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

I enjoy the simplicity of being a freelance writer:

I only work where and when I’m wanted or needed.

I only charge for the work I have 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 don’t have to sign any forms to take an hour off for a dental check, and I’m free of internal politics, gossip, and tedious wrangling over job titles. I love the logic and the freedom.

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 celebrate each other’s successes and support each other through demanding times? To really appreciate one another, and to be pleased to see each other in the mornings? Well, yes, actually. I would like to have those things again.

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, selling myself rather than a service. I’ve spent decades asking for feedback, but not promotion.  I’ve been the “boss” – and the cleaner, clerk, director, and caretaker. I could become really excited at the prospect of some sort of creative role among others, all of us doing different things in a team, but I can’t remember how to care about job titles. If I were in an office and the toilet door fell off, I would whip out a screwdriver – just as if I were in the head office, I would help make decisions. How would it feel to have layer upon layer of relative status heaped upon me? Wall after wall of job descriptions built around me? I’m feral; I escaped such things. And yet I’d love to be part of a big team again.

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)

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