I Earn Dollars But I Still Feel Unsafe — A Week In The Life Of A Freelancer

August 24, 2021

A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is a freelance product designer. He earns in forex while living in Nigeria. He talks to us about navigating time zone differences, landing foreign clients, and his battles with a sedentary lifestyle.

MONDAY:

Unlike most Lagosians, my day begins in the evening. I’m awake when people are asleep and I’m asleep when people are awake.

Work typically starts at 3 p.m. for me and ends around midnight or early morning. I’m a product designer in Nigeria working with a foreign company, so my sleep pattern is ruined.

As long as I’m getting paid in forex, I don’t mind.

It’s wild that I got into this life because of an Instagram message. I had just quit my job, was running on vibes and panicking when an acquaintance texted, “Hey, do you want to work for a foreign company?” You’d have been worried if you saw the way I jumped at the offer. It was so bad that I didn’t negotiate with my employer. The speed and casualness with which he agreed to my initial price told me I had sold myself short. 

For me, the prospect of earning in dollars was simply too good to be true. I had just quit a job without a plan and here I was. Now, I know I could have bargained better, but that’s all past. 

These days, every working hour is paid for. Although, I try to strike a balance — I don’t work more than 12 hours during the week, and if I can help it, I don’t work on the weekends. 

Since I work in a different time zone, I also try to use my mornings to relax. I use the time my oga is sleeping to get a few things done. Like today, I woke up at 11 a.m. The first thing I did was stretch a little. Then I replied to messages from the night before and tried to skip. Around noon, I had a light breakfast and napped. 

By 3 p.m., I was feeling very rested and ready to seize the day. 

TUESDAY:

The first thing I said when I woke up this morning was “God forbid bad thing.” I had a nightmare that I was back to earning in naira. If you see the speed I woke up with ehn. 

I’m saying God forbid bad things for a couple of reasons. Beyond the better pay — which is important — foreign jobs give superb feedback. Any small thing, they’ll throw words of affirmation at you: you’re beautiful, your design is great. In fact, my employer says I’m the best in the world. I’m usually like, “Okay sir, if you insist.”

You can move mountains and some Nigerian employers may not acknowledge it. To them, you’re being paid a salary so do your work. Being appreciated alone is a big win in my books.

Another good thing — and I’m not shading anyone — is the developers I work with. They are beasts. You give them your design, and they implement it exactly as it is. Whew! 

There’s less back and forth between designers and the developers, and they actually listen to me because it’s my field. Also, they trust that I know what I’m saying — wow. 

I had a nice meeting with the tech team at work today. Although I started the day feeling low on energy, the feedback from the conversation I had with them gingered me. I’d thought I was going to get through my day doing the barest minimum, but now, I’m inspired to do more. 

It feels very relaxing to work in an environment where I’m valued and my work is appreciated. Naturally, it makes me want to go above and beyond. 

My goal for this week, as with every other week, is to finish all my tasks before the weekend so I can relax. I won’t be caught dead in front of a laptop if Chelsea is playing, or if my guys are outside balling. 

WEDNESDAY:

People come up to me every time asking how they can land foreign jobs. I tell them the same thing: exposure. 

You have to put yourself out there. That’s the major difference between being good and being seen. The sweet spot is having the skill and being visible. There are many good designers out there, but no one knows them.  

I make sure to always update my portfolio and my LinkedIn page. I’m always shooting out cold emails. I’ve come a long way from posting my designs primarily on Instagram to using LinkedIn. Regardless of what platform you use, it’s important you put yourself out there. 

Today, I already sent out a cold email on LinkedIn and started a conversation. It works for me because I also have the experience to back it up. I tell newbies in the game to document their process. Beyond daily challenges, explain the problems you identified and why you decided to redesign an existing app that works perfectly. 

Once you can state a problem and explain how you arrived at a solution, you’re almost there. The next step is to share widely and add to your portfolio. These are the things you’ll send as proof when reaching out to foreign companies. 

Another thing that’s important to note is that if you’re not using platforms like Upwork and co, it’s always advisable to ask for a down payment before doing any work. These streets are dangerous and you don’t want to say “I thy known”. 

Personally, I’ve not had any bad experience and to God be the glory. If someone runs me street, I can just start crying. 

THURSDAY:

As the week comes to a close, I’m not as exhausted as I usually am. In fact, this is the first week I’m not actively looking forward to the weekend. Weekends are sacred for me because that’s when I get to spend all the money I’ve been making. 

If I work long hours during the week, the weekend is to spend the money made from that time. 

I overheard some people talking about how they had no plans for the weekend, and it made me flashback to a year ago. The difference between then and now is massive. Now, I dey ball die. When people stylishly ask me what has changed, I tell them to ask me straight and not go through the corners — life is good.  Dollars is sweet.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the dollar to the naira exchange rate is high. I don’t know whether to thank the government or to curse them. But oh my God. 

Beyond the financial aspect, I’m also not on the same level skill-wise as I was last year. Global exposure has sharpened my skill. Every day, I’m improving my craft. 

I’m grateful to be able to provide for myself and my family, but I’m scared that Nigeria can unravel the false safety I feel at any point. I’m comfortable here, but there’s no infrastructure. Terrible roads, no hospitals, no security. It’s scary that if anything happens to me in Nigeria, money can’t save me.

All in all, I recognise my privilege and don’t rub it in people’s faces. The country is in shambles and doesn’t work; I’m lucky and not special. 

But there’s only so much luck I can have, that’s why I’m also planning japa.

FRIDAY:

Ladies and gentlemen, the weekend is here. The best two days of the week where we’re free from the reach of capitalism. 

I’m happy that the weekend is here for two reasons: one is that I’m not working. The other is that I finally get to set up my home gym. One of the casualties of working from home has been my stomach. Before now, I didn’t have a potbelly, but working from home has changed that. And it’s so difficult getting myself to exercise. I try to stretch but succeed at that maybe once a week. 

When God touches my heart, I jog maybe once a month. I hate that shit so much because it’s so tasking. However, being active is now a top priority for me. It’s so easy to get lazy and die because you’re sitting down at home chasing money. 

My health has taken a toll because of this lifestyle: I sleep at odd hours, I have a potbelly, I take supplements because I’m indoors all day, and I don’t eat healthily. I also spend a lot of time staring at a screen. 

I hope that in a few years from now, I can break out of this freelance life. Maybe I’ll get some respite then. I hope to be the one employing freelancers or I’m in a reputable company earning internationally competitive rates regardless of where I live. Maybe if I’m still in Nigeria by then, $1 will be worth ₦1,000…

But all that one is future thinking, I have pending problems in the present. Today, I’ve made up my mind to go and buy dumbbells and floor rolls for exercise. This will join my skipping rope and exercise mat. Little by little, my home gym is coming to life.  I must not die before I reach the future of my dreams. 


Check back every Tuesday by 9 am for more “A Week In The Life ” goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, fill this form.

Hassan Yahaya

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