with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
Every now and then I come across an article that I think is probably important because it makes me mad.
That’s what happened with this article from Fast Company by Anya Kamenetz titled “Why Freelancers Are So Depressed.” The blurb at the top rather ominously proclaims, “It’s not just February. The work-home blur, social isolation, money woes, and heightened personal risk all mean being a freelancer can be dangerous for your mental health.”
But I saw a lot of fellow freelancers linking to this article, so I figured it must be worth a read, even though I kind of hated it before I even read it. In my personal experience—and yes, I know, the plural of anecdote is not data—most freelancers I know are far less depressed than those working in conventional office jobs. In fact, the most common reason people cite for entering freelancing is that they were unhappy with the lack of control inherent in working for someone else.
So let’s talk about this supposed depression.
Kamenetz cites five reasons freelancers may be more depressed than their conventionally-employed counterparts.
1) Who’s the boss? She cites two studies comparing the two groups; one study found freelancing women to be less healthy than their office-dwelling counterparts, the other found no difference. I would not call this strong evidence either for or against being your own boss affecting your health and happiness.
2) The work/home blur. The one and only study cited in this section concluded that the number of hours worked doesn’t cause negative effects. But she goes on to say that leaving your work “at work” is hard when you work at home. And…?
3) Money problems. The author notes that “Polls show a strong negative relationship between lower and fluctuating income and mental health even when other factors are controlled for.” While the poll she links to does seem to bear out that assertion, but more research suggests that money only buys happiness to a point, and after a certain income level (probably less than you’d think; only about $75k annually), more money lends diminishing returns when it comes to overall happiness. All of that aside, anyone who’s able to sustain a career in freelancing for any length of time is good with their money and figures out how to make a decent living—it’s necessity. The people who are poor money managers do not last in freelancing, or (one assumes) would be equally broke and unhappy in conventional jobs.
4) Social isolation. Humans are social creatures and connections with others are necessary for most of us to maintain good mental health. Kamenetz says, “Freelancers are in danger of having less sustaining human contact.” The argument that working in an office means “at least you have to shower and talk to people” is obviously written by someone who hasn’t worked in many offices. I had plenty of coworkers who didn’t shower regularly and/or didn’t socialize. In this age of Twitter and Facebook and everything else, I think the morbid fantasy of the unshowered freelancer hunkered down in a basement office, muttering to himself, is more than over. I “talk” to people all day via computer, and so do most of the freelancers I know. Plus we do things like shower and get dressed just because, or to run our kids around town or go to the store for milk. Freelancers! They’re just like you!! We don’t live in caves.
5) Higher risk. Yes, freelancing used to be considered much higher risk than a conventional job. With the way the economy’s been over the last few years and the layoffs that plague nearly every industry, I’m not sure I agree that this is a higher-risk path, anymore. In fact, during the worst of the recession, I was extremely grateful that my own experience of “layoffs” wasn’t too damaging, because losing a few gigs when I had a dozen clients meant I still had work. You work in an office and get laid off, that’s it. The diversity of the average freelancer’s workload actually renders it lower risk than having a single income stream.
In short, I already thought this article was a great stretch even before I did a quick Google search on “freelancers happier” and immediately hit upon this article which basically contradicts everything Kamenetz is trying to say about how awful us freelancers have it. At the end of the day, of course, some people grapple with depression despite any external factors, and of course some freelancers are depressed. Some may even be depressed because they are ill-suited to freelancing. But “Why Freelancers Are So Depressed” as an article hook? That’s reaching.
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