Freelance, or working for different companies at different times rather than being permanently employed by one company, is a word I've been using to define myself since 2012. If you're familiar with my work, you know that I love words, and I take great interest in breaking them down to explore their impact on our identities and ways of being. I decided to research the origin of the word freelance and to my surprise, these were my findings:
- Freelance first came into the English language in the early 1800s, referring to a medieval mercenary [a professional soldier hired to serve in a foreign army] who would fight for whichever nation or person paid them the most
- First written evidence is in Sir Walter Scott's novel, Ivanhoe, where paid soldiers are referred to as "Free Lances"
- If we break down "Free Lances", we find the word "lances", which refers to the weapon used by knights or cavalry soldiers - or "lancer", referring to the soldier himself. And "free", which in this case doesn't mean without payment but instead, not under the control or in the power of another.
- Hired soldiers were very common after 1000 A.D. and played an important role in major military campaigns between the 12th and 14th centuries
- In the past, it has taken on various meanings including a politician without political affiliation
As it appears, contrary to what you might believe, freelance is not a new, modern term but rather a term that has been used to identify roles for many centuries.
This year, I've been analyzing myself more, deciphering more of who I am. Through struggles and life uncertainties, I've been seeing new sides of myself, learning about my strengths and capabilities. I want to become more aware of the words I use to identify myself with and their meanings, and I want to make sure I don't become limited by them. I also want to understand the use of words in culture and be aware of the beliefs we attach to them, sometimes false, that end up impacting more of our mindset than we realize. It fascinates me that the origin of freelance carries with it battle, because even though freelancers are no longer knights or cavalry soldiers, I find myself fighting to be valued, taken seriously, and prioritized, especially as a female artist, leaving me to believe a knight in the 14th century might have been more respected and valued than I am today. And I ask why.
In my personal observations, I've learned that once you call yourself a "freelancer" or an "artist", you are associated with "just one person", which then often leads to a belief that you are not as important as a group of people and therefore, in one way or another, seen as lesser than. Even more so if a minority. We live in a culture where the selfie is praised but the soul and mind behind it are not cared about (or cared for), where self-care is popular but mental health is still taboo. This is a culture that recognizes the value of an individual's story and work more so once in their grave than when alive. A culture obsessed with match-making because "two is better than one". And as much as I believe in the power of two, I want to learn how to value and honor each "one person", whole-heartedly. I want to live in a society that respects the individual and perceives them as powerful, worthy of being taken seriously and doesn't need death to remind them to. I long for a shift in mindset where the soul and mind take priority over gender, race, age, sexuality or any other category we use to identify ourselves with.
So, whether you call yourself a freelancer or not, work for yourself or report to someone else, know that your individual thoughts and ideas matter, that there is immense value to what you say or create, and that categories, labels, or status do not define you. And you as an individual, simply because you carry a soul and a mind, deserve to be honored and respected, and of course, paid on time.