Square pegs don’t fit in round holes

Many of us reach a point in our freelance careers when we seriously consider going back into permanent work.  It happens to the majority of us who earn a living by swopping time and expertise for money. I have spoken to many of you who really struggling to maintain a consistent freelance career and see a permanent job working for someone else as the alternative.

And you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it either. There are times in our lives when you simply have to have to focus on a regular income, and although I will always extol the virtues of the independent life, the one thing I can’t guarantee is continuous work.

This happened to me, just over a year ago.  I found myself in a position where I had to get a regular client.  I had been through a ‘dry’ period with very little work on the horizon and things were proving tough for the family. I needed the space to deal with that rather than looking for new business all the time.

A cautionary tale

And so I took on a fixed term contract with a large organisation that I would have been desperate to work for a decade earlier.  I was in denial for at least the first 3 months, trying to fit in the everyday stuff that used to be part of the mix in my days as a freelancer.  I should have seen the signs. Like, the initial frustration that it was a week before I was able to do any work at all whilst forms were filled and equipment delivered and learnt. I was back in an office, doing the dreadful London commute, and trying to get my head around the minutiae that seemed to obsess people in the office, but didn’t seem to be at all important to me.

But. On the plus side, I remember the satisfaction of getting that payslip that said there was money coming into my bank account. I remember being able to pay for a new suit, which would have been a luxury some months before. There was rarely money for luxuries.

But within three months of starting, I also remember the intense feeling that I had to rebel. That I had to fight back and show these people around me that there was another life to be had.  That it shouldn’t be necessary to have to put up with this mediocrity and angst over pointless activity. I rapidly grew tired of pretending all the time.  Trying to mold myself to fit in – not because I wanted to, but because unless I did, I couldn’t do the job.  I completely underestimated the power of the organisation to force you to conform.

I sometimes left at the end of the day fighting back the tears, wondering why I couldn’t be the person that they wanted me to be, or the person I aspired to be.  This blog frequently saved my bacon.  It became an outlet for my frustration and a way to remind myself what I should be doing and why I should be braver.  I was able to write through my frustration and turn it into something positive – something that meant that I was making my mark and staying the right side of sane.

Why you don’t have to fit in

Trying to fit in, when your values and aspirations are different is not good for your health, either physically or mentally.  Particularly mentally.  It will leave you feeling demoralised, lacking in confidence and undervalued. Just because you don’t feel part of the crowd, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you.

Great organisations recognise our differences and adjust to accommodate and embrace those differences.  But many don’t.  If you are in one of those, then the only thing to do is to make it work for you or move – preferably to work for yourself on your terms.

Get help from friends or a coach to look at the real alternatives and work out what your options are. It may be that there is an alternative right in front of you and that with some support; you can make freelancing work for you.

Was there a happy ending?

Well, we aren’t quite there yet, but because I’ve been on this journey, I can completely empathise with that feeling of being a square peg in a round hole. How it isn’t simply a case of knuckling down and getting on with the job of having a job.

So I’m in the process of turning that learning into something that will help those of you who find yourselves in the same position.  I passionately believe that we all have a right to shape our own careers and lives.  Stick around, and in a few months, you will be able to take advantage of it yourself!

If you’d like some peer support to help you get through a rocky patch in your freelance career, why not join our Mastermind Group? Find out more on our Events page.





Who is Alex Butler

Hello, I'm Alex Butler and I founded the KindredHQ community and blog back in 2011 after I re-started a freelance career. I LOVE freelancing and I wouldn't swop the freedom, control and joy of working for myself for anything. But I realised how much I missed the company and energy of other people - of having a team around me. So, I got a few people together one day with our laptops, a jar of coffee and some jelly babies and we sat and worked together one afternoon. We've been doing that every week in London, UK since then! I am still 100% freelance and I like to share the everyday highs and lows of being a freelancer here on the blog.

One comment

  1. lesley jefferson Reply →

    Crumbs – that so brought back my experience in the NHS Leadership Centre more than 10 years ago. I was so chuffed to be there – but after 9 months – despite working with some lovely, clever people – I knew I was beat and I had to move on. However – a decade later – the lessons from that time helped me deal with a hefty challenge – nothing is wasted :-). Good luck Alex

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