When I graduated college, I never imagined I’d end up as part of the gig economy.

My decision ultimately required quitting a comfortable job and taking a leap into the unknown. It meant leaving behind a steady paycheck and jumping into something that wasn’t, and still isn’t, a sure thing — and that prospect was terrifying.

Having packed up all my expensive (and now useless) textbooks, I was ready to take on the real world. The only problem was, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” and entering a tough job market was a nerve-wracking decision.

I wanted to make the most out of the education I had received and felt pressure to be successful before I had even started work.

I was offered a position at an investment bank based out of San Francisco, a far cry from studying the words of Boccaccio and Dante, but I decided I would try it out. I had a great experience as an intern at the firm the year before, really enjoyed the team, and I was interested in financial technology, the bank’s exclusive focus. Plus, San Francisco is a really cool city, and I loved the young, tech, and modern feeling it has.

Working there was a safe option that paid well and could lead to a good future.

How could it hurt?

So I packed up my things in my $450-a-month master bedroom (I had my own bathroom and walk-in closet) in an apartment that I shared with some good friends and moved to a $1,750 room in San Francisco. Yes, it was just a room barely big enough for a queen-size bed, complete with a small closet space, smaller bathroom, and no kitchen.

I split the cost of living with a friend who lived (if sleeping means living) in the closet space for a month and started my career as an aspiring investment banker.

The bank had just moved to a beautiful building in revitalized SOMA, complete with a beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay and Bay Bridge.

I felt pretty cool scanning myself into the elevator each morning as I started my day. I had my own little corner of a “bullpen” cubicle and my dual monitor screens allowed me to navigate my Powerpoint slides with ultimate ease.

I worked in a fancy building, had friendly co-workers my age, lived in a great city, and brought home a solid paycheck. I felt pretty good about where I was at in life.

However, as I got into the routine of working, the investment banking hours of 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., give or take a few hours (my hours were lighter compared to some of my co-workers who worked on other projects), I started to realize that I missed the freedom that I had enjoyed while in school.

My coursework had never been light, and I probably never would have said I felt free as a student, but I did have time to sit down and read “How Soccer Explains the World” or go out with a friend for lunch whenever I wanted.

I was starting to realize that my new job made it much, much harder for me to do things like that.

Initially, I chalked the situation up to life as an adult.

Now was the time to sacrifice and, if I wanted to get somewhere in life, I would have to give up some of the things I enjoyed for the greater good that is “success.” But as I would take “breaks” throughout the day by walking 20 feet to the coffee machine (hot chocolate for me), I would look out the floor-to-ceiling glass walls and see the Bay Bridge and my mind would wander.

I often thought of all the destinations that were on the other side of the bridge.

Every time I looked at that bridge, I felt trapped. I wasn’t in a hostile environment: In fact, I was around some amazing people and was learning a lot from them.

I just knew I wanted more control of my personal time.

The thought started to creep into my mind that I wanted to try something else that would afford me more control over what I did with my own time.

Every time I saw that bridge, I battled with the thought.

Did I really want to leave something that provided me with good money, the opportunity for growth, and an excellent learning experience?

If I left, where would I go?

What would I do?

Could I make the same amount of money?

I also had developed what I felt to be good relationships with some of the management and my co-workers, and letting them know I wanted to leave would not be a fun task for me.

After a lot of thought, and more than one conversation with family and close friends, I decided that I would leave my job at the investment bank and join a small team working on a startup they were building to help freelancers. I didn’t know much about freelancers at the time;

I figured they were a group of people that usually wrote in their free time or worked on small projects while in between jobs. But I was wrong about the gig economy.

As I started to learn more about the gig economy and freelancers, I realized that it is a legitimate workforce made up of almost 54 million Americans, plus millions more outside of the United States.

And they aren’t just working part-time, killing time between jobs, or just trying to make a little extra money on the side.

They are professionals who work legitimate hours, have legitimate businesses, and they make legitimate amounts of money.

Many of you are familiar with my story, too.

Maybe you’re caught up in the comfort of a job that takes up a lot of your free time or that you aren’t too happy with, but you feel “safe” there. You want to quit, but you fear explaining to your family that freelancing is serious and that you can make a comfortable living, too.

Over the past year, I have found the answer I have been looking for: What do I want to be when I grow up?

I realized I am a freelancer, maybe not in name there are too many independent workers to have them reside under one label but definitely in spirit. That spirit is of someone who is looking to have more time to oneself, to work on something that he or she feels passionate about, and to feel in charge of one’s own time and destiny.

Learning about the gig economy has infected me with the “freedom” bug, and I feel I am where I belong. It’s a movement that is just starting to make ripples: more freedom, more calling your own shots, and more opportunity for success.

And I know it isn’t without its difficulties. There are challenges, fears, and obstacles – and they’re real. But I think I have found that it has been worth it, and I can only hope it keeps getting better.

Now, I don’t look at the Bay Bridge with sadness. I followed my wandering thoughts to the gig economy and haven’t needed to wonder where it goes since.


Author Cristiano

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