My Parents Won’t Stop Asking If I’m Going to Work
Choosing the life of a freelancer is a decision most people regard with a mix of envy and incomprehension. They acknowledge the perks, while also conceding that they themselves would never pursue a path this volatile.
For Asian parents, freelance work is something most of them can understand on a conceptual level. They get the parts about working from home and having more than one employer. They’re sympathetic towards your inability to help with the bills because of your erratic salary. But when it comes to things like daily routines, they can get pretty confused.
I’ve been freelancing for just under five years now. This means that my schedule tends to see me going to bed past 2 in the morning and waking up past 10. As long as I meet my datelines, no one gives a shit. On the rare occasion that I’m awake at 8 in the morning, the question that inevitably greets me when I step out of my room is, “Awake already? Going to work today?”
To this, my immediate response has always been, “What do you mean? I’m always working!”
I find myself simultaneously confused and annoyed, all while wondering what on earth my parents think I get up to when I lock myself in my room for 6 to 8 hour stretches everyday.
Lately, I’ve been trying to create more structure in my life. I’m going to bed earlier so I can rise earlier to make the most of how productive I usually am in the morning. I’ve been trying to establish more predictable working hours to better manage my career anxieties.
As a result, I’ve been getting the dreaded question a lot more. My parents still aren’t used to the fact that all of a sudden, I’m waking up early and functioning like a normal person. They always ask if I’m up because I’m headed to work, and it’s gotten to a point where I just mumble, “Yes.” It’s easier than explaining that I’m still trying to make a living even though I don’t get up like clockwork from Mondays to Fridays to head to an office.
when I’m asked if I’m going to work, I’m reacting to what I think is an accusation
At the same time, I recognise that my frustration with my parents has been, for the most part, unfair. While freelancing can mean lots of flexibility and being able to shop and visit cafes at off-peak hours, it also comes with plenty of exasperation. Clients take months to pay you, procrastination disrupts your sleep cycles, and constantly worrying about what the future holds can all add up to make you one cranky human being.
This is pretty much where my irritation with my parents stems from. Despite having never really confided in them, I want them to know how hard I’m trying. I want them to just know that when I get up early, it’s sometimes because I’m in between chasing down deadlines. I want them to know that yes, I too would love a secure source of income. I too would love to wake up every morning to know that in a year or so, I’ll be able to afford my own home.
When this is the existence I live with everyday, the last thing I want is to be asked if I’m going to work. As a freelancer, I’m always thinking about work. If it isn’t an assignment I’m working on, it’s an assignment I’m hoping to land. If there isn’t a meeting I have to prepare for, there’s a meeting I’m hoping to score.
And so, when I’m asked if I’m going to work, I’m reacting to what I think is an accusation. I mistake it for being told that I only work when I want to, that the fact that I haven’t achieved the career goals I’ve set is somehow a result of my own undoing.
The thing is, freelancing is a little bit like skipping classes in university. A part of you relishes the freedom you’ve stolen, while another experiences what I call “Asian guilt”—the nagging feeling at the back of your mind that you should not be doing this. It’s that subliminal awareness that it’s not your destiny as an Asian to be breaking stereotype.
Why freelance when most of your peers have jobs in MNCs and the civil service with pre-determined working hours and stable salaries? Who the hell do you think you are?
And so, when you miss the cheat sheet that was distributed at a lecture, you only have yourself to blame. The fact that freelancing is hard—that’s on me. Perhaps, on some level, this is something I still struggle with. And my parents are convenient beneficiaries of my resentment.
It’s their way of making conversation in the morning; of saying, “Good morning, how’s it going?”
I could have chosen a different life. But I didn’t because I cannot work within rigid environments and freelance work fits well with my personality. To some people, saying that you’re freelancing can sound like you’re in between things; that you don’t have a clear idea of what exactly you want to do with your life.
I’m aware of this misperception, and so being asked if I was going to work felt a little bit like when friends of mine (who are session musicians and graphic artists) are asked, “When are you going to get a real job?” But having gained some perspective over the past few months, I now know that my parents have never meant it this way.
From their point of view, they are literally just asking. It’s their way of making conversation in the morning; of saying, “Good morning, how’s it going?” It’s their way of finding out if I’m going to be out the entire day, and if I’ll be back in time for dinner.
I don’t know if it’s an Asian parent thing, but for me at least, the love in my family is communicated through both the little things and the unspoken. There are no grand gestures or big life lessons, just lots of hard work and questions about where you’re going and whether you’ve had your lunch.
Sometimes, in the chaos of chasing dreams and trying to build a life you can call your own, these things can be difficult to appreciate.