I shut my computer and take a deep breath, stretching to clear my head. It’s two in the afternoon on a weekday and I’m wrapping up some writing that I’ve been working on for the past couple of hours and heading to the gym for a long swim in the pool. When I get home I’ll complete an hour of Spanish practice and finish Storycraft, the book about narrative nonfiction that I’ve been reading this week. This evening I’ll make a simple dinner of linguine and kale salad, chat with my boyfriend via Skype, and catch up on Game of Thrones. Tomorrow will be similar, except I have plans for an early trail run to take advantage of the cool morning air.
Not all of my weeks look like this. Typically I sandwich a few hours of work in there, usually in the morning and early afternoon. On workout days I’ll head to the gym on the way home from the studio, often stopping at the grocery store to pick up some dinner fixings after I finish, my hair unkempt and eyes imprinted with rings from my goggles. This week has been especially low-key, though, because I signed up for an untested craft show and bombed hard last weekend. Fortunately, I’ve lined up three solid shows in the next month, so the failure was disappointing but not concerning. The net result is more inventory than I anticipated and no real reason to be in the studio, at least for a few days. I spent a few hours glazing early in the week, and I wired some lamps that recently came out of the kiln, but for the most part I’m taking this opportunity to work on other projects- like this blog post, for example.
This is the thing I love most about self-employment: I enjoy complete autonomy over my schedule. Not only do I choose when I work, I choose how much I want to work and what I want to work on.
This is the thing I love most about self-employment: I enjoy complete autonomy over my schedule. Not only do I choose when I work, I choose how much I want to work and what I want to work on. If I have a big show coming up that seems promising, I can put my nose to the grindstone and crank out the pieces that I think I’ll need. If I have a new idea for a product I can spend a few days creating prototypes. If I want to spend Wednesday out on the trail, I can work on Saturday instead.
Much as I love making pottery, I think many other “freelance” jobs are even better suited to this lifestyle: graphic designers, computer programmers, massage therapists, artists, musicians, tutors, CAD experts, copywriters, photographers, bloggers and social media managers come to mind. For example, I just completed a Spanish lesson via skype from a woman in Mexico that I met via italki.com, a website for language learners to connect with teachers worldwide. My friend Rochelle created this brilliant “hire a millennial” gig where older folks who struggle with technology hire her to help them with twitter, powerpoint presentations, website editing, and more. The key is finding something that pays well per hour and gives you autonomy over your schedule.
If self-employment doesn’t tickle your fancy, the following options also allow you to control your schedule and work fewer hours:
The Sabbatical Model
If you work full time but you want to transition out (or you just want to take back some of your free time) consider the sabbatical model or the “work for a while and then quit” model. A sabbatical requires that you save enough money to live on before you take the leap, but once you quit you’ll gain a long stretch of uninterrupted free time that you can use for whatever you wish, such as retraining for a different career, doing long term international travel, or undertaking a large scale creative project that won’t pay the bills. One friend walked away from a high paid position at a credit card company and spent several years traveling the world. When he eventually made his way back to the states, he teamed up with some college friends to collaborate on a startup and transitioned seamlessly back into full time work. While most of us probably can’t hop off the paid work train for years at a time, careful financial planning can enable many of us to take a few months (or more) off from full time employment.
The Rental Property Model
My friend Matt was lucky to have kind grandparents who put money in a college fund for him while he was growing up. But when he turned 18, he decided that college wasn’t the right move. Instead, he started organizing events for Quaker youth full-time. His grandparents gave him the money anyway, and after carefully observing the rental market for a few years, he spent it putting a down payment on a triplex in West Philadelphia. He rents out the bottom and top apartments, which covers the monthly mortgage payment, and he lives in the middle apartment rent free, which enables him to work part time at cool jobs focused on youth education and empowerment.
The AirBnB Model
Not all of us have the capital to purchase rentable property outright, but even a spare room in the right location can do the trick. Many young people living in big cities or touristy areas use airbnb to rent out their spare rooms several weekends a month, earning enough money to reduce or eliminate their rent payment. (Some areas have recently passed laws making it illegal to rent out your apartment or house using Airbnb. Check local laws and requirements before listing your place for rent.)
The Expat Model
Is your job location independent? If all you need is a laptop and an internet connection to do your job, the expat lifestyle might be for you. Keeping your full time or freelance job and traveling in an area of the world where living costs are low and the dollar goes far can enable you to save money and do extended international travel that you might not be able to afford if you weren’t working. And in some areas, the longer you stay the more money you can save.
For example, in 2011 I spent a month traveling around India. I spent only $700 the entire time I was there, but I also spent $1200 on the flight. By averaging the flight cost over the period of your stay, your per-week or per-month cost decreases as the length of your stay increases. For example, the per month cost of my month-long trip to India was $1900, but if I had stayed for 6 months, the per month cost would have dropped to only $900. (In fact, it probably would have dropped even more than that. During my travels, I slept in a mid-range hotel every night. A six month trip gives you the option of renting a small apartment, which saves you even more money.)
The TEFL Model
If you crave the adventure of long-term international travel but don’t have a location independent job, consider teaching english abroad. Depending on your destination, you can earn a paycheck large enough to cover your cost of living and have enough time leftover to explore the city or country you’re living in. Carefully researching job prospects in different areas will give you the greatest chance of success. For example, teaching English in Buenos Aires is difficult because the pay is low while the cost of living is moderate, and you often need to string together multiple jobs scattered throughout the city to cover your expenses. However, the recent economic crisis in Spain has left many people unemployed and trying to improve their job prospects by learning English. High demand for English teachers means a 25 hour per week contract in Spain pays enough to cover living expenses if you’re careful.
By mixing and matching these strategies for working less, you can create powerful combinations. For example, using airbnb to eliminate your rent payment can reduce your cost of living significantly, enabling you to increase the length of a sabbatical or reduce the number of hours that you’re working at a freelance job. Working full time at a location independent job and doing long term international travel in cheap areas can enable you to save enough money to take that sabbatical (or simply scale back your freelance hours to part time) when you come home.
What could you accomplish if you could work at it like it was a job, but you didn’t need to get paid for it? What grand scheme have you previously dreamed of doing but put off because you didn’t have the time or energy?
I think for many people, extended amounts of free time can feel intimidating or boring, and it’s true that a week off doing nothing but lazing around sounds like a recipe for depression. (Some leisure time is lovely and necessary for well being and mental health, of course. I’ll talk about leisure for leisure’s sake in a future blog post.) I probably did 60 hours of engaged work on my “week off,” from swimming laps to practicing Spanish to applying for an internship to writing blog posts to taking an online class. To me, that’s the beauty of this lifestyle. What could you accomplish if you could work at it like it was a job, but you didn’t need to get paid for it? What grand scheme have you previously dreamed of doing but put off because you didn’t have the time or energy? Do you want to swim the Strait of Gibraltar or dance flamenco in Spain or learn to speak German or create stained glass windows? Do you fantasize about singing opera or making crisp websites or baking really excellent cakes? Do you want to combat racism, or turn an abandoned lot into a community garden, or rehabilitate injured animals? Does your heart sing when you see pictures of Iceland or paintings by Cezanne?
In upcoming blog posts, I’ll discuss the doors that open when you have large amounts of time to dedicate to your passions, your relationships, your health, and your projects.