THE BLOG
10/25/2013 03:37 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

I Have a Career I Love -- Too Bad No One Understands It

The freelance lifestyle is always a dual-edged sword when it comes to communicating with friends and family -- even strangers.

Some are a touch wistful, others maybe a bit jealous -- and many others believe I altogether don't work at all.

Lets be fair: Many of our parents and friends are used to the traditional job aesthetic. That's all they know. They know a job where they set an alarm, wake up, get on the train each morning and leave at the same time each night, only to return back on said train. They know they will get paid every other Friday, and they know they have X number of sick days.

It's a routine, it's a way of life -- but it's not mine. In fact, my freelance life (and lack of a steady paycheck) is the antithesis of all they know and hold dear.

And so they judge. They mock. They assume that I go on parties and vacations for a living.

The truth is so incredibly different.

Freelancers work -- and they work hard

Like a lot. If you aren't working when you are a freelancer, you aren't getting paid. It can make us a little crazy -- I once hosted a Twitter party from the ICU two days after waking up from being unconscious for three days. In our world, we're constantly toeing the frightening line between being relevant and simply not. We need to be present, we need to be responsible and efficient and we need to be on our game -- because there's plenty of other people willing to take our place.

And our place involves long hours. No, we may not be sitting in an office, but on an average day, none of us are working eight hours -- it's more like 10-12. And that doesn't even factor in the events we go to on a nightly basis, events that are work, and don't believe otherwise for a moment.

However, we DO make our own hours

The traditional office atmosphere demands a certain degree of attention to a clock. You need to be there during certain hours, and traditional Monday-Friday rules usually apply. In today's business model, most people remain a slave to their email long after office hours, but for the most part, this model stands true. My world isn't like that -- I may be working a crazy amount of hours in a day, but I've removed the necessity to commute, to be drawn into office politics or even necessarily shower. (It's true, I'm sorry to remove the glitter from that smoke screen!)

Our income is somewhat of a glass half-full/half-empty concept

Nothing says attention to fiscal responsibility like not knowing when your next check is coming.

As I said, we don't have a steady paycheck to count on. One of the most frustrating aspects of working for oneself is that the big project doesn't necessarily result in an instant cash flow. I'm buried in projects this month -- but yet, I may not see money from any of it for a month or two. Sometimes, longer. Often, we have to chase down checks and payment and as a creative, it's really hard to put your head in that business space. Just as much time is spent emailing and pitching and invoicing and doing the administrative thing that sometimes you feel like an office grunt, even as you are working from your bed in fuzzy pink pajamas.

Our work comes with us -- wherever we go.

Recently, I wrote a true confessions sort of story for xoJane providing an insiders look at the life of a travel writer. I was speaking about the bittersweet experiences of being single and traveling to so-called romantic spots to write about them as ideal locations for lovers -- when I myself lacked such. I was greeted by a storm of reader comments telling me how incredibly ungrateful and lucky I am.

Obviously, I love to get to see the world and get paid for it, but it's not a vacation by any means. Some of us go on multiple international press trips monthly, and they involve very long hours with very little sleep and constant attention to deadlines from other clients. The life of a freelance writer -- maybe even especially one who juggles travel -- is like finals week at college. Every week. For the rest of your career.

The endless stop and start

You know how with online dating, you have tons of great chats and hopeful first dates, and then nothing? Welcome to the freelance lifestyle. We're often working on many projects at once, and always have our eye forward to the new thing. And, inevitably, we'll be offered that new thing. And be super excited about it, and for whatever reason, it'll fall through. It's important to learn to not count those chickens before they hatch in this biz, or you can be very frustrated very quickly.

The schedule that isn't

Whether it's New York Fashion Week, holiday previews or a busy travel season, what Monday looks like one week is not what Monday looks like the following week. It can sometimes be hard to make a commitment and stick to it. I'd love to say I have a regular Wednesday night yoga class I won't miss -- but I miss it half the time. Things come up, and sometimes that results in a lot of last-minute cancellations.

The job that no one understands

And alas, we come to the point of this entire post. The neighbors who see me home all day receiving packages and leaving in little black dresses at night -- they surely believe I'm a high-class escort. My friends and family who (nudge, nudge) wonder when I'm going to settle down into a real job with "stability." The friends who assume that if they have a day off from work I'm free because... I don't work. It's everywhere, it's always. These misunderstandings can cause a kind of tension because you really, truly, desperately want the people who you love to believe in you and support your work, and they never truly will -- just because they can't appreciate or understand it.

But let's break it down. Our jobs -- whether we are artists or writers or musicians -- are real jobs. They are just as real as anyone else's. As far as I'm concerned, a real job is any path with real responsibilities and commitments that can potentially make you real money. Our job is a vocation, it's one where we don't get micromanaged, we make our own decisions, and we'll never be at the mercy of layoffs or downsizing ever again.

Personally, I'm really excited to be doing my part to make the world a better place -- one semicolon at a time.