The whole concept of becoming a freelancer (whether in the field of writing, or software development, or graphic design) is appealing because of its broad, almost limitless, scope. Just this week, all in the same day, I have penned: the story of an illiterate Bangladeshi woman, educated by a global not-for-profit, who went on to become a doctor; tips for successful search engine marketing; and a paper on combatting corrosion in industrial dryers.
If variety is the spice of life, then my working week is a veritable Vindaloo.
So often though, it is difficult to know whether to pitch yourself as a generalist writer, or a specialist writer. Do you become an expert in one particular subject, making yourself completely and utterly indispensible within that industry? Or, do you spread yourself across multiple niches? Make yourself indispensable on multiple topics, for multiple clients? Make yourself the ‘go to girl’ for industrial processing for one client, and the font of knowledge on all things marketing for another?
Nearly 3,000 years ago, Archilochus (a famous Greek poet) wrote:
The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
So, do you market yourself as a fox or a hedgehog?
It seems that there is some pressure, some expectation, from the great, almighty ‘they’ that freelancers specialize in a chosen field. That they opt for a more hedgehog-like approach. Oftentimes, there are more opportunities, and more work, for specialist subject matter experts.
But what if, like me, you don’t want to specialize? What if your ideal speciality is simply words? Words on any topic, for any client. What if you delight in making words dance across the page, regardless of whether you’re telling a story, marketing a product, or explaining a technical concept?
For me, that’s where freelancing has been the answer. Freelancing offers a limitless environment in which to spread one’s metaphorical wings.
For me, being indentured to a single employer had limiting aspects. There was no variety and, more often than not, little chance for creativity.
And, luckily for me and all the other generalists out there, according to Forbes, generalists are most likely to rule the future. Our pending power comes not only from our innate ability to adapt to new situations, tasks and job descriptions, but from a culture in which it is becoming increasingly valueable to know a little about a lot. Forbes reckons that our generalist tendencies will help us survive in constantly changing workplaces, and working environments. Simply put, generalists are better at navigating uncertainty.
With the landslide of online content only multiplying, we are now a society that is data rich and meaning poor. There is so much content, data, and knowledge available. But, just how valuable is that content without any context? Without content, it is impossible to clarify meaning, to truly understand an entire situation. The people best poised to provide this context: generalists. Generalists who understand the fields left and right, even above and beyond, their own. Generalists who are able to grasp the bigger picture, join the dots, and weave intersecting ideas into a broader fabric of understanding.
All good news for the generalist freelancer. But, there is one incy, wincy drawback when it comes to freelancing, and being a generalist. You have to come to grips with uncertainty. Fast.
You have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Unlike the relative security of being indentured to a single employer (where you punch in and out Monday to Friday and collect the same salary at the end of every week), as a freelancer you are solely responsible for generating an income: your income. And sometimes, income generation isn’t a walk in the park. Some weeks I have been so busy that I have seriously considered whether sleep was actually an option.
Other weeks, I’ve waited anxiously for the ‘ping’ of a client email in my inbox, or the shrill of my mobile. And you know what, it always happens. The emails pop up and the phone rings. One gig leads to another gig. There is no prefect cycle, but there never really seems to be too much of a gap between projects.
But it is the in-between, the limbo of nothingness, and the uncomfortableness that it brings, that freelancers (whether generalist or specialist) have to learn to accept.