If you have any sort of non-traditional work arrangement—remote worker, freelancer, entrepreneur—you know how difficult it can be for people to really get what your working situation is like.
Whether it’s a matter of jealousy or simple ignorance of anything outside the traditional 9-5, people have a tendency to view non-traditional workers as the lucky elite—those who spend their days luxuriating around their houses, doing a little work when they feel like it but generally basking in infinite freedom.
If only it were like that!
While working from home or for yourself does have its perks, work is still work. And in some ways, non-traditional work can actually be a lot harder than your standard clock-punching office job. So before you put your foot in your mouth in front of your work-from-home friend or relative, here’s a quick rundown of things I can guarantee they will not appreciate hearing:
1. “Enjoy your day off!”
I get this one regularly because I work part-time at a standard office job and have two days a week free to pursue my freelancing. I’ve learned to bite my tongue from responding, “You mean, enjoy my second job?” because that makes it sound like freelancing is something I don’t enjoy, and I love it.
But it can be frustrating to realize my coworkers think I’m spending two days a week watching daytime TV while they continue to toil away at the office. I actually work harder when I’m at home, since the office has an ebb and flow of projects but I plug away pretty ceaselessly on my freelancing.
While I certainly enjoy my freelance work more than my day job, that doesn’t always make it fun or easy. And it can sting to think that my office mates imagine I’m just taking it easy when I’m not there.
2. “Why can’t you [meet for lunch/run this errand/bake a million cupcakes for the bake sale]? You’ve got the whole day off!”
Just because freelancers and entrepreneurs have more control over their hours, that doesn’t mean they have tons of free time to burn. It’s taken months for my husband to realize that bad things will happen if he tries to play the “But I’ve been working all day!” card when I tell him I don’t have time to do whatever errand he wants on one of my freelance days.
It’s true that it’s easier for me to book doctors’ appointments with my freelance days open, and it’s true that I get to drink my coffee while watching Live! With Kelly and Michael as my office mates are sitting down to their desks for the day. But I still have a long list of projects to get to, and I need to be as disciplined as I can with my time to get them all done, and done well.
3. “I wish I didn’t have to work for anyone!”
While we do have more say over how we prioritize and accomplish our work, the fact is that we still report to other people.
Freelancers have to stick to their clients’ deadlines. Remote workers need to get their company’s projects done as instructed. Even totally self-employed business owners still need to meet quarterly projections, make employee paydays and serve their customers’ needs.
Unless you’ve got a grant to work on your semi-autobiographical play for a year, you still have to meet other people’s expectations and deadlines. You’ve got more freedom as to how you do that, but you’re not reporting to nobody.
4. “Must be nice to [sleep in/work in your pajamas/do whatever you want]!”
If you think non-traditional workers live lives of posh and infinite freedom, you are mistaken. We are not the Real Housewives of Wherever-We-Live. We have visions of sleeping in and being able to go window shopping in the middle of the afternoon, just like you do.
Sometimes, we are able to do that. But those are special treats we allow ourselves. Because most of us got to where we are through a heck of a lot of hustle and discipline, and we need continued hustle and discipline to maintain our footing.
We wake up early and go to bed late. We work on the weekends and evenings. We spend whole days in front of the computer, realizing with a start at 5:00 p.m. that it’s time to make dinner and we haven’t yet showered or eaten lunch (or breakfast).
Yes, working in your pajamas does give you a certain feeling of power and autonomy (and getting away with something kinda cool), but it’s still work.
5. “I’d kill to be able to do what you’re doing!”
It can be difficult to take this one as what it ought to be (a compliment to how hard we’ve worked to get this lifestyle) rather than what it normally is (a statement that we’re lucky bastards who are getting away with something totally unfair).
In this day and age, there are so many ways you can go about attaining a non-traditional work situation. The Internet has removed the “gatekeepers,” and anyone can learn to market and establish themselves in whatever field they excel in.
Granted, maybe you have circumstances that make this difficult for you right now—you’re in too much debt, you have other obligations to look after first—or maybe you’re just more comfortable with the structure and security of a traditional job. But if you’d honestly be happy to do physical harm to someone to live a work-from-home lifestyle, you can find a way to do it. You will, in fact, because people with that kind of drive can’t help it.
6. “Your house must be so clean!”
If only, my friend. If only.
While we’re able to run a load of laundry while we’re working, if all we did was play housekeeper all day long, our income would dry up faster than you can say “Swiffer.”
Work-life balance is an issue for us, too. It’s actually harder, because when you work where you live, there’s nothing to tangibly divide home from the office. Self-starters are ambitious and compulsively driven, so having 24/7 access to their offices only means they’re working that much more.
7. “So, what exactly do you do all day?”
Well, let’s see. We’re business owners, marketing reps, accounting departments, customer service associates, administrative managers… plus all that work of actually providing our products and services to our clients.
What do you do all day?
Kelly Gurnett is Assistant Editor of Brazen Life and runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook and hire her services as a blogger extraordinaire here.