Freelance Nation

Freelancer, diversified worker, temporary agent — I prefer the term independent contractor. It sounds more serious. More stabile. More delivering.

Whatever you call those of us who work on our own without the safety net of an employer paying our health insurance or days off, one in three US workers engages in some type of freelance work. According to a recent study commissioned by Elance-oDesk.com, 53 million Americans took on project work last year alone.

The term freelancing sounds so whimsical and, well, free. Truth be told, much of my time is spent panting heavily, running uphill and crossing my fingers that my contract will be renewed and my sins of fallibility forgiven. We walk a tightrope most people don’t see. They think freelancing is somehow for the meek at heart. The ones who can’t get out of their jammies until noon. You know, when they wake up.

Yeah. Right.

That’s not my reality at least.¬†Most days — and many weekends — I spend thinking, working, worrying, writing, rewriting, formulating, reformulating, strategizing and implementing and reporting and — yes — praying. Sure, I can decide when to take time off. And I do as much as I can. It usually amounts to a handful of hours on a weekend, away from my phone.

Doesn’t sound very Slow, does it?

Freelancing can be tough. But if you are in love with your clients — and I am — it doesn’t feel like work, but rather more like an obligation a parent has to a child. You want to assure them that everything will be alright. Even when you think it might not be. That’s when you assure them that even if it isn’t, you aren’t going away and you hope they won’t want to see you go.

The Slow part of my freelance exists lies in the freedom of choice I have. I have a lot of room to make decisions, which can be both daunting and liberating. I get to decide now or later to do this thing or that. Ultimately, what counts in my industry (public relations) are results.

Bring them or perish.

Since I like to eat, I move mountains where I can and make molehills out of the rest.

That strategy — and the joy it brings — has worked for over a decade…and counting.

 

A little bit can go a long way

My friend’s face loomed large on my iMac screen. She had forty minutes before her next appointment. It had been too long since we last spoke. And now, because I too had been ten minutes late, we had less time together than planned.

“How’s life?” I asked.

“Too fast,” she said.

She listed all the things she had to accomplish, in a vague, distracted way. It wasn’t clear to me why she was overwhelmed exactly. Yes, having two school kids and a part-time job can be stressful, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it herself. We talked about how fast life is in the US – how incredibly crushing it can be to go from one activity to the next. All the while trying to look good and perfect and sensible.

I shook my head with empathy.

“It’s exhausting. But somehow everyone is stressed out. It’s as if you aren’t a good person if you’re relaxed.” Her story isn’t the only one I have observed. Others from my circle of friends and family complain about how hard it is to keep pace. When asked what they are keeping pace with, I watch them turn their heads slightly, as if the air to their left will somehow give them the answer.

“I don’t know,” I hear over and over again.

Peer pressure. Societal pressure. Cultural demands. They all confront us with specific expectations. Most of us don’t even realize we are subjected to those subtle vices strapped tightly around our thumbs, those digits that are usually cradling a smartphone to help us gather more input than we could ever register.

How often do we ask ourselves: “What are we racing toward? Why are we checking our Facebook status — again? What is missing from my offline life that I need to get one online?”

I recently had a conversation about the differences between European and American expectations around vacation. In the Europe, it’s considered a human right. In the US, it’s considered an inconvenience. I even talked to one client who is getting married and is ‘dropping by the office’ on the way to his honeymoon. He is taking two weeks in Italy. But first, he’s going to check on that report.

Yikes.

I am all for personal responsibility, for giving our children a better life, and for doing an excellent job at work. But I also declare a new way of thinking about taking time off. That includes Friday night and weekends. A little bit can go a long way to keep us sane. Walking a balance beam requires skills, concentration and focus. But we need the strength to do that too.

How can we possibly remain strong when we never, ever let up?

 

Levity, Not Intensity

I have a confession to make. For the past month I have been overwhelmed. Try as I might, I kept slipping into a deep intensity. Slow seemed far, far away. I was in the fast lane, like a lost deer on the highway, seeking shelter, yet finding nothing but headlights.

Today marks the first day that I have finally sat down and concentrated on only one thing. And it has felt so very good. The cloak of Slow has once again emerged to provide the shelter I need.

A lot of my speed-filled month had to do with my being away from my familiar surroundings. And when one is uprooted in such a way, it can throw a person off kilter. Oh sure, you can work remotely, but it isn’t as easy making magic happen at your mom’s sloping card table when what you really need is the stability of your home office desk.

I appreciate the flexibility of my work that allows me to travel to other ends of the earth whilst still making clients happy and heard. But it can also create a muddled state of mind as one is not sure whether to jump into the pool or into a PR conversation. I spent a great deal of August feeling torn, wanting desperately to connect with old friends (which I did) and simply stopping to rest from it all.

There is no place like home. After traveling far and wide, I have come to realize how very good life can be right where you are. Thankfully, life is mostly filled with levity, not such bone-crushing intensity. And when fast takes over, I try to remember what — and who — is truly important.

For those of you seeking reprieve from life’s intensity, Slow can be had. It requires simplifying your life and finding that place on Earth that raises you up to your highest potential.