Some people believe that if you haven’t worked a legitimate 9-to-5 workaday Average Joe kind of a job, you should grow up and stop wasting time on that “hobby.” Those people are called “relatives.” And they have not been burdened with an ever-present creative muse—a fast-talking Idea Man who can’t be bothered with things like career advancement and glass ceilings and steady paycheques.
Throughout my professional life, I have been a freelancer, a temp, a part-time associate, an intern, independent contractor, a volunteer, and an hourly wage drone. That full-time steady job complete with benefits and vacation and co-workers and cubicle space has eluded me. The dream of creativity with stability remains pillow fodder. When I was at the bargaining table with the cosmic forces, haggling over the details of my adult life, some of my ambition may have been compromised. Silly me thought it would be enough to find a passion for something and learn to do it well. The cosmic mediator neglected to mention that by doing so, I was forfeiting any chance at improving my social status, income bracket, and prestige.
My parents—separately and in different stages of their respective careers— experimented with entrepreneurism with varying levels of failure. Neither of them settled into the role of small business owner or were able to wear all the hats one must when starting any sort of solo business enterprise. They were both diligent workoholics but they both overdosed on their jobs. From them, I inherited a double dose of the “be your own boss” gene. Unfortunately, the DNA was deficient in “be your own bookkeeper,” “be your own efficiency expert,” and “be your own sexy secretary” genes. Our common link is the belief that we’d be content being someone else’s worker drones but not really wanting to answer to that someone else. At least my entrepreneur endeavors haven’t ended in arson or tax blunders.
I started my career by jumping in as a freelance writer. I was a young go-getter and eager to snap up whatever assignments I could. I went. I got. I burned out on trying to keep up with researching things of which I knew nothing to write 1,500 moderately clever words every week. I hoped for a full-time writing gig that would allow me to nestle up to one broad topic. Then I had my heart broken when one client strung me along with a job offer, only to snatch it away without explanation. Never one to leave me stranded, my muse popped up and introduced me to a little blue robot who took me on a different path for a while.
I am not opposed to the idea of working for The Man. Freelancing (and its sometimes extended droughts) is lonely work. There are no incompetent co-workers to loathe. There are no lovely, completely competent co-workers to befriend. There is no daily commute. There is absolutely no reason for me to wear any of my nice, mostly business-appropriate attire. After ten years of setting my own hours and working at my own pace, am I too old and set in my ways to jump into a steady daytime job? Would it be a bit like telling Peter Pan it’s time to grow up? When potential employers look at my resume and see so much independent work, are they worried that I’ll be too independent for their office?
Today I am over 30 and the job market is dry. I live in a city full of colleges and universities that are cranking out younger, more energetic graduates who can be easily molded into good worker drones. As a designer, I’m competing with 20-year-olds with flashier portfolios and 45-year-olds with more job experience. As a writer, I’m up against everyone with a blog and a flimsy grasp on grammar rules. Frustrations abound. My muse reports in daily with a fresh crop of big ideas, some of which overreach my talent and technical prowess. While I wait for the opportunity that allows me to wear fancy pants, I am tackling my list of fancy plans and putting my muse’s more accessible ideas into action.