The Fears of Freelance Work go way back

Ask any actor and they’ll tell you they don’t know an alternative to freelance work. The entertainment industry was built on it, outside of the Hollywood Boulevard big studio contract days. Ask any construction worker, tree planter, or seafarer for that matter.

Countless industries work on a project based model with a quickly revolving door of contract workers. From medieval freelancing knights to today, gigging isn’t new – but the industries it’s now popping up in is something to take note of in Seattle.

Dear Diary… the Freelancing Struggle is (Historically Relevant and) Real

Before the industrialization of the 19th century, most people made a living from working multiple jobs.
In her article on the gig economy being standard practice in the 19th century, Tawny Paul, Senior Lecturer in Economic and Social History, University of Exeter examined the diaries of three men in 18th century Britain for insight on how middle class people – the supposed beneficiaries of today’s gig economy got along with multiple jobs.

The men Paul studied left behind detailed diaries of their universal fears and struggles in a gig economy. While valuing their independence, they also lamented regularly over not having enough money to cover bills and were afraid of failing. They agonized over their ability to pay debts. A 1769 man Thomas Parsons, who doubled as a stone carver and amateur scientist wrote:

“Am in debt and know not how to pay. This gives me great uneasiness – what a multiplicity of concerns have I to employ my thoughts!”

Sound familiar?

The Historical Highs and Lows of Freelance Life

Edmund Harrold, another man in the historical study, a diversified barber, rode the wave of solopreneur instability writing about his gratitude over a tolerable business and living comfortably, contrasted with an entry just a month later stressing over having very little work, being “ill set for money” and at a loss for what to do.

While the author notes all three diarists earned a comfortable, though modest living at the time it was the precariousness of existing in an economy of multiple jobs that left them feeling unstable and afraid. One described the feeling as the “tennis ball of fortune.

So what’s changed in over two centuries when it comes to solopreneur struggles and successes?
It’s understandable the security (albeit false) of an agency job often outweighs taking a leap and going out on your own.

The Dictionary tells us the earliest written evidence of the term ‘freelance’ is found in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe – wherein a lord refers to his paid army of ‘free lances.’ In this 1820 tome of historical fiction the feudal lord says of his paid army:

“I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.”

Bustling times yes, but would you classify Seattle in such a time now?

Send the One-Man-Wolf-Pack Packing

In his article in The Conversation, Associate professor at Edinburgh Napier University, Pete Robertson says that for the future generation of up and coming workers, we need to educate and equip them with methods to collaborate, promote and safeguard their interests. Giving them a fair chance to redress the power imbalance in contemporary labor markets. Marketing service collectives like" target="_blank"“Is the Agency Model Dead” event June 20th.

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