Since COVID-19 began to overwhelm the United States in early March, I’ve bounced between multiple freelance jobs. Some were seasonal, others contract, while others still were based on the amount of work available. At this point in my twenty-three years of life, I’ve seen or worked most of the various gig jobs on the market.
I got my first taste working freelance while I was still getting my undergraduate degree. I was a second year, living in a scholarship house at the time, and needed to earn my living expenses while going to school. My friend introduced me to SEOButler, which became my first writing gig. I was hired as a copywriter with a required word minimum to complete each week. I’d be paid by the word count of each article.
While I was in school, the gig was amazing. I wasn’t emotionally invested in how much I was making. Plus, the unscheduled writing job didn’t add stress to my life. The work assignments weren’t that time-consuming, so I still had time to study. I wasn’t making that much money, but along with my other job, it was enough to supplement my income. So I worked the writing gig and a traditional part-time job at a chicken biscuit breakfast restaurant while managing 15 school credits. When summer rolled around, I picked up another part-time job working as a transcriptionist for a medical scribe company.
While I worked those jobs in undergrad, I combatted waves of emotions. Deep down, I knew that working at three separate projects for minimum wage/contract payment was making me unhappy. I liked the freedom that came with making my own writing and transcription schedule, but I didn’t like how little I was making.
I managed to save up a decent sum of money and fully fund spending my third year studying abroad in South Korea, but it came at the cost of giving up a lot of my free time. Though I don’t regret working the majority of that summer, I do regret sticking with the chicken restaurant job as long as I did. I didn’t quit until a couple of weeks before the summer ended even though it was mentally, physically, and spiritually crushing me. Nothing instills stress and regret like working with animal products as a vegan and being severely underpaid. I stuck the unsatisfying job out for so long because I feared being unable to get more work. A fear that I’m still in the process of overcoming.
While in Korea, I worked as a live streamer under a temporary contract. The gig started as a fun way to make money while I studied abroad, but quickly turned into an emotional burden for me. I had tried on multiple occasions to talk to the management about getting a pay raise and about diversifying what I was streaming. The company wouldn’t listen to my requests, choosing instead to make me feel unstable within my position. So, I left. That was the first moment I stood up for myself while working freelance and I’ve only become more confident since then.
When I returned to America, the only freelance job I kept was with SEOButler. The thought of going back to working as a transcriptionist made me feel a bit queasy. I instead focused on turning my work-study scholarship into a paid internship. That’s how I ended up spending my final year of undergrad working as the paid media/communications intern for Florida State University’s study abroad program.
Last August, I graduated from FSU with two degrees and a minor, but no solid plan for the future. I accepted a job with Lifetouch as a preschool photographer and used the position to move from Florida to Oregon because my gut told me to head west. I’ve been working here since January.
Since the pandemic, I’ve accepted and rejected numerous gig jobs already. I used Grubhub to get me through tough times but dropped it because it stressed me out. I quit Lifetouch because it infuriated me that they wanted me to go into schools during COVID-19 while Portland was covered in deadly smoke from fires. Though it freaked me out to quit the two positions, and I still worry about making enough money, I feel so much lighter and happier now.
Currently, I’m working a few gigs as a livestream camera operator for theaters in Portland, still writing for SEOButler, and keeping my eye open for any other opportunities that come my way. I’ve learned to embrace the uncertainty that comes with freelance and seek out jobs that truly call me. The beauty of working gig jobs is that they will always be out there and I can be picky about how I spend my time.
From these experiences, I’ve come to realize that the gig economy is brutal to newcomers. The workforce, in general, shows no mercy to those starting out and looking to earn a living while remaining satisfied with the work they do. Certain employers will underpay or simply refuse to pay you at all. They’ll try to gaslight, degrade, and pressure you into doing work for less than your worth under the guise of helping you build up your portfolio and experience.
While you’ll most likely run into these employers during your time in freelance, don’t let them discourage you. Working freelance is a wonderful opportunity to set your boundaries, get paid what you deserve, and explore various jobs. Be picky, speak up, and only accept what truly makes you happy. From one freelancer defining their identity and their standards to another.
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Photo: Mak Flex via Unsplash