A Freelancer of a Certain Age

Freelancing is traditionally a young person’s game. It takes a certain amount of bravado and a devil-may-care attitude to throw caution to the wind and strike out on your own as a freelancer. No steady paychecks, clients that may come and go (if you have any clients at all), and your success is entirely dependent on your own personal marketing prowess. That’s difficult to do when you’re near retirement age, and you’ve spent your whole working life in the traditional employee/manager environment.

That is precisely the cliff I dove off of head-first last year. At the age of 55, I quit my VP of Marketing job that I worked my ass off to get and had planned to be there until retirement to freelance full-time as a brand and content marketing strategist. I had been freelancing as a marketing content writer part-time for 8 years and was planning to do so until I retired. Then, freelancing would become my supplemental retirement income job. However, I had no intention of ever starting a small business or fully supporting myself by freelancing.

But life happens, as they say.

I had my “dream job,” the job I had always wanted, and had worked 60 hours a week for years to achieve. It was a great job, and I loved the work. I loved the mission of the organization I worked with. But, there were things I didn’t like about it, namely the endless meetings and the office politics. So, I started wondering, “Is this it? Is this what I worked so hard for? Is it making me happy?” I’ve heard from other women my age and in senior positions that they feel the same way. We work so hard to shatter that glass ceiling that we don’t look hard enough at exactly what we are working for.

I probably would have said, “It’s good enough,” had there not been a leadership change at my job. The new CEO was impossible to work with, and the office politics that I hated so much became even more challenging. I am too old for those reindeer games. I had to leave for my own mental health. But there was no way I wanted to start over at another organization, building tenure and seniority again, not to mention navigating another work culture I had little control over. But what else could I do?

And it wasn’t as hard or scary as I thought it would be, and I am so happy that I did. It’s been exciting and invigorating. I’m typically very risk averse, but I feel free, unencumbered by the bonds of employment. I thought I would feel bogged down by my fears about paying my bills or fear of “being successful.” But, no, I’m really not. Maybe because I have life experience that tells me everything usually works out if I work hard enough and believe in myself. Maybe because I’ve already been “successful” and it wasn’t all that great. Maybe because I have some savings that will keep me afloat for at least a little while. And maybe because I’ve overcome many other scary obstacles in my life, all lead me to feel okay about this risk. If I were younger, I don’t think I would have taken it.

It’s been fun

Which is weird for me to say. Work has never really been fun for me before! But it’s so much fun to have the freedom to say, today, I’m going to write about DEI, and tomorrow I will plan a marketing strategy for a SaaS company. I get to work with clients doing work I am interested in. It’s fun to research topics to write content for clients and to help them discover their brand. Collaborating with other freelancers and small agencies on projects has been fun. I’ve loved being creative again.

And not at all lonely

I’ve found a very supportive and inclusive freelancing community via LinkedIn and online organizations. Most of my fellow freelancers or agency owners are younger than me but are scary knowledgeable about digital marketing and marketing tech. They’ve been incredibly helpful in thinking through some of the decisions I needed to make regarding my business and generous in sharing referrals. My age or gender has not been a factor in our interactions, which I find refreshing. I can’t say that has been my experience in my previous corporate and non-profit positions.

My experience (cough…age) is my strength

My clients love my work and appreciate the expertise I bring to the table. Where many freelancers have only done client freelancing work, I bring a wealth of other work expertise to the table, including corporate event marketing, non-profit branding, and small business communications. My more than twenty years of work and life experience offer a well-rounded point of view and the ability to bring elevated quality that others may not yet have. And I’ve learned how important consistency and reliability is to this work, especially when dealing with brand issues. There is no room for second guessing or backpedaling when you are building and elevating a brand.

I am here to say that freelancing is no longer just for the younger generation. People of a certain age can bring their life and work experience to the work and deliver a higher level of value to their clients. And I think this place in my life is conducive to taking a risk, doing something fun, and just going for it. So, have you had a full life but are wondering what is next? Are you considering taking a risk and trying something new? I highly recommend it. I am proud to say that I am a freelancer of a certain age and love every minute of it.

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