Did You Fail? When Freelancers Take On a 9 to 5

image: pixabay

image: pixabay

Yes, it’s been a while since my last post.

A short update; almost a year ago, I left my marriage of over twenty years. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, but rather one that had been put off for years, and finally became too big to ignore.

I’d freelanced for some time before leaving–for extra money to supplement my husband’s income, mostly magazine articles and some copywriting jobs–but in the months before going out on my own I was able to rustle up enough of a clientele to support myself and the kids on a monthly basis. I didn’t want to count on a divorce settlement to bankroll us, but I did expect that eventually, something would be decided and I would have at least some access to the savings that had accumulated over twenty years of marriage.

That, as they say, is what I get for thinking.

Fast forward several months.

After a brutal lesson in just how difficult (and expensive) it can be to try and get divorced, I was not only still living without the cushion of any savings, but also in debt up to my ears from throwing money I didn’t have to begin with at a lawyer. (Who still needs more money).

I lost a client.

Things happen that didn’t have a spot in the carefully constructed budget. Someone gets sick. The car breaks down. I have to pay my accountant to do my taxes. One, then two pay cycles on the credit card go by without me being able to make a payment.

A client stalls payment.

Another one’s business dwindles to the point of evaporation.

The stress of coming up with more business to cover the losses is one thing, but the ongoing struggle of kids who need things, against a backdrop of no cushion whatsover became a little too much to bear.

I took on a part time office job, just to be sure that we’d make rent, at least, if I didn’t find a client to replace the big one I lost.

But dividing up the day, running one kid to school, overseeing the homeschooling of two others, trying to get one to her beloved job at a horse ranch in between…it became too much to balance.

I made the decision to drop the majority of my freelancing, and just go back into the standard job market. (Thankfully, the office where I was working had a way for me to go full time there, so I was able to stay in the place that had given me my initial leg up.)

Now, I still have a couple of freelance clients, both because I NEED the extra income (working full time at an office job with no college degree is netting me much less than what I could make freelancing for the same amount of hours), and because I want to keep my foot in the industry.

There’s a sadness about leaving behind this chapter of my life–the flexibility, the ability to be present in a way for my kids that few working parents get to experience–but I’m also a little…relieved.

The pay cut is depressing, sure, but the stability was needed. I’ve had a few thoughts about the transition, and I thought I’d share, for the benefit of those who read that are also pursuing a freelance life, and also for anyone who wonders if their work choices are really the best, given all the factors that need considering, when you’re talking about balancing life and work.

Here they are…

Feeding Kids (and/or Yourself) Is Never Failure

Yes, writing for a living fed my soul. But my physical body needed nourishment, too, and so did my children. I was making enough to do that, but without a cushion–something everyone making the jump to freelance life needs in order to plot a secure course*–it was a gamble, and in the end, the stress wasn’t worth it to me. The struggle, as the kids say, is indeed real, but there comes a tipping point where it’s simply not worth it, and only you know where it is. If you’ve felt for some time that something needs to give, it probably does.

You’re Still Free

Job decisions aren’t written in blood or stone (if your potential employer utilizes either of those, I’d consider it a red flag), and if you head into a situation that warrants signing a contract, remember, you can always negotiate. Yes, you may need to set aside a year to work in order to get a good job, even though you may only want to take a six month break from freelancing, but there’s also the option to offer something else. One company I looked at wanted a year commitment from me, in order to establish a department, and I offered the idea of a task-based contract instead. (I didn’t end up working there, but it was something they would have considered. Of course, if you’re desperate, you’re desperate. Do what you have to do.)

Art Can Just Be Art

This may be anathema to the freelancer who has tasted the nectar of making a living through their art, but sometimes…it can be nice to let it just be art again.

My Favorite Ex-Husband (yes, there is more than one…this is the first one, who told me amiably, when I announced he was now officially my favorite, “Well, you’ve always been my favorite ex-wife!”) is a graphic designer.

He told me recently that he considers his “day job”–at a successful agency–just what he does to pay his bills. When he “freelances”, he actually freelances…often doing it for no  or very little pay.

Why? So that it can be done his way. Since the client is getting a bargain, Favorite Ex-Husband calls the shots, Don Draper-style, and gets to truly let loose, creatively.

The clients I’m keeping are going to help me live above the poverty line, but I also carefully chose the ones I kept (aside from the lucrative ones I lost, of course). Everything I’m doing now, I’m doing because I like doing it. No more gritting my teeth and editing copy so boring it would make a statue cry, no more searching the thesaurus for inventive ways to say the same inane thing a million times…just jobs that tickle my fancy and/or my brain.

Changing Pace Can Pique Creativity

Although you’ll be tired, have less time, and be stretched a little more thin, if you’re fortunate, there’s another benefit to taking on a “real” job; the social aspect.

I’m not kidding when I say that going to work quickly became a bright spot in my life.

As a journalist, I got to interact with people on a regular basis while freelancing, even though the bulk of my work was always done at home, alone. But it was fleeting, and furtive, and even though I loved it, and it broadened my horizons (and fit well with my introverted nature), I think this time in my life is one where I need more people. On a regular basis.

And I need them to be funny. And smart. And kind. (Blessedly, my new co-workers are all of that, and more.)

It may be that your job is just a necessary evil, and if it is, well…I’m sorry. At its best, an outside gig can be a boon for a frustrated freelancer because of the social interaction. Water cooler chit chat can be more than office gossip; politics, religion, sharing life events, these are things that can open our minds if we let them, and interaction can be a foil to the exhaustion of adding more responsibility to your life. Making the time to write when you have fewer hours in the day will be challenging, but your creativity may be amped up, if you let your co-workers take up the task.

In fact, you’ll notice that this is the first blog post I’ve written in a few months. I’m in month four of my new job, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence; writing for work had taken over my life, and the writing related things I simply enjoy–trying to spin a novel, writing blog entries–weren’t happening anymore. A stable source of employment and good company have given me the psychological space and energy to bring those things back, a little at a time.

I guess I’m saying, if you’ve had to forgo fulltime freelancing for now, don’t sweat it. Artists throughout time have either taken on temporary other-than-art employment, or worked at it alongside their craft with great results. (Take a peek at an interesting list here put together by Mental Floss of artists who didn’t immediately quit their day jobs).

It’s not the end of the world. It might be the opening of one, actually.

“Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to do.” ~Cicero the slave, from the movie Gladiator

“Art is not my life; my life is my life.” painter R.B. Kitaj

Need some inspiration? Use my Amazon links (which finance my rock star lifestyle) to get some through a couple of my favorite books on writing, and creating…

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

*Take a look at Kelly James-Enger’s Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money as a resource for plotting a course for a freelance writing life if you’re thinking of making a transition. Even if you have to take a side step in the beginning, or if you have to start life basically over, like I did, her advice is sound and will give you a good foundation to build on, or come back to, if you have to take a break.