About two months ago, I started a new job. A REAL job. I know, I know, freelancing is a REAL job, but I mean a job at an OFFICE that isn’t in my house, or my “office” at the local coffeehouse. With other people, who aren’t one and four years old. And, significantly, where I will receive regular paychecks without having to plead, nag, threaten or argue about indemnity clauses.
As I recently confessed to SciLance, I’m a new part-time project editor at WGBH, Boston’s public media outlet best-known for producing programs such as NOVA, Frontline, Antiques Roadshow, and a day-long lineup of kids shows.
I’m not alone when it comes to Scilancers juggling freelance and “real” work. Brian Vastag (bio) has done an outstanding job covering the transition from freelancer to staffer. In his post, he also alludes to the energy of the newsroom, one of the many perks I’ve found with heading back into an office a few days a week.
Real Jobs Have Water Coolers
Landing the ‘GBH gig was exciting to me for many reasons. First, it gave me an excuse to go shoe-shopping. But second, it tapped me into a community of like-mined people who would become my living, breathing co-workers. Yes, I have that sense of community with my friends in SciLance, but outside of our book, we don’t usually collaborate on projects together.
And what largely drew me to this gig is that I would become part of a team developing resources for a new kids’ program. I get my best creative energy–what some might call “flow”–when I’m working collaboratively with other people. Face to face, in the same room, on the same project. Plus, as SciLance member Liza Gross (bio) noted when you’re on staff, “you can brainstorm with your colleagues until a notion gels into a story.”
Real jobs can give you new skills
The team I’m part of includes designers and producers, and together we are developing the overall look and user experience of the program we’re working on. It’s a level of involvement with the end product that, as a freelancer, I rarely had.
I’m also very quickly learning new skills and gaining new experiences. Testing the activities I develop –in other words, leading science activities with actual groups of kids – gives me a chance to tap into my inner teacher and get a better feel for the needs of the educators I frequently write for. These experiences and others – project management, consulting with external advisors – will surely be assets should I return to full-time freelancing down the road.
Real jobs (usually) have steady salaries and benefits packages
It’s no secret that the benefits package that comes with freelancing generally sucks. And freelancing, for all the flexibility it offers, comes with drudgery. Chasing checks. Negotiating contracts. Finding new work. Finding new work that actually pays a living wage. All that drudgery can become such a time-suck that it cuts into the financial flexibility to pursue the stories you want to tell but that might not pay off.
Real jobs can give you the security to take on more ambitious – but lower-paid – freelance work, several SciLancers have noted. As Mark Schrope (bio) says, “When my income is mostly covered, I can obviously worry a lot less about maximizing payments in the shortest amount of time and spend a lot more time developing pitches for stories I’m particularly interested in.”
A real job: identity crisis?
But here’s the question I’ve been mulling over lately: which hat do I wear at conferences and other professional events? Am I Jenny Cutraro, freelance writer, or Jenny Cutraro, editor at WGBH? I worked long and hard to establish a freelance identity, and I’m in no rush to give it up. And it’s very likely freelancing will make up the bulk of my work again someday. But at the same time, I love my new workplace – and identifying with something that’s so much bigger than just, well, me.
“I thought of myself as a freelancer with a steady paycheck for a time,” said Brian, who completed two six-month contracts at The Washington Post before officially joining the staff. While he fully identifies as a staffer now, he initially felt, after seven years of freelancing, “unnatural” calling himself one.
Mark, who recently started a part-time, real job of his own as outreach coordinator for the Schmidt Ocean Institute, puts it this way: “If the steady employer is paying my way and my time, then I am going to primarily represent them and vice versa.”
As for me, I’m quickly developing more of an identity with my new workplace. Plus, it’s pretty cool to see your four-year-old daughter proudly sporting a “Peep and the Big Wide World” temporary tattoo while telling all her friends that her mommy works “where they make Curious George.”
Readers, have you taken on real jobs? What’s been your experience?