How Freelancers Are Redefining Success To Be About Value, Not Wealth

The old model of slaving for 40 hours a week in exchange for a paycheck is eroding. When you can control your own time, you can control your own well-being–and that might be worth more than money.

How Freelancers Are Redefining Success To Be About Value, Not Wealth
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

In an iconic scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort–the “wolf” played by Leonardo DiCaprio–launches his $40,000 Rolex into a sea of outstretched hands, as eager young stockbrokers lunge for it, nearly clobbering one another in the process.


The scene perfectly captures the infamous excesses of Wall Street in the ‘80s. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how it contrasts with the dramatic shift underway in the American economy.

The nation’s 42 million freelancers are rewriting the definition of success–and it has nothing to do with gold watches, but everything to do with time.

Independent workers are establishing a new way to work–and in the process, they’re cultivating a new way of life. Success in 2014 is less about wealth than it is about value–the value of time, community, and well-being.

As the availability of the traditional 40-hour-a-week job wanes, so does its appeal. Who wants to “clock-out” at the end of the day when you can dictate your own schedule?

Many freelancers rightly see the standard workweek as a prison of the past. Managing your own time isn’t just rewarding–it’s practical and efficient. Parents don’t have to “leave early” to pick up their kids. The idea of “killing time” until the clock strikes 5:00 becomes obsolete when that time is chiefly your own.

Time is a new currency, and successful freelancers manage, save, and spend it wisely.


Freelancers often work independently, but being “on your own” doesn’t mean “going it alone.” Freelancing successfully means building a network to line up new gigs, passing assignments to others when things are busy, and getting referrals from friends when they’re not.

It might be tough for one freelancer to afford renting an office on her own–but 10 freelancers can pool their resources and create a co-working space together. The same goes for sharing expensive office supplies and high-end professional equipment.

Independent workers value community, because collaboration and camaraderie are more than warm and fuzzy feelings–they’re the foundation of success in the emerging independent economy.

And freelancers recognize that a thriving business doesn’t mean much if you’re not taking care of yourself.

At some point, sleep deprivation in the workplace became a bragging right. With the old bargain, work came before everything else, including your health. And in exchange for slaving away, you got a steady paycheck and perhaps a decent benefits package. Today, independent workers are replacing that old bargain with something far better–and saner.

Freelancers value eating healthy, going to the gym or practicing yoga, meditating to reduce stress, and working in spaces with plenty of light and fresh air. For a freelancer, success in work means being healthy enough–physically and mentally–to enjoy life.


Independent workers make up a third of the workforce. By 2020, just six years from now, 40% of Americans will be working as freelancers, contractors, and temps. Some lament this historic shift away from salaried, full-time employment–but whether the future of work is a step forward or backward is up to America’s burgeoning independent workforce.

Freelancers are shaping the new economy. As flexible schedules and ubiquitous communication become the norm, the work-life balance that we’ve always struggled for is becoming achievable. As community and teamwork become more necessary than ever to thrive, the lonely, closed-off cubicle will make way for meaningful collaboration. And as the demand for healthy food and workspaces increases, industry will increasingly connect corporate profits and social good.

The American workforce is changing, and the definition of success is changing with it. For freelancers, freedom in work, health in life, and community in both are the ticking hands on the new gold watch. Soon everyone will be reaching out to grab it.


About the author

Sara Horowitz is the founder and Executive Director of Freelancers Union, a national labor group that represents freelancers including selling health insurance and other products.