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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Life lessons: Freelance plunge is tough but rewarding

I made a significant change in my career almost a year ago. I left a full-time job with the Government and began freelancing.

I usually use this column to write about social issues and current affairs within the UAE. I try to focus on the changes and transformations that are happening in our rapidly evolving country, what we can do to embrace and be part of that change, and how it’s setting up the next generation for a brighter and more sustainable future.

Many of my readers, who are also part of my audience on social media where I share a large part of my personal and professional life, know that I made a significant change in my career almost a year ago. I left a full-time job with the Government and began freelancing in the digital-media and events sectors.

I’m often asked why I made this decision. I had been writing for The National while I was still working in investments at a government organisation, and fell in love with journalism and sharing opinions, as well as the dialogue that our articles and news creates. I worked in investments for a large government organisation for almost six years, then I took a leave of absence to study for a master’s. During my studies, I started focusing on the communications side of business. I took elective classes on storytelling, acting, the business of entertainment and digital-media entrepreneurship. I fell in love with those classes and knew those were the things I wanted to do in my career, plus I was an average analyst at best, bad with numbers and didn’t enjoy sitting down crunching them and sticking them on a PowerPoint slide at 2am.

The second most-common question I get is about the provisions I made at the time of the decision – at the time I was staring at a significant rise in salary and a promotion. I made sure that when I quit I had enough savings in the bank to sustain the same standard of living for about one year with no regular income. I heard that it was common practice to have about four to six months of savings, but I’m married with two kids and two years into a 30-year mortgage, so I wanted to play it extra safe. I also had several freelance opportunities in the pipeline based on work I had previously done, either in the evenings, on weekends or during annual leave. I think I had about two months’ salary’s worth of work lined up when I quit, which gave me momentum heading into my freelance life.

The third question I’m asked the most is: “What has it been like?” Two words come to mind: awesome and exhausting. The awesome part is doing work I’m passionate about every day of my life, waking up knowing that I’m shaping my own destiny and, for better or for worse, doing things on my terms. That unnecessary bureaucracy that slows down or prevents your work seeing the light of day is gone; hoping that you can take your annual leave is now a thing of the past.

The exhausting part is that freelance work is harder because your mind and your body are constantly moving, from one client to the other, and making sure that everything you do, every strategy you execute, every media opportunity you present, every show you host or every article you write, is top quality. You’re only as good as your last piece of work. The emotional exhaustion comes from sometimes worrying about where your next lead will come from and constantly ensuring that you have work to provide a great life for your family. Until now, I have been too busy working for any of that worry to kick in.

There are things I miss about the corporate world – building things, travelling and working with great people. But do I ever regret the decision I made? Not for a second. Even in my hardest moments, when I am working through the night to hit deadlines or working at events late into the evening, I’m always grateful. I’m doing what I love and that brings out the best in who I am. It took me almost 10 years to get here, and there’s one question that will never haunt me: What if?

Khalid Al Ameri is an Emirati columnist and social commentator. He lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and two sons.

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Updated: May 4, 2017 04:00 AM

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