The formula to choose your ideal job or freelance project

Pay, passion, and prestige — choose two out of three.

My friend quit her job this week. 

I’m thrilled for her, even though she only joined the company earlier this year. This role didn’t sit right with her from the very beginning — but it took a second to confirm that the job was the problem and it wasn’t just the general shit vibe of the world right now. 

When you spend one-third of your day working, it’s always a good idea to find your ideal job so you don’t hate everything else in life. I learned this the hard way when I began freelancing. 

Worried about not making enough every month or having long, dry spells without decent work, I picked up every project under the sun. Predictably, I picked up some absolutely rubbish clients. There were clients who —

  • Called my rates absurd (even though they were my lowest-paying client)

  • Invited the whole goddamn company to review the draft and give wildly conflicting feedback

  • Took three blue moons to process my payments (everyone pays a deposit upfront now)

Some time and several painful lessons later, I’ve learned how to choose the projects that work for me without compromising my brain cells or my income. 

The Pay-Passion-Prestige Nexus

This is my favourite way of figuring out if a project works for me. I first heard about the pay-passion-prestige formula from Wudan Yan, a freelance journalist, during a panel held by Tim Herrera

Here’s how it works — 

Any freelance project (or full-time job) must tick two out of three boxes.

  • Pay + Prestige: Moolah and something that’ll land a huge name on your CV? Great to establish your expertise for future opportunities. 

  • Passion + Prestige: This will look great on your CV, and you won’t hate every single minute you spend on it. That’ll make up for the (potentially) lower pay.

  • Passion + Pay: Being paid well for something you love to do? Now, isn’t that the dream?

Finding something at the nexus of all three is your ideal gig. But if you choose an opportunity that only offers you one out of three, you’ll either be underpaid or unhappy.

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It’s a Quit-a-thon

The Great Resignation is finally here. Spending eighteen months locked in, isolated, and lonely, people have had time to rethink their priorities, especially about work. Millions of people have realized they were stuck in dead-end, underpaying jobs and have either quit to head to greener pastures or have chosen not to be employed by someone else again.

It’s not difficult to see why. Companies have been exploiting and overworking their employees for the longest time. Previously, we felt obligated to stick around, especially if a company spun that “we’re a family” nonsense. But now, job-hopping is commonplace, expected, even.

There’s also safety and comfort to consider. Companies who are asking their employees to return to the office despite similar or higher outputs from remote work — why? Then, there are big tech companies who want to pay their employees according to location instead of talent — forcing them to return to expensive, overpopulated cities and spend extra on long commutes.

Overall, employees all around the world are just about done with all this. They’ve got a year’s worth of savings and are not ready to give up remote working and the bare minimum of a work-life balance. 

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

As a freelancer, I have the luxury of vetting my clients through trial assignments. This gives me the opportunity to see if they communicate well, pay my invoices on time, and are generally not annoying to work with. The freelance community talks about horrible clients; we share advice and point out red flags. 

Unfortunately, that’s not something you can do with a full-time job. It’s a one-way street. Full-time workers are at a disadvantage because they have to come onboard with limited information (unless there are reviews pointing you in the right direction on Glassdoor). Taking a chance on a new employer after you’ve been burned (out) by your previous one can be daunting. 

While you can gauge how much you might like working at a place during the interview, people often cover up the awful aspects of the role so people don’t bolt. 

After all, did you receive references from your company’s previous employees? Or those who worked under your current manager/boss? I thought not. 

That’s why I think that the pay-passion-prestige nexus can help you pre-qualify if you should even apply or interview with a specific company. Why waste time and energy in mindlessly long applications if you don’t want to work there anyway? 

Gaps on your CV can be filled with volunteer work, part-time/freelance gigs, and/or creative work. Plus, there are many, many employers who are human and recognize that people take time away from work for a myriad of reasons. Similarly, there are many, many clients who you’ll want to work with — they pay well, look great on your portfolio, and you love the work you do for them. They’re all definitely out there. 

Good luck, and make good choices!

P.S. I’m very aware that this issue doles out some very privileged advice. Everyone isn’t in a position to choose between multiple gigs or job opportunities that tick the right number of boxes. Do what you have to do to survive (and thrive). 


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