This question no longer features in the conversation Jovian Koh would typically have on a Monday morning. This is one thing she’s learnt since turning freelance one and a half years ago. But then again, there are also no colleagues or office to speak of.
Today, she wears an impressive array of hats: Life Coach, Corporate Trainer, Executive, Mentor Coach and Translator. Yes, she even does translation.
Before turning freelance back in August 2014, Jovian was an Assistant Director in a global outfit. Deliberating over what to have for lunch was then a regular affair.
Over tea, she shared with me that her original plan was to be a Life Coach. She was keen to impact people and imbue positivity in the way they approached life – a passion developed from her HR-related roles in previous jobs. For her, becoming a freelancer felt like a natural step towards pursuing this passion. So, were there any challenges for her?
Firstly, the real world came knocking pretty early on. As a new Life Coach, she expected business to be slow and her rates low. It turned out to be a wee bit slower and lower than she had expected. She had to adapt quickly and started taking on assignments as a trainer, expanded her services to include executive coaching among other things. Her initial fears that these options would distract her from deepening her skills as a Life Coach proved unfounded. Besides paying the bills, these engagements gradually expanded her network and more people got to know of what she could offer.
Yet I wondered if through it all, Jovian had secretly wished she had stayed on in her secure job with a stable income? As I pressed this point, she asserted that the security others have over their jobs may be misplaced. After all, companies go through restructuring, products can become obsolete, and those who cannot adapt or acquire new skills may lose their jobs.
Secondly, making lifestyle adjustments wasn’t easy. With earnings initially uncertain, it was tough explaining to friends why she was unable to indulge in good meals or luxury items. Many also did not understand why she could not commit to making a date. Wasn’t it true that freelancers enjoy flexibility of schedule? In Jovian’s case, she did find time to catch up with friends and though the fares are now simpler, “our conversations went deeper”. Be it work or lifestyle adjustments, she pressed on once her mind was made up. It helped when she got round to networking more and meeting with like-minded freelancers. It made things less ‘lonely’. “You must respect your own selection before others can do the same. I did not opt to live with less. I chose empowerment and an abundant life,” she shared.
Learning how to be alone beats feeling sorry for oneself. For Jovian, it was eating alone that got to her. Gradually, you learn how to schedule your appointments ahead of time. An estimate put our local freelancer numbers around 200,000 and growing. Now, that’s safety in numbers if you ever needed one.
Thirdly, there can be security for freelancers too. Supporting each other, freelancers often share tips, exchange business opportunities and even co-manage projects with one another. Jovian also elaborated on how she reads up on her profession, attends courses and workshops. When you pay your own way through a course, you will make a well-researched choice, listen attentively and participate actively. With SkillsFuture, professional development options can be more affordable for freelancers. As for retirement planning and insurance protection, Corporate Trainers I spoke with shared that they spend prudently, preferring to invest in insurance, save actively for a rainy day and plan ahead.
Finally, has it been the right decision for Jovian?
Jovian shares that to her, it is about breaking through barriers she never thought she could overcome in the past. She also drew strength from freelancers who came forth unselfishly to collaborate. There was no shortage of folks who were simply amazing in their generosity. Of course she had her fair share of failed partnerships. Just as there is no ideal boss or colleague, she found herself constantly evolving with her product offering, her service options and getting over the fear of taking risks. In short, she had no cliché answer to my question.
Come tomorrow morning, as our regular office kakis make lunch plans, I will think about how freelancers like Jovian, will have lunch options that take her to new places, with hitherto unexplored options and new opportunities.
Ang Hin Kee
This is a post by National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Assistant Secretary-General Ang Hin Kee. Any extracts should be attributed back to the author. 25 January 2016.