Life In Freelance Prison: How I Survived


I’ve been there. I can recall vividly now. It was 2009, the year I met my loneliest self.

I just left a circle of friends and fellow designers for what looked like a greener pasture.

I was finally going to own a design business. The little man in me cried for joy and for days, I couldn’t hide my excitement. “Oh wait!” I said to myself, “I’m going to be my own boss!”. Nothing felt better.

To get my new adventure started, I quickly enrolled into Orange Academy (A creative school in Lagos for newcomers in the advertising business)—where I took a course on Integrated Brand Experience.

Heaven knows I needed that experience. So I immersed myself like one who is being baptized. I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned; I would even kick stones and watch them rolling.

“Now let’s get the ball rolling”, I said. I had all the time in world, I could choose to do things when I wanted. No creative director was spying on me or trying to get me to meet some endless deadlines. It was fun all the way. I was free; free at last!

Now I wish someone had pinched me back to reality. Never knew I pulled a fast one on myself when I said “free at last”. But while basking in the euphoria that freedom availed me, I noticed certain changes happening around me and, within me. I suddenly became a loner who hardly go out — no partying, no networking meetings, no movies, no hanging out with friends, no, no, no bullshit!

As far as I was concerned, it was all bullshit and I wasn’t ready to engage in such trivial stuff. I’ve got bills to pay, this wasn’t the time for some trifling hook ups.

As a result, interractions with people became awkward. It got worse when I intentionally began to avoid colleagues within the industry, I spoke only with people who had business interests. Sadly, interests alone couldn’t even make the rent.

I wanted real deals. But I was so into my “thing” I cared less what happened on the other side; and no one dared to say hello from the other side either. I felt all I needed to do was just maintain my damn lane. And I did.

Though I was minding my business, it sucked the hell out of my relationship with people. I suffered for it: I wasn’t getting any better, my knowledge got soured, nothing and no one motivated me, and eventually, I became a redundant treadmill in freelance prison.

No one ever adviced me on collaborative projects, neither was there warning about the psychological effect of working and walking alone.

Perhaps if I were a Liverpool fan, I wouldn’t have as much trouble getting the latter into my thick, little skull. I had to learn the hard way.

So I worked alone and made discoveries that got stale within 24 hours. There was no one with whom I could share my supposedly winning moments. No one to tease, no exchange of bants. It was just me all by myself in a mean world.

As time went by, I managed to employ music. What a great relief that was. I had an awesome Playlist consisting different genres: classical songs, jazz, soft rock, pop, hip-pop, country music, soul etc. And again, I felt like Alice in Wonderland …and I said to myself, what a wonderful world.

I never forgot the shortcut keys that activated the shuffle button — that was probably the most important button besides Play. It kept me from guessing the next song.

This lasted a little while before I returned to my previous lonely life. I exhausted my Playlist umpteen times and grew tired of listening to the songs over again. Isolation crept in, I cringed in my little cubicle.

Graphic Design is one of those career paths you choose alone (with little or no family support); but it’s not a path to be walked alone.

Working all by oneself in a closed off room not only is lonely, but denies one the opportunity to learn, share and make friends. And as people often say, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

Every designer needs a support system, as well as genuine appreciation for works done. Every designer respects an expert’s opinion and cherishes a mentor’s approval.

You need to hold someone by the hand to avoid isolation. You need to collaborate on projects with adroitly sound and experienced designers.

And if you are a freelance designer like me who frowns at social climbing games at networking events, then you should learn to do what I did as ritual for two years.

I learned to sit on the shoulders of giants.

Let me explain what it means to sit on the shoulders of giants:

There are many great professionals you need not meet in person to benefit from; If only you could train your eyes to follow their articles and posts, If only you could build a rapport and earn their trust, If only you could contribute to their posts by expressing your views politely, you would surely have no business being an isolated freelancer.

For example, I made an unbelievable discovery a few years back. I found that a whopping 73.5% of my friends on Facebook were creative professionals like photographers, movie directors, animators, screenwriters, copywriters, admen and women etc. All in my contact! Interestingly, I’d not met 80% of these creative guys in person; but I had developed some level of trust and bond with them online.

About 50% of these creative acquaintances shared great content relating to their various fields every hour. Now just imagine the amount of resources I came across each passing day! Sometimes, I even thought I would suffer from information overload.

I gained deep insights through daily interactions with these people online. I benefited from their wealth of experiences and my confidence soared. At some point, we were even having conference chats online — that drove the final nail to the coffin, isolation was banished from existence.

That’s precisely what it means to sit on the shoulders of giants. There you can see farther, peep into brains and scrounge as many ideas as possible. You will never feel lonely in your work place anymore.

Does engaging a social circle of likeminds online stop you from forging a cordial relationship offline? The answer is No.

By all means, go out. Attend book launches, trade fairs, musical concerts and of course, go see that new movie. Cherish offline relationships as much as you do online. After all, you are human.

Find this interesting? Share

1 thought on “Life In Freelance Prison: How I Survived”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *