That corporate life!
Rat race, gridlock, cube farm, always be closing. From the outside, and real talk, from the inside too, it sounds like kind of a nightmare.
It can surely seem that way to a fluffy freelancer like your humble narrator, who has already waxed lyrical about the magic of open schedules and the confluence of pajamas, tea and productive employ.
No benefits, no pension, no paid leave, and brutal limitations on your ability to network and train. I love freelancing.
I’m also a single adult with portable expertise.
If I had kids or a house or bigger debts to service than my current collegiate horrors, I’d strongly consider going back to the corporate beige box. More importantly, the only reason I have the expertise to freelance was because I did that very thing a few years ago: I was in a new town, I needed a new skill set and I wished to acquire same without also acquiring scurvy. I’ve returned to freelance work since, but plenty of folks are looking to make the same trade I did for very good reasons. Here’s how I swung it.
Know what you want
First rule of… well, everything, come to think of it: goals. Have them, and not vague “in ten years I want to be” stuff.
What do you need for the new gig to be worth rush hour and team-building exercises?
Debt to cover? Who’ll match your payments? Kid on the way? Don’t even dust off your resume until you know in hard numbers who has the best parental leave, health insurance, day care. We’re freelancers. We know the Internet is omniscient. Inquire. Especially because…
You may not be looking for a job
Remember that new skill set, the one I got without acquiring scurvy? It was grantwriting. People more talented than me have shelled out for a Master’s to learn that. I got paid. Specifically, I was an AmeriCorps VISTA, a “paid volunteer” in a federally funded program that provided a (very, very low) set stipend and benefits for a yearlong commitment to work in the public sphere.
AmeriCorps and programs like it are all over the public and private sphere. They’re a natural outgrowth of the post-career economy, socioeconomic kudzu – which is absolutely the name of my new prog band – twining up the old ivory and concrete towers.
Words like “internship,” “volunteer” and “trainee” aren’t code for “teenagers bearing lattes” anymore.
They’re part of professional life, with improvements to match. That’s good news. Paid training has been a classic component of traditionally blue-collar skilled labor – which is great for millennials, entrepreneurs and the forward-thinking generally – for years, but one good Google search turned up paid trainee and internship programs in everything from coding to lobbying to remote employee management. It’s likely less money in the short term, but most come with at least bargain basement benefits, and as long as you put in the work, corporate jobs come with the vital intangibles of office life: experience, reputation, network, all things a freelancer resume may be short of. On that subject…
Relearn the rules
You found something! Rad! Now let’s keep it for more than a month! It can be trickier than it sounds.
Just adjusting to office culture can be hard enough.
Freelancers get used to autonomy, to responsibility, to – let’s use the word – freedom, and that’s not how offices roll.
The trick is to reconnect with the other thing offices have and freelancing does not: people. You have a team, not just customers, clients and competition, the categories where most folks you meet freelancing tend to fall. There are all kinds of benefits to rolling with a crew.
Unlike going solo responsibility is distributed, so not every event is a crisis and not every setback is your fault.
You’re networking, so whether this is a bridge job and you plan to be done in ten weeks or you’re in it to win it and you’ll be here ten years, every day builds your professional profile. Plus you can get a sense of how to thrive and how not to, just by hanging out. But the best part?
People are the best part of office work.
Talk. Joke. Share lunch. Find the folks into Snapchat or klezmer or whatever your thing is. Be a part of what’s happening around you, and not only will you score a boost up the ladder and (probably) not get fired for coming to work in bunny slippers, you might just be happier, period.
I’m not sold that’s enough to cancel out rush hour and beige walls and, gah, business casual. But it’s a start.