Freelance income vs Salary: Antifragility and the illusion of security

3 Mins read

Uncertain freelance income is one of the main sources of hesitancy for people who want to get started as freelancers. It’s also the single most common counter argument we are presented when encouraging people to start freelancing. And it’s true. Freelance income is different from a fixed salary. However, for independent workers, this perceived uncertainty of income is not an insurmontable argument.

Freelance income vs Salary: Antifragility and the illusion of security
Freelance income vs Salary: Antifragility and the illusion of security

Illusion of Risk & Illusory Security

From early childhood, most of us are told to study and get advanced degrees in order to find a place in a well paying company. In West Africa, this formatting goes even further by encouraging young people to aim for public service. For most people, this seems like the sure way to live happily ever after.

On the other hand, all professions that ressemble freelancing are perceived as less stable occupations. The trade-person, the carpenter, the artisan or the workman are dependent on the demand for their skills on the market, just like a freelancer. They can’t expect to have the same income month after month.

Generally, people contrast the so-called security of employee’s salary to the perceived risk of freelance income. However, the employees can never be that certain of the security of their job. If the current socioeconomic context and the recent COVID-19 pandemic have taught us something, it’s that no employee is that far removed from that fatidic call from Human Ressources. Conversely, freelancers can adapt to variations in their activity and mitigate the effets of uncertainty on their income by having multiple clients and offering a slew of services.

Antifragility, strengthened by uncertainty

Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder
Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder

In many respects, freelance income is antifragile. It was Nassim Nicholas Taleb who was the first to coin the term “Antifragile” to refer to concepts and things that are structurally made to face risk and uncertainty. These are not simply resistant to unexpected circumstances, they are actively gain from it.

In his book: Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb gives a great example in Chapter 5. It’s the story of two twin brothers who live in the same street and have different jobs. One is a clerk in a bank and the other is a taxi driver.

While John (the banker) can count on a stable monthly income, he is completely dependent on his employer. One crisis or even automatisation can make his position redundant and make him lose his livelihood. And being close to fifty, he doesn’t fit the profile of headhunters anymore. This is the case of most salaried employees.

For his part, George (the taxi driver) has good and bad days. But, at the end of the month, he has sensibly the same income as his brother. However, he will be able to work well into his 80s if he wishes to. He has plenty of unexpected income opportunities. And above all else, crisis affect his livelihood less because he already has the habit of adapting to change. This ressembles most freelance income.

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The inherent antifragile nature of freelance income

Freelance income is directly linked to the independent worker’s capacity to meet the demand. Sure, they first have to know how to write a killer cover letter and ace the freelance interview. But once those skills are mastered, they can count on more or less stable freelance income.

Like most careers, income grow depending on the expertise of the worker. When they diminish, it’s often because the worker failed to satisfy the demand or they failed to acquire new skills expected in their field.

In other words, any freelancer that keeps improving their skillset, grow their address book and multiply contracts should be able to count on pretty stable freelance income. They also retain real control of their time, their retirement and various other aspects of their professional career.

Job security is the ability to get your next job, not keep your current one.

Cedric Chin


When it comes to freelance income, people tend to believe that there are huge variations. Despite what some may think, freelancers don’t just survive on water and bread during bad months. When they are well organized, independent workers can cope with variations of income by virtue of the antifragile nature of their work. And no matter what anyone says, freelancing work is still less vulnerable to crisis than salaried jobs.

The illustrations on this page were provided by Illustratious.

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