Freelancing under COVID has been a weird mix of highs, lows and meh moments. All have been pretty extreme.

Last year was the weirdest year yet for my freelancing career or running the Freelance Jungle. I journal everything. The funniest thing was I bought some mega journal that lasted from January through to August last year. You can imagine how wild it got.

Even when I fall hard, I try to learn. I figure it’s the only thing you can really do other than accept you’ve got some breakage to clean up. Last year wasn’t a hard fall for me. But it was a big test of who I am and what I believe. I think it did that to most of us, right? Very few people could say the person they were in January 2019, January 2020 and January 2021 are one and the same.

Anyway, in the spirit of learning about 2020 in an open fashion, I’m going to lay my experiences of freelancing under COVID on the page. See if it resonates with you

Hope resides in looking forward to things

Humans always have this shiny vision that a new year brings something better. Even if we decry resolutions and so on. I think it gives us the hope we need to survive. And we shouldn’t steal that from others with cynicism and disbelief. Because it’s part of what protects people from the often-harsher realities of self-employment.

Freelancing under COVID meant all the plans we had were scuttled by about this time last year (March 2020). We had to get used to working without the certainty that helps hope flourish.

It was difficult.

I do worry about the impact of not having things to look forward to will bring in 2021, too. For example, not being able to plan holidays in case of lockdowns. Or feeling nervous about events and public gatherings. Or the loss of opportunity to network freelancers might face. Or how we get through Zoom fatigue.

It’s a work in progress.

Australian freelancers are fragile

Freelancing under COVID highlighted how vulnerable we can be to market disruptions.

The current government systems don’t acknowledge us and don’t normalise our industry as a result. Something that the JobKeeper petition changed in some respects but still needs work.

We are a viable and vital part of the self-employment mix. And we should be honoured as such.

We’re also powerful, too

Australians tend to forget that we hold a lot of power when we put our mind to it. Coming together means we can do stuff, like the 18K strong petition.

Freelancers do have sway with politicians. We need to see politicians for what they are. Curiously fragile beasts that bare teeth but do care about public opinion, despite the swagger.

But the stakes aren’t as high as they were last year. We risk falling back into apathy.

What more can we do with the power now is the real question?

The old guard stigma remains

Freelancing under COVID has been a blessing in some ways. It made working from home normal for starters.

Yet, there’s still stigma attached to freelancing we need to address. While everyone understood the reality of working from home, the workforce still doesn’t quite grasp what it means to be a freelancer.

I am tired of the old power way of working that views freelancers as lessers. We are people who choose flexibility, personal challenge, and greater efficiency in our careers. These are not negatives. We care yet are treated as though we’re somehow unemployable.

It’s the system that is broken. Not the freelancer who resists the system.

Freelancers need to remember that these lessons and insights get lost if we don’t protect them. We gained momentum with normalising remote work. Let’s not lose it to apathy or old guard ways.

Certainty has its limits

Freelancing under COVID and creating works and ideas generally became easier. The pressure to perform to someone else’s standard or ideal of what business should look like lifted.

Certainty is a vice that breaks some of your best work. Being able to crowdjack my projects instead of plotting a plan for 3 or 6 or 12 months saw my production lift.

It’s liberating.

More than that though, certainty is unlikely to come back any time soon.

The world is in flux. COVID, climate change, world politics, social media crackdowns and more – they influence us almost daily. We have to be more comfortable with uncertainty.

And with more hacktivists and idea creators finding new ways to mess with old structures, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

Leaving responsibilities in the hands of old power structures had led us to some dark places. Corruption, unfair financial distribution and a reduction in quality of life are not byproducts of a healthy society. Nor are the necessity for large scale movements against inequality such as MeToo and BlackLivesMatter.

Maybe we’re well overdue for shaking things up a little?

Always have a Plan C

We saw firsthand how fragile our supply chains are. How odd our lack of contingency planning that chickpeas and toilet paper can bring us to our knees.

Strategy and contingency are the answers these days. You can always have a plan, but you have to be strategic enough to know when the plan is no longer fit for purpose. And contingencies extend beyond liner points within the one plan.

Plan A needs to hang in the same folder as Plan B and Plan C.

If you don’t have these freelancing under COVID and associated conditions, you’re in for a rough ride.

Values are the new cool

Having values at the centre of your decision making saves you. It means you can make the right call, even when the sands are not only shifting, they are flung in your face in a hurricane.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need a profile or money when you’re freelancing under COVID. Or to go knit yak hats while exchanging it for tamborine lessons. But it does mean that clients and compatriots are looking for more from their leadership, peers and associates.

We’re in this together

There was still a lot of false binary stuff floating about in business that made freelancing under COVID tougher than it needed to be.

We need to move away from “the public” to recognising “the community”. Public is such an otherising term. Within a community, there is variance and difference, there is complexity and nuance. Once we see that as truth, we can find the values that give us the common ground.

If we’re still saying, “the public” or “the industry”, we can’t see the faces in the representation and we can’t see the motivation in the grey, concrete facade. It becomes to easy to make it a situation for somebody else.

It’s time to embrace the differences and draw from each other as much as we can.

Fortune favours the bold

I wrote my first bunch of grants ever last year and scored three of them. It was not on my radar to even consider such a move before January 2020. I also threw out the plan and responded to the moment.

Freelancing under COVID taught me a valuable lesson: To be adventurous is to be rewarded.

And it’s easier to be adventurous when everyone else is distracted by a pandemic. Especially when they are too busy trying to rebuild the walls as they fall.

Instead, recycle the bricks to pave a different path forward. Or use them to build a stand for everyone. Or stop labouring and admire the view the walls blocked.

Look for some other way to do what we freelancers do and be proud of it.

Change isn’t as hard as we think

Apathy and complacency give us a false sense of comfort. Businesses can and do change when they need to.

Look at the ways every café embraced delivery or being a general store. Or how events and musicians capitalised online. Think about telehealth and the benefits it added. Or working from home as a nation.

We have to remember not to let apocalyptic style events be the only motivation next time!

Creativity matters

Even when things got pretty tough, creativity still helped us get through it. And we sought out new ways to get in touch with it.

We still want be surprised and delighted with the world we’re in. Take moments like getting excited by taking out the bin due in formal ware for example. Or the Freelance Jungle offering crafternoons and dress up lunch Fridays over Zoom. All are designed to take some of the sting out of the isolation inherent with freelancing under COVID.

No matter what else we lose, it takes a lot to remove creativity (and our sense of humour) from the menu.

Community matters to us

As much as we rail and fight across communities – and even within – it’s knowing that another person is feeling the same makes us feel less alone.

To know someone is laughing the same, is crying when you do, who is laughing when you cry so that you stop crying and start laughing too, that helps us survive. Even when you are fired up and the other person is fired up too, surely we can see the value in that conviction?

We need to stop crushing each other’s chance to uncover community by setting the bar too high.

Freelancing under COVID reminded us that being able to come together is one of life’s simplest salves to pain. To find friendship and support is vital to surviving in these tough arse conditions.

Let’s never forget that.

Knowing our triggers and our cures helps

When we’re faced with an awful lot of uncertainty, stress and fear, we hoarded stuff. When we’re faced with an awful lot of uncertainty, stress and fear, we also reconnected with creativity and our sense of humour.

We’re yet to figure out how to balance the two competing coping mechanisms enough. Could one solve the other?

Ask any frontline worker or community manager freelancing under COVID. Lashing out and freaking out are unfortunate parts of human nature. Some people haven’t learned to adult yet. They haven’t had that moment where they’ve switched from seeing themselves as the centre of the universe.

Nobody has told them it’s not about what they are owed. But instead, it is about what they can give.

To adult is to think critically. Challenging people in a way that makes them feel bad isn’t going to work. But introducing self-reflection, opportunities to be aware and critical thinking might.

We owe it to everyone who gets the mop and bucket out for every online and in person tantrum and rage spill to do better. And it starts with our keyboard or mouth first.

Life continues on

No matter what’s happening in the world, some people will continue on with their marketing tactics regardless. AND some people welcome it as a reprieve from reality. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t offend, belittle or create problems for others.

It also doesn’t mean that it’s not a form of coping in itself.

Freelancing under COVID has been a tough ask. Clients have been crankier and opportunities more sporadic. Consistency is lacking and feelings of scarcity have been high.

But we can do this because we’re problem solvers by nature who know how to get the job done.

How have you found your experience of freelancing under COVID? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.


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