I realized this morning that Saturday was a milestone date in my freelance career. It was 5 years since I left the safety of a full-time job at Penn State and settled in with my laptop on the couch every day.
In some ways I was prepared for the moment. I had picked up some freelancing work to do on the side and had a couple of regular assignments, plus sold a few essays, starting a few years earlier. My goal was to build up the freelance work and maybe go to a part-time job while my son was still in high school and college, and then move into full-time freelancing around 2011.
Except I was greeted on January 3, 2005, with a meeting with my supervisor to tell me that he had run out of funds and unless a miracle happened (ie, a huge grant), he couldn't keep me and my office mate past the summer. I half-heartedly began to look for something else on campus while the freelance work picked up. We went on a wedding anniversary trip to Aruba that February and it was on that trip that we began to discuss the realities of a career change.
By the end of March, I had some interviews, but I approached them half-heartedly. My supervisor made another visit to my office. He had run out of funds for me. He could keep me through April but that was it. For the first time, I got scared. We finally had a comfortable lifestyle and I didn't want to go back to scrimping from payday to payday. Because I had a contract through October, I would stay on the University's employment roll, but was technically on unpaid leave. That way I could continue to look for employment and not lose service time.
So on May 1, I woke up and realized that I didn't have to answer to anyone but myself, and that I was in total control of my career destiny. I had a nice slate of assignments. The following week, I had a book contract. I liked not having a boss staring over my shoulder and I especially liked not having to endure air conditioning on beautiful spring days.
In June I got called for a job interview. I went and looked around the table at the 4 or 5 people who seemed bored and crabby. As the interview went on, I thought more and more about how much I didn't want to return to this. The interview wasn't going well anyway -- largely because I lost all desire to put on the fake smile and "I would love this stupid job" attitude and the interviewers caught on to that -- so I finally said, "I'm sorry for wasting your time, but this interview made me realize just how happy I am freelance writing, and I'm no longer interested in this position."
At that point, I set up my home office and focused on building this career. It has its ups and downs, like any job, but it was the right move for me, even if it came 6 years early.
Getting respect as a writer is whole different issue, and I'll talk about that tomorrow, including the conversation with the lady at the winery.