Do Freelancers Have More Meaningful Careers?

…Or just no health care? Rose Park Advisors cofounder Whitney Johnson looks back on her transition to independence.

Do Freelancers Have More Meaningful Careers?

“As I have moved into the role of a fully-fledged independent,” Whitney Johnson writes at HBR, “I am frequently terrified.”


The more abstract identity, the rollercoaster cash flow, the “P/E (puke to excitement) ratio”: all of these are characteristic of Johnson’s going independent. A one-time Merrill Lynch analyst, Johnson cofounded Rose Park Advisors with Clay Christensen, before leaving last year to become an independent writer, speaker, and advisor. In so doing, she’s joined the swelling ranks of the independent workers, or, to spare the euphemism, freelancers.

Turns out there’s buckets of independents, as Johnson’s research-rich post evidences:

  • About 43 million people, or 35% to 40%t of the U.S. workforce, are doing some contingent work–a number expected to swell up to 70 million by the end of the decade.
  • Taking out the under-employed, MBO estimates there are about 17 million independents
  • Of the people who went indie in 2012, 57% chose to
  • Only 13% of indies intend to go back to traditional employment

Independent declarations

What the decision to go independent points to, Johnson says, is the increasing tug of autonomy: writers like Umair Haque, James Altucher, and Cali Yost are making regular inquiries into the meaning of work and life.

Satisfaction, then, is a driving force. Johnson quotes an MBO survey in which 65% of independents report as highly satisfied over 47% in regular jobs. Aside from the fear (and, we can assume, the puke ratio), she’s brimming on most days, working where she wants, with who she wants, on what she wants–and with a deeper connection with her family.

She ends with exultant rhetoric, noting that the forces of disruption are making for a new balance (and perhaps fusion) of work and life:

… Letting work freedom ring is changing the American dream, hinting at the expanse of a frontier on the other side of the industrial revolution. One where disruption isn’t just about financial returns, but the glee of harnessing a new learning curve. Where people not only put food on the table, but also have a life.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of meaning? Sounds pretty ideal. Sounds a bit like flux.


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.