There and back again: A freelancer’s tale by Chris Kerr

Writer’s note: I’m aware that the start of this piece sounds a lot like me bragging. Despite what it may lead you to think, I’m not quite that egotistical. I promise. 

As some of you may or may not be aware, I recently quit a stable job, leaving behind the luxuries of a gorgeous office, complete with it’s own Starbucks, and a healthy wage packet – at least for a 22 year old – in an bid to re-enter the muddy waters of freelance games journalism. 

Why? Why did I abandon financial security, a fancy job title – technology content editor, if you’re asking – holiday pay, and a pension scheme to become a sell-sword of the writing world?

It’s a quandary I wrangled with before I quit, and it’s a question I’m still not certain I know the answer to. But, despite the fact that even I don’t quite know why I left, it’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while. So, here goes.

In the beginning…

To understand my illogical decision, we’ll need to rewind the clock back to when I was first trying my hand at this writing malarkey. After leaving Pocket Gamer in November 2014, I set out to become the best goddamn freelancer in the world, or at least Preston – a goal I felt was within my reach given the city’s, ahem, measured gaming scene. What followed were three months of optimism, dismay, rejections, and, would you believe it, even the odd successful pitch. I know, right? I’m as surprised as you are.

I was making enough money to get by, but I wasn’t making enough to thrive. I’d been out of University for less than a year and I felt like I was slowly falling behind my peers. When would I be able to move out? Would I ever be able to make a living writing about video games? The more I stuck at it, the more I realised the answer was probably going to be no. No, Chris, you wide-eyed buffoon. Doing what you love and making a living aren’t two sides of the same coin. That’s not how life works.

I wasn’t in a healthy place, and I even started turning work down because it would’ve cost me more to write those articles than I was actually being paid. Yes, I was being offered writing gigs that, if accepted, would’ve seen me lose money. How very, very ludicrous.

Now, I won’t name names, but, as anyone who has written, or is writing as a freelancer will know, it’s not a job that’s going to make you rich. It’s not even a job that’s going to make you even slightly wealthy.

What is was though, for better or worse, was a job I loved, which only made it harder to accept defeat and leave it behind. 

Expectations vs. Reality

I moved on to enter the world of full-time employment. I’d been offered the role of technology content editor at a company looking to reinvent its technology blog. On paper, it seemed like the perfect way for me to earn a healthy living while keeping my hand firmly in the journalism game. I wouldn’t be writing about video games anymore, but I’d be honing my skills in a healthy working environment, alongside a talented, friendly team – who really were brilliant, each and every one of them – with a view to one day re-entering games journalism with more experience under my belt.

Exceptions, of course, rarely align with reality, and after only a couple of months in my new role I found myself unhappier than I’d been in a long, long time. My despondency was a product of a number of things, some related to work itself, and some related to my perception of what work should actually be.

Expectations Reality

Now, I didn’t write this post to badmouth any company, so I’ll steer clear of the finer details of my job. Those aren’t important. See, after a lot of introspection I’ve come to realise that my unhappiness stemmed from a lack of purpose. My writing opportunities were limited, and my career began to veer in a direction I hadn’t envisaged. I realised that, somehow, I’d become what I feared most: a person engulfed by the rat race, slowly suffocating under the weight of my own futility.

I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to make people laugh. To help them think, feel, and question. I wanted to make my mark, and to leave an impression on my readers. I’m not deluded. I know I’m not the next Tolkien or Orwell, but at least before I was doing something for the right reasons: for my reasons. Yes. Freelancing wasn’t always a barrel of laughs, but even on the bad days I could take solace in the fact that I was doing my best to forge a career I could be proud of.

So, I quit. As quick as I’d arrived, I was gone. I traded in stability for uncertainty, money for financial woe, and discontentment for glimmers of a future.

Full circle

Now, perspective is important. I’m absolutely certain that quitting freelancing in the first place was the right thing to do. If I didn’t get the full-time job, and work through those two miserable months, I wouldn’t have the confidence I do now. Not confidence in my own ability, mind, but confidence that, right now, I need to try and make it work.

It’s a cliché, because a steady income is something we all need, but honestly, happiness is more important than money. It’s more important than being able to afford a new Macbook, or that Ikea desk you’ve been pining after. A day might come when I need to finally lay my dreams to rest, but right now I can afford to be earning a little less. I can afford to make cutbacks if it means I’m doing something I’m passionate about – if it means I’m giving myself the chance to succeed on my own terms.

So, what’s the point of this story? The moral of my modern-day fable? Don’t ever convince yourself that you can’t do something, and, more importantly, don’t ever convince yourself that it’s not worth trying.

Attempting to make a change and failing? Well, that’s better than never making the leap. When I look back on my life in 20 years time, I need to be able to say that I gave it my best shot. Whether I’m doing that as a freelance journalist, or as something else, isn’t really the point.

We have enough regrets in life, and I’m determined to make sure my own inaction isn’t one of them.

[image credit: St. Petersburg by Dima Bushkov]

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