Changing Your Career Path: 4 Signs It’s Time to Leave Freelancing (at Least for a While)

Written by Liz Alton on November 7, 2017

Changing your career path is often associated with going freelance: taking the leap and following your dreams. You’re probably picturing yourself moving from a corporate cubicle to a beach chair on the water with just your laptop and a margarita. Well, what happens if you make the change, but find yourself thinking longingly of sharing an office, collecting a regular paycheck and following a defined path? Is there ever an argument for going back to a regular job, or at least changing how you approach the freelance life?

The Thing About Expectations…

According to The Balance, the average person today will change jobs 10 to 15 times in his or her life. Sure, you thought you’d love being an engineer, but, as it turns out, you actually hate it. You want more freedom. You crave structure. Maybe the love of your life is moving across the country, and there aren’t many jobs in your field where you’re headed.

Starting a company and running your own career sounds amazing — and for the most part, it is. But it’s not always the right fit for everyone, or maybe the timing is just off. When we expect the freelance life to be perfect or to solve all our problems, it can be hard to make that shift.

Here are four signs it might be time to think about changing the way you freelance — at least for a while.

You’re Burning Out

Freelance burnout is real. I should know, I’ve suffered from it at different points in my career. Striking the right balance between working and your personal life is tough, especially when you’re an indy. In a regular job, you work and get paid a set amount. As a freelancer, the sky is the limit on what you can earn, as long as you’re willing to put in the hours. But if you put in too many hours, the stars in that analogy begin to dim — and you’ll find yourself flaming out. If you’re at the edge of burnout, what can you do?

Luckily, there are plenty of solutions, from prioritizing your work/life balance to reassessing your workload. But if you’re really burned out, it might be time for a sabbatical, AKA “time off to do stuff other than work.” As a freelancer, a sabbatical is basically a timeout to re-energize and reassess how you want to move your career forward.

The Cash Just Isn’t Flowing

Cash is king, and sometimes it takes longer to get started than you planned. Or, you’ve hit a dry spell, and reinvigorating your freelance career is taking more hustle than you can handle. Whether you need to increase your income to cover the mortgage and pay for the benefits you’re now providing for yourself or you’re not finding the work you need through full-time freelancing, you may need another plan.

One option that worked for designer Carol Patel was a part-time job. “I was getting some design work, but not enough to pay all my bills,” says Patel. To make ends meet, she took a two-day per week position with a New York agency. “It was a total game changer. Steady income allowed me to relax, and I began to enjoy the freelance part of my life again.” Whether a part-time job is part of your long-term plan or you’re just using it as temporary fix, taking this step can get you access to the benefits and pay you need to get back on track.

You’re Craving Mentorship and Teamwork, or You Want to Manage People Again

This point comes down to the whole introvert versus extrovert thing. I’m an extreme introvert who can talk to other humans when it’s absolutely necessary (or when they’re interesting). A lot of freelancers fall into this category. On the other hand, if you’re an extrovert, the solo freelance life can take a toll on you. But there are solutions: Consider coworking spaces, working days on site with clients, conducting interviews in person and having lunch with friends. But some people need more. They want a boss who’s interested in their career, colleagues to collaborate with and people with whom to discuss the latest Shonda show around the water cooler. If you fall into this category, it may be time for you to seek out an in-house contractor role, or to find a team that wants you on site full time.

You Just Don’t Have the Energy to Build Right Now

There are times in everyone’s life when they have to devote their energy somewhere else. Some people start freelancing when they have children, for the flexibility. But I had one friend who decided to transition back to an agency from freelancing: “I love freelancing, but with three little kids I don’t have the energy I need to really build a thriving business,” she says. “Right now, I need a job where I arrive at nine and leave at five. The rest of my time is spent in other ways.” She did, however, confide in me that she looks forward to going back to freelance when she can. Sometimes other things need your energy, such as your health, family, aging parents or student loans. When the demands from those areas of your life balance out, you can leap back into freelancing.

Here’s the thing about freelancing: There’s no one “right” way to do it. Not everyone is aiming for a permanent six-figure freelance career. Sometimes freelancing is right for a season, and sometimes you’ll start thinking about changing your career path. No matter how you decide to move forward, stay open to the idea that your path will change again. You never know: It might take you in directions you never imagined were possible.

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