• Advice

How to find the good in bad advice

Freelancers get a lot of advice. Some of it is great, and some of it is terrible.

The good news is that even the most awful advice has a hint of truth, and you don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The secret is to find the dash of helpful in the stew of inanity - the hint of useful in the miasma of discouragement.

Below are 5 pieces of bad advice that freelancers commonly encounter, and what useful tidbits you can glean:

1. “Everybody hates their job, don’t bother trying to change it.”

This advice gives us two useful bits of good advice smooshed into a bad advice sandwich.

Sure. A lot of people are not terribly interested in their work. That sucks! It is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.

If someone says this to you, feel bad for them. They do not like their job, and that is unfortunate. If someone says this to you in a passive-aggressive attempt to discourage you, forgive and ignore them. Take the path less trod.

Second, the kernel of fact in this falsehood is that there is some aspect of every job that is a bit unpleasant or annoying. One of my careers is writing. I often like writing - I hate invoicing people for writing work, and I get almost unbearably ashamed when I feel like my writing is terrible.

You will never find work that makes you 10000000% happy all the time. A little bit of frustration is good for your brain. Be ready to embrace challenges on the path to a career that fulfills you.

2. “Freelancing isn’t stable/certain/reliable.”

It’s true -- freelancing isn’t always stable/certain/reliable, but neither is a “conventional” career. This advice creates a faulty parallel, implying that ‘regular’ jobs are fail-proof: that companies never fold, that people are never fired, that positions never become redundant. I’ve always found it handy to have a freelance skillset that belongs just to me. It can’t be taken away by an H.R. department with a taste for outsourcing.

Once you build up a strong stable of clients, freelancing can become very reliable indeed. You’re less likely to become reliant on one employer and have the rug pulled out from under you.

Freelancing isn’t always stable, but then again, neither is life.

3. “That’s never worked for me, so….”

Okay, so freelancing never worked for Uncle Milton.

… You’re not Uncle Milton.

When people tell you they never experienced success when doing X, it means… they didn’t experience success. It’s not necessarily their fault, sometimes that happens. But it doesn’t mean you won’t.

You’re operating in a different time and place than the advice-giver. You’re a different person with your own skills, who may jump at different opportunities. When well-meaning friends or family tell you what DIDN’T work from them, do ask them what they might have done differently if they could go back in time.

Try to learn from their mistakes. But don’t take their experiences as an excuse not to strive for your own dreams.

4. “Freelancing isn’t a real job.”


People who give this advice tend to have not freelanced themselves, and thus picture a pajama-clad, bon-bon eating, arrested development existence. The only glimmer of good advice in this negligible, negative non-statement?

Join the nation's largest group representing the new workforce (it's free!)

Become a member

Listen, if you freelance professionally, you’re going to have to shrug off some small faction of nay-sayers – people who dismiss you as unserious or unprofessional. Some percentage of Negative Nancies will think that you’ve been forced into freelancing because you can’t land a ‘real’ position.

The good advice to take here? IGNORE THOSE PEOPLE. Don’t sacrifice your happiness to some societally-sanctioned view of Adulthood = Misery. That’s how people become bitter, misanthropic Negative Nancies who shoot down others to begin with.

5. “You’re really not qualified / it’s too late to start doing X.”

Listen, there are certain jobs that one cannot realistically start doing late in life and still hope to work professionally (at least very often). Here are some of those jobs, as far as I can imagine:

- prima ballerina

- Olympic gymnast

- astronaut

- …um. Child model?

Those are all jobs that involve very specific physical qualifications and skills. Otherwise, again, you can often ignore this “too late” advice – the advice-givers are telling you what is common, not what is inevitable.

A friend of mine had fostered a dream of being a writer; she was working in another industry entirely. Lots of people told her she was too old to get started – that she should just resign herself to having missed that boat. She just sold her second novel.

The only bit of good advice to be gleaned from this all-too-common dreamkiller? Reversing course later in life may take effort. It may involve ignoring a lot of nay-sayers and risking looking foolish. You will definitely want to have a little money stored away, so you don’t starve while rebuilding your aspirations. But you should not be dissuaded. If people say you aren’t qualified, prove them wrong. Get qualified by seeking out teachers and mentors.

Learn by consciously pursuing education and practice. Live your life while you can, and don’t be scared away from trying new things.

Finding the good in even the worst advice helps you build empathy for the advice-giver. It lets you react non-defensively - but more than that, it helps you make reasonable room for others’ opinions, without being unduly influenced.

Bad advice is inevitable. Taking it is not!

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.