The downside of sovereignty

Now that I’ve raved about the sovereignty of working for oneself as a freelance writer…let me tell you about the downside.  The one thing that was lacking for me as a freelancer who worked at home was one of the most important: peers.  Say what you want about your coworkers, but they are essential.  Having a second opinion sitting one desk over from you is invaluable.

Can you recreate this experience as a freelancer?

It’s an important thing to ask yourself if you are thinking about going out on your own and stepping away from the corporate environment.  A lot of people here in Phoenix like to go to co-working places and/or coffee shops.  To be honest, sometimes I like working in coffee shops but other times, not so much.  I guess it depends on the atmosphere on any given day.  I most often like working in my own home office where I can control my own atmosphere.  But sometimes it gets to feeling like an island and the coffee shop starts to become appealing again.

But as a writer, peers are so important.  I work in a newsroom and can’t begin to tell you the importance of a second set of eyes on a piece of copy.  When I work on my own I have to change my work habits to give myself extra time for revisions.  I write and then let my work “cool” for a while before I re-read and revise.  Without a coworker sitting next to me to serve as my second set of eyes, I can only depend on my own.  So I come up with little tricks like letting a draft “cool” for a couple hours or overnight before I come back to it.  (This method has really helped with a few Boston University papers, too).

Freelancing from home means I have to create my own peers.  Twitter and Facebook are great for this. But so are instant messaging, email, and Skype.  It never hurts to have someone you can call or IM for advice or a second pair of eyes when needed.  I’ve met a few great freelance writers online and they have given great help over the years.  It’s also great to keep in touch with others to see how their careers take shape and see how they market themselves.  It’s so good to see how others succeed — it’s inspiring.

Sometimes that’s the most important thing.  Do your coworkers inspire you?  Do they make you better? Do they make you want to step up your game?  Are they supportive?  If not, maybe you would be better off creating a community of peers on your own.

Gone are the days of having a “comfort zone”

This is why I stopped freelancing nearly two years ago.  I wanted a “comfort zone” and was driven by a boyfriend-at-the-time to “get a real job” that was “steady” that I could “depend on.”  It was a nice idea at the time and it’s just what I did.  I don’t think such a thing exists anymore and it is something I never believed in anyway.  The reason why I was freelancing to begin with was because I felt to my core that you can’t depend on anyone but yourself to make a living.  I have also worked in radio broadcasting for 11 years now, which is an unpredictable industry to say the least.  I was used to the idea of always having a resume ready to go.

Two years later and single, my core beliefs have been proven right on once again.  The economy is much different than it was then, and in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.  I knew then you couldn’t depend on “father employer” to always provide for you, and today we all see why that is.  When Westwood One told us about our pay cut/furloughs at the end of September, I realized you can no longer depend 100% on a full-time job for income.  Since we got the news, I started talking to friends whose furloughs and pay cuts are more severe than mine, and also to friends who’ve been out of work for over a year now.

The only thing I can conclude from this experience is that every one of us must learn to provide for ourselves.  Here’s what I’m thinking…

My full-time, 40-hours-per-week job no longer pays my bills.  At least, not for the next three months and even after these three tight months are past, it still doesn’t help me meet my financial goals.  However, it does have some benefits I won’t get in freelancing like a paycheck every two weeks.  I do know I will at least get some kind of check every two weeks, no matter how small.

I also get health insurance for a dirt cheap monthly fee.  While I do still get stiffed with a lot of health bills I can’t afford on my salary, I know it could be much worse.  I’ve been there, done that in the days of providing my own health insurance.  I don’t even want to know what that would cost me today.  I am guessing at least $300 a month with expensive copays and prescriptions on top of that.

Another benefit of a full-time job, even if I don’t make full-time pay is sick and vacation time.  If I’m running a fever, I can call in sick, unlike in freelancing where a deadline is a deadline.  I do also have paid vacation time.  It’s so hard to take a vacation or sick day when you are your own boss.  If I am too sick to leave my home, I can call in sick to my full-time job but I’ll still have to turn in my freelance work.  Hey, at least I won’t have to do both.

Having a full-time job also gets me out of the house  five days a week, which is also a plus.  I get to interact with coworkers and learn from them, which is something I don’t get working alone at home. Freelancing interaction for me in 2006-2008 was limited to email, phone, Skype, MySpace, and Twitter.  I spent next to nothing on gas, but I think I also ended up out of touch without all those great “water cooler” chats I have now with coworkers.

So those are all the great things about having a full-time job.  You get sick time, vacation time, a paycheck every two weeks, cheaper health benefits than one can provide oneself, and a sense of community.  Not to mention how good it looks on the resume as you seek jobs.  The best time to get a job is when you already have a job.  I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true.

But when the rent doesn’t get paid…it’s not so fun anymore.  This brings me to the entire point of this post:

Don’t depend on an employer to be your everything in 2009 and beyond!

We have got to be moonlighting on the side, whether it is by selling crafts, cleaning houses, DJ’ing weddings, or walking dogs.  I just don’t see being able to get by on one income anymore like our employers are some kind of gods meant to provide for us.  Being in such a comfort zone is a mistake.

I plan to treat my full-time job as my main source of income and benefits–but not as my only source of income and benefits.  To me now, it’s like just another freelance gig to juggle; the income from it can go away at any time.  When I juggled several freelance gigs, I knew this.  When one gig went away, it didn’t make me sad or angry.  I just moved on to the next gig.

So I can continue to be bitter and angry at my employer for cutting my pay, or I can move on to the next gig.  I think I can accept what I’ve known for years in my gut–that only I can create my income by using my unique talents and ideas to find meaningful work I enjoy that pays the bills.