When starting to freelance full-time several years ago, I began hearing what is by now a familiar statement from people:
“I can’t imagine not knowing how much money I was going to make each month. I don’t think I could stand the insecurity of not knowing.”
It is the most common complaint of the freelancer: being cooped up in the house, lots to do, nowhere to go, no human contact in the near future and the seven steps between the desk and the kitchen are the only bits of exercise expected for the day.
Sigh. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wonder sometimes if I’ve picked the wrong career. No matter how much I love the outcome, is it worth it if this my everyday? When all of my friends started getting Fitbits a few months ago, I couldn’t even entertain the thought, because who needs to confirm that the number of steps I take each day doesn’t always make it into the double digits? Does Fitbit automatically call an ambulance if your vital signs are too much like those of a comatose person? On the other hand, can it detect pending bedsores or deep vein thrombosis? Am I seriously a person who worries about these things?
Freelancers worry about these things.
We are buying a house today. My freelance writer self and independent musician husband have an appointment to close at 10am, after which we will move into our adorable 1938, 4-bedroom Cape Cod with detached two-car garage and a half-acre of land.
When I quit my job, back in 2010, I was working for a board, and therefore had to go around to ten different people, all of them at least 20 years my senior, to tell them I was not only leaving my position as their director, but I was doing so to work for myself, as a writer. They were all very kind and supportive, and, I could also tell, quietly concerned. I was trading a secure, public sector job with great benefits for what appeared to be essentially a non-job – in a terrible economy. They all liked me and wanted me to succeed, but I could see that they couldn’t visualize how “freelance writer” and “success” had any potential to overlap. When my then-fiancé followed suit the next year, leaving his high school teaching job after eight years, we only seemed crazier.
Freelancers have the worst bosses. When you are the one holding you accountable for everything every day, denial and self-deception often run rampant. In an effort to hold my own feet to the fire, here is my confession. This is how I lie to myself.
Like many dogs, Lois has a few internal alarm clocks. Unlike most dogs, none of Lois’s have anything to do with food. Lois is entirely driven by people and play.
People love to hate connectivity. Crabbing about our “always on” culture is so commonplace, people even do it from their mobile phones. On social media.
This makes my skin crawl. As a freelance writer whose livelihood is only possible by being always on and the technology that allows it, it irks me personally, but there’s a larger reason why the complaint is wrongheaded.
Sure, having to answer an email on vacation or during dinner is annoying. It’s a small problem, and people do go overboard sometimes. But isn’t not being able to make dinner because you can’t leave the office worse? Or having to leave a vacation early to deal with a disaster?
Today, I am in Rockledge, Florida living out the evidence of why the ability to be always on gives me the ability to have a richer life. Doing what I do, it’s possible to decrease my work dramatically for a week, but it’s pretty much impossible to stop it altogether, unless I want to take a serious hit to my income. But here I am, able to spend a week with my grandmother, mom, aunt, uncle, sister, cousins and brand new nephew because I can work wherever I go.
Last night, I wrote a story at my aunt’s house. Today, I did an interview at Downtown Disney. Then I spent the rest of of the day enjoying my loved ones. I sent some emails from the car. Tomorrow I’ll work for about half the day and then snuggle with my nephew for the rest of the weekend.
If this is always on, I don’t ever want to be off.
Talking about money is the wooooooooooorst. Even as freelance writer who must measure absolutely everything I do by how much it pays if I want to eat and sleep inside, it kills me to broach the subject of pay. I’m not alone on this. For whatever reason, most Americans not only don’t talk about their finances, they’d prefer to discuss politics, religion or death over money. Multiply that Americanism by being Midwestern, and talking about payment with publishers is practically paralyzing for me.
My professional money talk anxiety began decade ago (a decade ago!), when I wrote a weekly bar review column for a local paper in Lansing. Every week, I went to a bar, wrote my little thingy, and I’d get a $60 check in the mail. One week, it didn’t come. I decided to wait and see if it was late. When my next check came on schedule, followed by the next — with no mention of the missing funds — I panicked. I was 22, living paycheck to paycheck. I really needed that $60. How could I ask for it? What if they just thought that bar review was super bad and decided not to pay me for it? What if the error was on my end and now it was too late to fix? What if my editor thought I was stingy for making a thing over $60 and then hated me and stopped giving me work and my dream of writing for a living was dashed? Over $60?!