Friday, November 2, 2007

Making the Giant Leap

On another blog I read, the poster asked what led to the decision to become a freelance writer full time. Any new job can be a little scary, as well as exciting, but becoming self-employed is filled with unknowns, uncertainties, and wonders if this month will bring enough to live on.

My friends were surprised I decided to make this leap from structured regular job to unstructured freelancing. I'm highlighting the word structure there because my personality insists on order. I'm a little OCD, actually (which works to my advantage as a freelancer, believe it or not), and I need to keep to a routine in order to avoid undue stress. And trust me, my open days are my most stressful, no matter how much I look forward to them.

But on January 3, 2005, my boss came into my office and said his money was running out and unless he got a grant, we had to look for new positions. I worked at a university at the time; it wasn't unusual to be on annual, soft-money contracts that were dependent on grants and funding. When I took the job, I was told that there was enough money to last at least 3 years, which sounded about right to me. In three years, my son would be in college, and I would be ready to either move on to a different job or begin my ease into freelancing by going part time. I wasn't looking forward to going through the job search again and returning to an office where I had to show up in dress clothes and work in an open environment.

Still, I had a responsibility. I started sending off my resume and applying for jobs around campus. I got interviews and I put on my best smilie face.

In the meantime, my 20th wedding anniversary came along. I was making some freelance money on a fairly regular basis, maybe $300 a month on average. It allowed me to do some fun things and treat myself to "toys" like my first laptop. We used some of that money to help pay for our anniversary trip to Aruba. I thought it was an extravagant trip for someone in the midst of a job search, but my husband was confident things would work out. Maybe not the way we planned, he said, but the way God wanted them to work out.

Shortly after we came home, I had a job interview for what would have been a great job as an associate editor for an academic journal. At the same time, a friend sent me information about a freelance job opportunity. I applied for that. I told the husband that this might be what determines the direction I go in. I got the freelance job. I didn't get the editor job.

The husband and I had another talk. I was oddly at peace with the whole situation. "You've wanted to do this for a long time," he said. "You supported me when I wanted to go to college. This is your dream, and I support you."

It was a dream, yes, but too early for my plans. At least four years too early. I didn't know what to do. I was scared to just make a leap without knowing if I could really do this. So I arranged to go on an unpaid sabbatical until my contract with the university was officially over. Money for my job ran out on April 30th, so I through most of March and April, I took vacation time, working only a day or two a week to finish up loose ends. On April 30th, my final regular paycheck was deposited in the bank. On May 1, my freelance career started for real, and I counted on my regular freelancing gig plus this new one I had picked up.

I still bid on university jobs and still went on interviews. Then a friend told me about a book opportunity, and I pursued that. By the end of May, I had a book deal and was making money freelancing. I also had a phone interview for a campus job. I thought it went miserably and was shocked when they brought me in for a face-to-face interview. Right before I left, the contract for the book arrived, as did two article assignments. I walked into the interview, started through the same old questions, had people staring at me and writing notes. The woman in charge of the interview was a cranky old thing, and after 20 minutes I said, "You know, I think this interview was a bad idea on my part. I don't really want this job, and we're all wasting time." The cranky lady said, "You aren't working now, so it seems like you need to worry about this job." I told her I didn't think that was her business, and I said goodbye and walked out of the building feeling free as a bird.

Truth is, there were a lot of ups and downs that first year. There are ups and downs every month. But my husband says I should have done this years ago. The money is better. I'm less stressed.

Still, I never would have attempted this full time if it weren't for a boss who couldn't manage his budget and a few little successes under my belt. I figured out to structure my days, too. After all, if I don't make this work, it's off to a regular job again. And that's a leap I never want to have to make!


Angela WD said...

Great story, Sue. Sometimesx it does take that outside push to give your the courage to do what you really want to do. Glad to hear you stopped that interview dead in its tracks, too!

I have a similar story in that I strated freelancing after I was laid off from a corporation where I'd worked for almost 20 years. They wanted to help me with a placement counselor, and other departments in the company wanted me to come work for them, but the door of my cage was open, and nobody was gonna slam it shut again!

Angela WD said...

Wow, I must have tired fingers. Lookit all those typos in my last comment. Sorry.

Patti said...

you are my hero...