The freelancer versus employee debate — Who wants to be Whale 52?

I love the simplicity of being a freelance writer:

I work when I’m needed and stop when I’m finished.

I charge for the work I have done.

I only work where and when I’m wanted or needed. Clients ask for me and if I’m available, I offer an ongoing, no-notice contract so they can either keep me or get rid of me at any point without explanation or compensation (bar paying for what I have already done).

It allows me to feel like a machine: you put your coin in at the top and the work pops out at the bottom. I’m also free of internal politics, gossip, and the tedious wrangling over job titles that gobble up so many corporate hours.

However, working remotely from my clients can leave me feeling isolated, and recently I started to wonder whether I’d like to work in an organisation again: would I like to belong in a team? Would I like to see the same people, day in, day out, to call them friends, to stand next to someone at their daughter’s wedding and say, “We’ve worked together for twenty years”? Well, yeah, actually. I would like those things. I used to like those things and I miss them.

I’m just not sure I have the language for it any more.

It’s been twenty years since I submitted a CV that says “I am worthy” rather than “what we can offer” — a subtle difference, but an important one. I’ve spent decades asking for feedback, but not promotion.  I’ve given myself whatever job title seemed most relevant to the work in hand. The “boss” has been me — as has the cleaner, clerk, director, and caretaker. I have never waited for a fixed “going home time” — I work till I’m done or the meeting is over, then when it feels sensible, I stop for the day.

Being a freelancer is freeing and isolating in equal measure. I need to decide whether I’m still capable of dancing to a corporate tune – and whether I’d want to try.

It reminds me of Whale 52.


Did you hear about Whale 52? M’kay, this is a true story:  


From 1989 to 2004, scientists tracked pods of happy little whales all communing and breeding, but they also found this one lone whale howling weirdly, and particularly loudly, on his or her own. Turns out, he (or she) transmits at 52Hz (hence the name), rather than the 10-40Hz of other whales. Whales are social animals who call to one another regularly, and so it’s been deduced that Whale 52 is probably a very lonely animal who is desperate for company.

That said, scientists have seen whales change their transmission frequencies over time, both as species and individuals. They speculate that the other whales can hear 52, and in any case 52’s own tone has changed over the years and is now more like 47Hz. Also whales synchronise their calls and it’s possible that other whales are starting to use the 52Hz frequency; the two groups may be coming together and Whale 52 may no longer be alone.

Scientists are now trying to find Whale 52 again, with a view to making a film. 

Until then, we don’t know who Whale 52 is. Maybe an anomaly, or maybe the key to an evolution in which whales of different frequencies learn to come together?

Either way, I’ve not given up hope for Whale 52. One day, bud, one day.


Whale 52 program

Whale 52 analysis


Image attribution (top)  (bottom) 


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