What really matters?
For years I've known that one of my biggest priorities, right behind family and friends, is freedom. But I didn't do much to make any intentional forward movement in that direction. It's time to change that.
If I have freedom, that means everything else is already in place, like variety, health/fitness, creativity, and giving back, or it at least allows me to do all of those other things. And freedom for me starts with having the right type of job and the right options.
I've had a good amount of job experiences over the past decade and a half. I've been a long-term onsite contractor, a cubicle dweller, a full-time employee, unemployed, had a corner office (albeit with no windows), worked in a store, worked from home, worked in an open floor plan with buzzing fluorescent lights, worked in coffee shops...I've done it all. Big companies, small companies, startups and everything in between. I've put in my time, I know what works for me.
I like the stability and long-term fulfillment that a full-time job can bring. When you're working on the same product for a long time, you can really dig into deep research insights and have a lasting and ongoing impact on the entire product and the overall product strategy. You can also get to know your coworkers and build solid working relationships with them. It's a well-oiled machine that just works. But it can also start to feel kind of stale.
My solution to that: add freelancing into the mix!
Variety and fresh perspectives make you smarter
While a solid day job with a regular paycheck and a consistent team is a good thing, it generally lacks variety. And variety is key in keeping my brain agile and quelling boredom. Variety keeps my skills fresh (and adds new ones), and that's where freelancing comes in.
By picking up freelance UX and design projects, I get to work with a variety of different companies, products and features, and in turn, learn about different users and solve different problems. It helps keep the cobwebs out of my brain. This variety ultimately makes me a better employee at a full-time job (and at other freelancing gigs!) because it gives me fresh perspective and it's constant learning. There's no doubt I'll be able to apply new perspectives and knowledge to everything I do. (Note: this does not mean the actual distribution of knowledge or company information as defined by an NDA; it's just means that every experience makes me a better overall worker.)
A few other freelancing bonuses: the extra money goes right into savings and investments (another facet of that freedom priority), it builds my professional network beyond my current job and a big network is an invaluable thing, and I have control over my schedule so I can keep it manageable. It also creates a safety net, which in today's uncertain world is essential.
Freelancing's big 3:
Expands my skills and makes me better overall at what I do, no matter where I do it
Expands my network to include more people and diversity
Expands my bank account so I have more options
My freelance network of choice is Toptal because it's specifically focused on development, design and UX, and the client-base is a mix of enterprise, startup and agencies, which offers exciting opportunities for expanding my skill sets across a range of product types.
Rather than wading through the muck at other freelance sites for legitimate opportunities, Toptal has already done that work and helps connect the best freelancers with the best opportunities, freeing up my time to do what I do best: strategy, research and design.
Essentially, Toptal offers better quality work, requires less time trying to find that work than other freelance sites, and is easier than hitting the pavement to drum up my own clients, which isn't something I have time for right at this moment (maybe someday, but not right now). In addition to joining Toptal's network, I'd like to take on some online research opportunities, as well as mentorship, teaching, and UX writing gigs. And perhaps someday I'll make the leap into full-time freelancing, but for now the side freelancing projects are what I need.
At this point in my life, where I'm at in my career and with my family, my ideal scenario is a UX day job that offers flexibility and some semblance of upward mobility, and then picking up some side hustles as extra projects.
I should stay pretty busy with all of that, but in the end, I'll be happier, healthier, and yep, wealthier. And I'll have freedom.
So if not now, when? It's time to start intentionally moving forward.