Freelancing doesn’t equal free time.

Japan’s traditional work style involves a lot of wasted time. Meetings about nothing and conferences for “asking everyone’s opinion,” but really just filled with awkward silence as no one wants to speak up and tell the boss his latest idea is half-baked and unrealistic. Working overtime not to wrap up an urgent assignment, but just to look busy because it’d be considered bad form to leave before your coworkers who didn’t work as hard as you did from 9 to 5. Oh, and don’t forget the after-hours company drinking sessions, which are supposed to foster friendship and communication, but end up as griping/bragging sessions for drunk managers who want a captive audience of subordinates.

So it’s not surprising that rather than put up with all that, a lot of people think they’d rather work freelance instead. You get to set your own hours, and being able to focus on doing your own work instead of schmoozing with coworkers you don’t like or stroking your boss’ ego frees up tons of time for you to spend on your non-work related interests too after you’ve done what needs to be done for the day.

Well, that’s the ideal, anyway. But the reality of a freelance life doesn’t always work out that way, and here’s a great visual explanation from freelance designer and Japanese Twitter user Tanago (@1_design).

The top line shows what Tanago (whose design website can be found here) says is the ideal many people have in their minds of a freelance professional’s monthly schedule. The green, purple, blue, and orange blocks are all different projects, started and finished in a smooth, orderly sequence. In between there are yellow blocks for personal hobbies, self-study pursuits, and clerical necessities like email and accounting. Also of note: those white sections, which are days off.

Jump down to the bottom line, though, and that’s where Tanago says you’ll see the reality of a freelancer’s month. Notice how projects don’t come one at a time, and often the same one comes back again later down the timeline, as clients ask for revisions and demand changes after the initial submission. There’s now only one white block, and its description has changed from “day off” to “empty void.” And those new, and numerous, red blocks? They’re marked “death,” a metaphor for physical and mental exhaustion.

Anyone who’s actually tried earning a living as a freelancer is probably nodding their head with some level of vigor. There’s often a feast-or-famine phenomenon to freelance project offers, so it’s hard to turn one down, since there’s no guarantee of when the next will come in. Being a freelancer means being your own boss, and while that sounds great in principle, it also means that wherever you go or whatever you’re doing, your boss is always around, and really, he or she would probably rather you were working than relaxing.

▼ Ideal: “Being freelance means you can even work at the beach!”
Reality: “Being freelance means even at the beach, you feel like you should be working!”

And since being a freelancer means you’re on your own, there’s no one to share the workload with when it gets especially heavy.

Other Twitter users also reacted with somber understanding of the difficulties diagramed in Tanago’s tweet.

“Exactly how I feel. And when you hit those ‘dead’ blocks, you really start to hate yourself.”
“Totally agree. Can’t believe I used to think, ‘So long, wage slaves! I’m going freelance, and from here on out it’s easy street.”
“I totally get how when you’re working freelance, time off starts to feel like an empty void you should be filling up with work.”

That said, there are plenty of people who are full-time freelancers who love it. It does, though, take a certain mindset. Mentally, working freelance often doesn’t feel so much like doing office work free of useless managers as it does being the owner of a shop or restaurant. Any time you close the shop (turn down a freelance project offer) is time you could have been earning money instead, and since you don’t know if or when your next customer is going to show up, there’s a measure of anxiety each and every time you make something other than work a priority.

Having to deal with that balancing act isn’t for everybody, and for some people the drawbacks of freelance work will outweigh the positives. Others may find the best balance by keeping a regular job and freelancing, in a limited capacity, on the side, but the important thing to remember is that freelance work is, inescapably, work.

Related: Twitter/@ 1_design
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2)
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