
Just like a desk job, there's a greater chance of getting fired for turning down too many projects.
DEADLINES AND VACATIONS
Even though they don't have to physically check into the office five days a week, more often than not, they are on the same schedule as their clients, according to Lahoud.
“In short: The more clients we have, the more calendar conflicts we juggle,” she explained. While working remotely in a beautiful destination, in a different time zone, is certainly an option for some.
However, bringing a laptop to a hike or out on the beach isn't ideal – or a real vacation, since “there's less time to enjoy the surroundings if freelancers are on the clock or stressed to make deadlines, or needed on a conference call.”
While many freelancers have befriended others with alternative work situations, many contract workers are on their own clients' schedules, too.
“When the stars align, meeting up with familiar faces during the workday is a bonus, but it's not a guarantee,” Lahoud said, explaining that "hanging out" typically means sitting in a co-working space in silence as we type religiously on our computer keyboards.
Scheduling conflicts happen often and emergencies can pop up instantly, so plans often aren't set in stone.
“Many of our friends, especially mine, work in a traditional setting, so they usually spend business hours with their co-workers at the office,” she added.
FREE TIME EXCESS
A popular sub-stigma is that freelancers have a leisurely approach to labor.
The opposite is true.
According to the young graphic designer, there's a lot of hustle that goes into making connections, pitching ideas, taking meetings and scheduling everything; in addition to billing clients and following up when invoices go unpaid.
“Giving these tasks the respectful amount of time they each deserve, along with keeping track of it all, is imperative,” she added.
Sure, freelancers can block out hours of their days to relax and have “me-time,” but that can enormously affect one's bottom line.
And if freelancers aren't strategic with their calendars, opportunities will pass them by.
MORE OF A HOBBY, NOT A CAREER
The first few years of working as freelance graphic designer and copywriter, Lahoud’s friends and family would often ask, "But what do you actually want to do with your life?" as if she wasn't producing work, seeing many people, and paying her credit card bills and rent in Beirut.
Even today, after six years of hustling, this thought emerges among new acquaintances.
“Strangers often ask what my goals are, what I want to do after this ‘phase’ and how much longer I think this segment of my work life will last,” she said.
Her answer usually sounds like this: “I like my schedule. I live a different story every day. Like many other freelancers, I thrive outside an office. In fact, I'm more productive and less distracted,” Lahoud said.
“In the past five years, I've worked alongside great people, I've helped develop a brand for many businesses across the country and the region, and I’ve met a flurry of other freelancers that do inspiring work by themselves,” the veteran lone wolf expressed.
Despite the stigmas, backlash and any other obstacles that correspond with the title, she firmly believes the ability to accomplish all she has could not have happened had she not been a freelancer.
“It's been a lot of work, not a lot of sleep and an incredible journey. And it's certainly not over,” Lahoud told Annahar.
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