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It’s okay if you don’t want that six-figure freelance life

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‘How I became a six-figure freelancer’. ‘The reality of being a six-figure freelancer’. And perhaps the worst of all: ‘Here’s exactly what I do every day to earn six figures as a freelancer’.

You’ve probably been in the game long enough to see all these headlines, and they all, always, consistently generate the same result: curiosity, interest, perhaps – let’s admit it – a little bit of envy as well. You too want to be that six-figure freelancer. You too want to aim high and finally find happiness with a more than decent income.

In my case, if I’m honest, that possibility has always had a certain appeal. At least I’ll be able to finally afford a rent in London.

But let me tell you a secret: it’s okay if you don’t want that six-figure freelance life.

If you’ve felt some warmth and relief while reading this, you are in the right place.

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Image credit: Gary Latham

Legends and misconceptions

Most freelancers will know that a six-figure life isn’t as simple as snapping your fingers and receiving a pay check at the end of the month. There is a lot of hard work involved in making such a gargantuan income – often at the expense of something else.

Most freelancers with a “six-figure salary” will convene on one simple fact: to reach that kind of success, you often have to work like a machine. That means sometimes accepting clients you’re not too excited about; it means sometimes working on weekends and long hours, consistently, every day, and under constant pressure to deliver work in time.

The best article I found on the matter is by Carol Tice, in a blog post on Make A Living Writing. Carol eloquently discusses her life as a six-figure freelance writer, describing what money can buy and what it can’t. It certainly isn’t a life for everybody, made of long working hours, very little free time and a lot of pressure – and sometimes, clients you’re not exactly excited about. There seem to be a number of freelance writers out there who are able to work just about 30 hours a week and still pull off the six-figure life – but getting there certainly wasn’t easy. Nor you should stress too much about it.

Sure, you will be able to buy anything that money can buy you. You will have the peace of mind to stop worrying about bills and getting to the end of the month. You can live your life with a bit more financial freedom. But on the downside, you will spend a lot of time working. Your children will grow up, your body will grow old, and you will still be there, sitting at a desk or a coffee shop with your laptop, chasing a dream of wealth that would still not buy the most basic things in life.

Does money buy happiness? It’s complicated

Let’s be honest for a moment here: those who say that money doesn’t buy happiness may be a bit too idealistic. What’s certain is that money can’t buy you more happiness indefinitely.

I’m not exactly a millionaire, so I turned to Google to find out more. Turns out that you don’t even need to go above a certain financial threshold to “be happy” – at least theoretically. Money does buy happiness, or peace of mind to an extent, but there’s not really a discernible difference between those that earn about $75,000 a year and those that earn over $100,000, according to a study reported by Forbes.

It seems that people who earned over $100,000 or even $500,000 per year did not see themselves as any ‘happier’ than those who earned slightly less. $75,000 appears to be a safe threshold for decent standards of living – enabling one to pay their mortgage and bills every month, put some food on the table and cater for basic needs, such as medical insurance and random house expenses.

In the end, those expenses are what truly chips away at our savings. Even if you had a six-figure salary every year, you would still have to account for self-employment taxes, expenses, pension and insurance – meaning, for a salary of around $100,000, you would probably be left with about $60,000-$75,000 in the United States. If you wanted to keep a six-figure income in your account every year, you would probably have to earn around $150,000 and above. With all the implications that we already discussed, and even more pressure on you to deliver.

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Image credit: Tom Guest

But what do I know?

I should be clear about this: I don’t have a six-figure freelance life. Everything I read on the topic was from other freelancers who are either aspiring to do so, or already able to earn that much. I’m not even writing all this out of frustration. Perhaps just a bit of tiredness.

We just lost two years to a global pandemic. As I watch my twenties fly by, I spend increasingly more time working and increasingly less time doing the things that matter to me the most – read some wonderful stories, get lost in the beautiful world of fiction, see the world with my special someone, play through my immense backlog of games. These things may sound trivial to you, something you can easily reschedule for a later time. Believe me, I’ve been doing so for years.

There’s no end to the things we would like to do, but time does slip away from our fingers and our interests don’t seem to shrink any smaller. New films come out, new needs arise, there’s a new house to rent, a family to care for, and responsibilities pile up. It can be overwhelming. And if you commit to a life of 24/7 work just for money, that life is going to run away from you sooner than you think.

Every time I read one of those articles on how to reach a six-figure life, they seem to depict a kind of life I don’t want. A tight and structured life, strict in its schedules, so strongly and closely knit together that you can’t slip once nor make one single mistake. Step out of your carefully planned and structured routine, and everything falls apart.

That doesn’t sound like the best life ever. It sounds like a life full of back-breaking work, a life constantly struggling to balance pains and gains. Arguably, it’s true of any life; but why would you want to work into that, if it’s not made for you?

So, if you wish, trust a young lad who still has to develop an ounce of wisdom: it’s okay if you don’t want that six-figure freelance life. Really. It doesn’t matter.

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Image credit: Satelite Audio

It doesn’t matter – really.

Let one simple fact be clear: this is not a piece to criticise or call out those freelancers who earn over six figures a year. In truth, if that works for them, I’m honestly happy for their achievement and who they managed to become. I hope my work will bring me there someday – but if it means compromising my mental health, I won’t be up for it. In all honesty, I think neither should you.

This piece is simply to tell you that it’s okay. It doesn’t matter.

It really doesn’t matter.

If you’ve been trying to reach six figures for years and you’re still not quite there yet, it’s okay. And if you are not interested in making those six figures, it’s okay all the same. It’s okay if you don’t want that six figures freelance life. It’s okay if you’ve been trying, but you just don’t seem to be able to reach it.

Perhaps your priorities are different. Perhaps your specialisation just doesn’t work for that kind of ambition. You should always, every day, prioritise your mental health first. You can’t complete one extra project because you prefer to spend time with your kids? That’s fine. You’d much rather travel, see the world, buy all the books and films and games that your money can give you? It’s fine. Do whatever makes you happy. Do whatever makes you feel the peace of mind that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Do what makes you feel like yourself. There’s nothing that matters more than that. Nothing is worth your mental health; at least in the humble opinion of this 27-year-old writer.

Certainly not an extra little digit in your bank account every month.

Header image: Gary Latham

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