The Transition

The most important benefit of transitioning from freelancing to consulting is finding meaning in what you do

Young doctors from Western Europe assemble on a warm July evening in a southerly wine region. They’ve traveled half the country to see one another again. They’re pleased, eager to catch up, and receptive to whatever news one another might bring.

One is an anesthesiology resident with a polymath’s temperament. He remarks, “I’d like to try freelancing. Not become a freelancer, but just try it on the weekends or something. To see what it’s like”.

To which his fellow new anesthesiologist responds, “but doesn’t it seem pointless? In medicine there is purpose. But what meaning is there in freelancing?”

The second man may once have considered some form of freelancing, after employment as a medical advisor in the industry that has created more freelancers than any other: software.

The garden is mostly manicured green lawns and sits between a family home and a vineyard. Later the doctors will camp there but meanwhile, there is ample time to contemplate the meaning of life.

The others generally agreed that the insurmountable problem with freelancing is that it would feel meaningless, citing examples of dissatisfaction from among friends and acquaintances. One second-hand friend in PR felt stuck in the mud; her life lacked meaning.

I get this – freelancing without making the transition to indie consulting is a hellish livelihood.

*    *    *

As you can see from the conversation, the term freelancing has become shorthand for a very particular set of creative and technical B2B services delivered remotely via a laptop. These are mostly:

  • design, of many sorts 
  • copywriting
  • content writing/editing
  • software coding
  • marketing/PR

You and I know that the list goes on to include specialized PM work, platform specialization, DevOps, data management, and many more. But for the general public, freelancing is more like what “the freelancer” character from a TV show does.

I’m assuming, for example, the young physician meant that he wanted to try doing what the proverbial freelancer does, such as design, rather than freelancing as a doctor.

But freelancing actually means providing any relatively high-value services, specific outcomes, or other deliverables in response to requests from clients. Sometimes, done right, this ends up being a viable livelihood. And sometimes, done right, it confers location-independence.

But these young docs have a valid question. What’s the point of merely responding to other people’s efforts to make more money?

*    *    *

Here’s the thing: it is ultimately pointless to do anything but farm, build housing, and otherwise secure one’s physical health and safety..

… if you are stuck at the lowest rungs of human experience.

In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we first need food, water, shelter, warmth, rest, security, and safety. If we don’t get them, everything else is pointless.

[enabler images to see the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs triangle]

From that perspective, Maslow’s higher rungs of self-fulfillment are a fool’s errand. 

But what if most of the Western world already has the basics needs and craves more – craves feelings of accomplishment, achieving one’s potential, creative expression? And craves not passion, but finding a way to consistently enter a flow state through work?

Then they usually create some kind of business that helps get them down that path. (Alternative: find a patron – government, church, or university). People who start independent businesses, from dry cleaners to machine learning startups, are creative problem solvers because that gives them meaning in the Maslow-ian sense.

Part of the business development job of an indie consultant is finding people who crave that higher level of self-fulfillment through their business ventures. If your expertise is relevant and you can accurately diagnose their problems, ghen you can climb Maslow’s pyramid with them as a guide. 

Freelancing is only relevant (and it is very relevant) because it lets you hone the skills you must have to become that guide.

My best,