Working: supporting your freelance habit

May 9, 2012

Photo by Gregg Eyman

A few weeks ago, as I got hyped up on coffee and admired the early morning light streaming through the windows of the restaurant where I work, I took a moment to acknowledge something:  I like my job.  My serving job.  It's the perfect fit for what I'm trying to make space to accomplish right now.

I talk with a lot of artists who are trying to find a money job that doesn't suck up all of their time and energy.  When I graduated from college, I was pretty sure that the only way I could be a choreographer was to also be a teacher.  Although I don't regret teaching, I never realized the challenge of spending so much time and energy on something that I don't want to make a career out of.  Thinking back on the restaurant work, the nannying (here and in Wales), and the teaching, I realize that the best jobs were the ones that allowed me the emotional energy and finances to make progress towards figuring out my career steps-- a way my art might finally allow me to make a living (at least more of one).  This lead me to think about a few things I've realized about working in my 8 years out of college:

What do I value, and what do I want to be doing with my time?

Even when I haven't been able to focus my work time where I've wanted to (sometimes those jobs are harder to find), it's always helpful to keep this perspective.

If I make more money per hour, I have more hours to spend doing what I really want to be doing.  

I make more money serving than I do teaching or than I’d make at some office jobs.  Yes, the work is often more physically exhausting than teaching or desk work (and the money can be erratic).  But, I can usually work three days a week instead of five, and spend the other days on rehearsals or other freelance work.

Work that stays at work is the best.

I’ve worked at restaurants with amazing amounts of drama.  I was once a middle school teacher, and brought a lot of my workload and stress home.  I’ve learned that it’s essential to my wellbeing to be able to separate from my job.  This means I go to work, do my job to the best of my ability, and then practice being off the clock when I’m done.  Some days it’s hard, but it’s so worth it.

Insurance & benefits are less important than I thought.

When I got out of college, I was really concerned about finding a job that offered me health insurance.  What I’ve since discovered is that I’d rather pay for my own, get the tax write-off (since I freelance a great deal and file as self-employed), and not be limited to working a job that offers benefits, or limited to working a specific number of hours a week in order to keep my insurance.  No, my insurance isn’t great.  But, it’s good enough.  There are a lot of reasonably priced health insurance options available these days.

Working too much doesn't serve me well.

I'm a driven type-a, and I'm always tempted to pick up extra shifts and projects.  But, when I'm over-extended, I don't do my best work.  I can't work five serving shifts, teach three classes, and still bring clear, big ideas to rehearsal.  So, I try to come back to the first question: what do I value and what do I want to be spending my time doing?  It doesn't always translate to more money, but it usually means that I'm happier with my progress.

The restaurant I've been working for closes in three weeks.  I'm excited and anxious for the next big thing.

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