The Story Economy Blog

Freelancing: Hate the Word, Love the Thing

I’ve been in a serious flirtation with entrepreneurship for the past few years, coyly saying things like, “I want to build something larger than myself.”

I mean, just the word entrepreneur has a seductive quality: with its European etymology, it sounds chic, smart, and fashionably rebellious, conjuring up images of people with vision. People whosee the thing they want to build, long before it’s built. People who see far beyond themselves.

As I sat listening to Seth Godin at his Tribeca event in May, the difference between entrepreneurs and freelancers finally clicked for me. Entrepreneurs want to build a business that ultimately runs without them, whereas freelancers are the business.

Claim whatever you are, Seth advised: don’t say you’re an entrepreneur just because it sounds cool, or you think it’s what you’re supposed to aim for.



The Semantics Problem That Tricked Me

At the end of the day, I’m an entrepreneurial flirt who loves being a freelancer. I don’twant to build something that runs without me. I have a powerful vision for myself, but it doesn’t work without me. I’m now as clear on that as I’m as clear on anything.

The problem is the word. Freelancer. The best thing it has going for it is that it was double agent Sydney Bristow’s CIA code name on Alias (that’s her, about to steal secrets for the CIA and kick a lot of ass in the process).

But, aside from Sydney Bristow, I’ve come to associate “freelancing” with instability, hand-to-mouth living, and taking work as it comes. There’s also something about it that implies it’s less than professional. I’m not exactly sure why, because when I started my career as a¬† “freelance writer,” I claimed freelancing proudly—because it was a statement about being free. I never lived hand-to-mouth. Work was never unstable. And I have always been professional.

So in shucking off the term and rejiggering my business to focus on branding, strategy, and copywriting instead of magazine writing, I thought I also had to build some sort of different business model. But every time I would think about what I would build that was bigger than me, it gave me a stomachache. Even the thought of naming my business something other than my name stressed me out immensely. I’m just not ready, I told myself. I have blocks that are making me afraid. I have to learn to let go and trust other people.

Crap, crap, and total crap. It was never a matter of fear, readiness, or trust. It was a matter of it not being who I am or what I want.I have always known this about myself: I love people, but I don’t want to manage them. I’ll serve them, partner with them, and collaborate with them, but I only want to come home to me.

I let myself get distracted by romantic ideas about what other people are building or have built, instead of relishing my own strength and looking at how to take that to the next level.

So maybe someone needs to coin a better word (Entrelancer?Freepreneur?). Or maybe semantics are sort of beside the point. The real point is this: if you are working for yourself (or thinking of working for yourself), don’t get trapped in the differences of how it sounds to say: “I’m an entrepreneur” versus “I’m a freelancer.”

Make up whatever word or title you want. Just make sure you do the thing that suits who you are.

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