Nov 28, 2019, 06:28AM

Freelance and Funemployment

You might think this is the set-up for a sob story, but it’s not.

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The other day, two small checks arrived in the mail, amounting to less than $200. These were payments for freelance work. One was for a newspaper book review. The other was for ad copy I’d written for a dermatology webpage. I took those checks to the bank, cashed them, and drove to city hall to pay the utility bill. Next, I bought a fifth of Old Tom gin to mix for drinks for my wife and me. (One ice cube, a decent splash of gin, half a bottle of chilled ginger beer, and sip.) That left about $20 in my pocket.

You might think this is the set-up for a sob story, but it’s not. It felt good to do work, get paid, and buy things that we both needed and wanted (electricity and gin) without eating into our cash reserves. When you’re unemployed, that’s a huge win. I stopped and thought about this for a moment. It made me grin like an idiot.

Some wannabe wit came up with a snotty term for being jobless: funemployment. Granted, there’s nothing particularly fun about not receiving regular deposits in your bank account, paying a penurious price for health insurance, and stalking the mailman for checks. Yet joblessness does have benefits as well as drawbacks.

When you’re an employee, a large chunk of your time belongs to someone else. You may have to go in at a certain time and stay until closing or when your shift ends, sit at a desk that affords you no privacy from colleagues, sit through meetings that have no bearing on your actual work, take part in team building activities, and file TPS reports. Some people thrive in office environments. For those of us who need intense focus to do what we do best, noisy workplaces are the enemy.

When you’re an off-site contractor, there are deliverables and deadlines to hit. However, it’s up to you to figure out how to allocate your time and where you do your work. (I am currently writing on the dining room table while my four-month old daughter plays in a Fisher-Price baby bouncer with items she can whack or grab suspended overhead.) Your clients can only rope you into so much extraneous horseshoe tossing. During decent economic times, you might even afford to take on more interesting projects over highly remunerative but frustrating ones.

If this sounds like an older gender-swapped Pollyanna playing “the glad game,” well, that’s a fair criticism. There are some really good things about full-time employment, including easier lending terms from banks, decent health insurance, and no sky-high self-employment tax. At the same time, experience has taught me that too much of our lives gets subsumed into our jobs. It’s good to break out of that mold once in a while and just breathe.


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