The Ugly Truth Behind Freelancing


January 12, 2020

I used to think freelancing would be the best thing ever, and though it has its highs, it definitely has some lows that I didn’t anticipate. I had this idea in my head when I quit my 9-5 in November that my life would be so much better and my mental health would be boosted through the roof. And though it has improved tremendously in some ways, it’s kind of tanked in others.

My goal when creating this site in 2014 was to always be as candid as possible, and so here we are – 6 years later and working through yet another funky obstacle I wasn’t expecting.

Let me back up a bit and offer some background. I started this creative journey in March of 2014 as a junior in high school. I dreamed of having a fashion blog and working for big names in the fashion industry or even starting my own label. I read on that to make waves in the industry it was a good idea to start a fashion blog, so I launched Simply Mattea that same day. That same week, I marched over to a local boutique and secured my first sponsorship. Ballsy or crazy? You tell me.

In October of my senior year, I signed to swim for my college on an athletic scholarship and decided to major in Entrepreneurship and minor in Marketing. Business seemed like the way to go if pursuing fashion didn’t work out (hint: it did not).

My freshmen year of college I wasn’t allowed to blog. It sat in the corner of the inter webs and collected digital dust. My passion project was put to bed. I was terribly frustrated and had weekly meetings with our compliance officer to try and find a solution.

Heading into sophomore year, the NCAA forced me to pick between pursuing my creative work (doing product endorsements, selling my likeness, etc.) and swimming. It’s a little ironic, because one of the scholarships I was awarded was for a FEMALE ATHLETE IN BUSINESS (and my school only awards one per year)… and blogging was my business. Huh?? The very blog that got me a scholarship is also the very blog that stripped it away, ha!

I gave up my athletic scholarship and decided to go full throttle on this whole ‘branding’ ordeal.

It was a tough year. I didn’t workout. My mental health absolutely tanked. There were some highs, like walking in a fashion show for EXPRESS thanks to Karlie Kloss, but there were certainly plenty of lows. I lost team camaraderie, the desire to workout or take care of myself, and I had to start over on making friends outside of a sport I had pursued for 15 years. I found it hard to leave my bed on most days, locking myself in to candlelit tunes and Pinterest surfing.

That summer, I kind of had a Come to Jesus moment (quite literally, I did a communications internship at my church) and realized that I needed to pick myself up heading into the next year. I completely rebranded from Simply Mattea (RIP), and changed all of my branding to what you see today (you can expect another rebrand this year!).

Junior year was pretty rad – I started networking my way around Saint Louis and landed some sweet partnerships. I picked up some more paid photography work and I busted my butt with holding multiple jobs to try and recover from the financial blow that hit after giving up my scholarship. I struggled with the feeling that college just wasn’t for me and felt strongly that I was wasting my time instead of working on building my photography portfolio and customer base (if this is you and you can afford college, stick with it. If you can find it in you to network your booty off those 4 years, that’s a major benefit to being in school). My professor that taught my Failure course somehow convinced me to stick it out. I decided to drop my minor in Marketing as a means to compromise so I would have more time to pursue my passions outside of my schoolwork.

I secured an internship that summer in digital marketing and continued to push my photography as my interests began to shift toward hanging out behind the camera instead of in front of it.

My senior year I was traveling 4 days a week and going to school the other 3 days of the week. I was traveling every weekend (I was only in town for 1 weekend first semester), and doing my homework, part-time marketing job, photography internship, and my own editing/’influencing’ while I was on the go. It was kind of a lot, I will admit, but it kept me busy and it kept the entrepreneurial spirit in me alive.

That all kind of came crashing down towards the end of the year when reality settled in and I had to decide where to go and what to do after graduation. I got a little sick of people asking what I was planning on doing, because I certainly didn’t know. I’d usually hit them back with a joke, “I dunno, but if you find out let me know!” That usually put that question to rest and resulted in lighthearted laughter. Crisis averted.

I had a conversation with my brother about checking out Chicago. Great city. Beautiful. Many creative opportunities. An infinite ways to connect with people – everyone has a tie to Chicago.


I decided I wasn’t entirely ready to make the move to downtown and live on my own or find a random roommate (I’d like to think of myself as ‘selectively brave’, lol) so my college pal, Meg, and I decided to live together in a northern suburb.

Living situation, check. Job? Not so much.

I approached the company that I was working for part-time to see if I could find a way to work remotely. They agreed.

I felt like I had it all in that moment – the perfect, laid back job I’d always wanted, a fun and clean roomie, and a boyfriend living just a short drive away.

I quickly learned that this was, in fact, not at all what I wanted. The job bit at least.

After graduating and moving, I quickly figured out that my deal wasn’t quite what I expected. I was overworked and under paid. They told us to work unpaid overtime for at least 16 hours during the holiday season just to ‘earn’ Christmas Eve off. I felt I was put in a tough position as I didn’t feel confident in the products and felt awful about encouraging people to promote them. My job description quickly expanded due to the industry knowledge I had worked hard to acquire over the past 6 years. “You just graduated, your experience in the industry doesn’t really matter. Can you help us figure ___ out though? What would you recommend we do?”

I worked my regular 40 hours each week, shooting weddings on weekends (one was even 13.5 hours long) and took on shoots before and after work on my weekdays. After clocking out at 6 pm, I would edit at least until midnight nearly every night in order to keep up. It was tough, and once again my mental health was starting to falter.

I scheduled a meeting with the management team to inquire about a raise. I may be young, but I also have learned to know my value and when to fight for my worth. After reading Know Your Value by Mika Brzezinski, I felt confident in asking for a raise to reflect the industry average. I explained everything that I had offered to the company over the past year and a half – teaching them how to make creative documents to present to influencers, how to professionally communicate with them, what Instagram Pods were, how to create and negotiate contracts, etc., and also listed the jobs I was taking on well outside of my job description: managing social media and helping build out a brand partner program for influencers that would allow them to work with the company on an ongoing basis. This was all on top of my regular workload which consisted of working with at least 300 influencers a month – meaning I easily sent over 1500 emails a month. I asked for a raise to reflect all of this growth and presented the figures of industry average salaries, what my biweekly take home would be, and how the work that I was taking on was essentially a deal for them (I’m a workhorse for pete’s sake).

I asked for a $10,000 raise. They said no. I quit on the spot. I knew my worth, and I knew that the work I was putting in deserved to at least pay industry average.

And that was tough. It was probably one of the hardest moments I’ve faced. I didn’t have another job lined up, and the realization that I was a fresh college graduate sank in.

But I also believe that you only need a few moments of insane courage – to walk in or out of something that you strongly believe in – to pursue greater things meant for you.

I looked at my bank account, proud of myself for having the ability to save as much as I had in that short period of time since graduating, but also panicked since I knew I couldn’t expect to receive any more biweekly paychecks.

There’s a lot that goes on in your mind when you give up stability. There’s an overwhelming, ever-present sense of fear that you’ve made a huge mistake and need to do everything you can to get it back. But there’s also a little string of hope that weaves its way in and out of your mind throughout the day – giving you just enough edge to fight for yourself.

I quit in November, the week before Thanksgiving. I fled to Europe to surprise my best friend for two weeks and somehow found myself on a plane to Malta, a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea. And then I went back to Colorado for two more weeks for family holiday time. Yeah, I’ll say it:


And so here comes the part that you’re all here for – the part that pertains to the title of this post. The hardships.

There isn’t a day that passes when a part of me doesn’t believe in myself.

But there also isn’t a day that passes when the majority of me does.

I’ve had more than my fair share of nights crying myself to sleep over the past few months, but as I’ve settled and thought about it – it’s just fear outweighing my faith in that moment.

It’s hard to have the courage to walk away from something no longer serving you. It’s heartbreaking to hear the worry in your parents’ voice as you tell them that you are no longer employed, but also empowering to hear them tell you that they support you.

You just need 3 seconds of insane courage in those moments – just enough to get you to the moment where a sense of calm sweeps over you and puts you at ease.

It’s been a tough couple of months. Heading into freelancing, I thought it would be all rainbows and butterflies. JOKES ON MEEEE. My mental and emotional health have been incredibly taxed (I will also disclose that I am currently still seeing my childhood therapist, because yes – let’s normalize mental health struggles. 🙂 I’m currently seeing her to help sort out this transition period and my adoption). I no longer have coworkers and my in-person conversations have become more limited. I have to push myself to continue to come up with new ideas and promotions, figure out how to land bookings so I can make rent, and be my own boss.

It’s painful to deal with the ever-present feeling that because you aren’t on a traditional path, you’re doing something wrong. Not knowing when the numbers in your bank account will suddenly rise is scary, especially while you’re living your first apartment and still getting used to monthly bills and dealing with rent. But it also makes the eyebrow raises when you tell people that you have your own business fresh out of college much more amusing, and it makes working with each customer that much more meaningful.

One of the hardest battles I’ve found myself facing the past few months has had to deal with my adoption resurfacing. I have a lot of suppressed feelings about it. I’ve suppressed them for almost 23 years. It’s really difficult to figure out what your life’s calling is when you don’t have a clue where you come from or who you are. I guess it just means that I have to put in a little extra elbow grease in that department to figure it out. It’s also presented an opportunity though, right? The entrepreneur in me believes that if I have these feelings, others around the world must, too. So naturally, my brain begins to rattle off a handful of different ways to turn these traumas into opportunities to create resources for these families – opportunities I wouldn’t have had the time to pursue if I didn’t take a risk.

And that’s the thing about risk. If we avoid it, we miss out on opportunities.

Today I listened to a sermon from my church back home. The message was on pursuing a new year or another year.

Your pain is not a problem for God. To wait until the pain subsides is to miss out on an opportunity to allow that pain to shape us. Fear is perfectly normal in these situations. When we lean into it, we become inspiring stories that bring hope into our schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. -Pastor Ryan Howell

My goodness, I needed that. Yeah, my adoption and this transition period has been painful, but it also presents a unique opportunity for me to make something out of it.

It’s incredibly hard to believe in yourself to create something large enough to keep you alive while the rest of the world demands that you go out and get a normal job. It’s also incredibly rewarding to be able to set your own schedule, create the content that you wholeheartedly believe in, and have the time and freedom to pursue whatever you’d like.

I watched a lot of people post their 2019 throwbacks, and I sat back in dismay for a while as I feel like 2019 hasn’t been so kind to me. It has brought about a lot of challenges that haven’t left me feeling super happy heading into 2020. But because it’s been one of the most painful years I’ve had so far, I also know that it’s been a catalyst for the most growth I’ve probably experienced so far. So I guess I’m heading into 2020 not full of joy, but full of hope, a vision, and a dream. Hopefully that results in a more joyful year 🙂 And if 2019 wasn’t kind to you either, I hope that you recognize your growth as well. It’s there, but sometimes we have to take a moment of pause to find it.

So, why did I make the leap? My faith outweighed my fear for a hot sec and I’m currently riding that faith out as long as it’ll go. I’m grateful (and also surprised) that I was able to save enough to last me about exactly a year to pursue full-time freelancing. I kid you not, I had less than $1,000 to my name when I graduated in May. I’m going to give this a shot this year. If I fail, I fail. Though I guess it’s not a complete fail since I’ll have learned something. I know the switch from corporate to starting your own business is tough, and I don’t want to half-a** two jobs when I can pour all my time, energy, and passion into something I want to call my own.

3 seconds of insane courage, right?

Risk has a parallel to love. We have to risk heartbreak to find love, and we find ourselves pursuing love relentlessly.

But the biggest risk of all?

Never taking one.

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