If you asked 10-year-old Emily if she thought she could ever work at a desk, from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday all year long, she would have made some very dramatic face and said, “Absolutely not”. I am proud to report that 25-year-old Emily has the same, maybe slightly less dramatic, response. I’ve heard it said a million times that different people are designed for different things and that is one thing I am thankful to have always known in my heart and my gut: I am designed for a different kind of work and purpose. As an adult, yes benefits like health insurance and paid vacation sure sound tempting, as well as a steady salary that is consistent and the security of knowing where you need to show up to tomorrow, but I can’t honestly say that any of the above have tempted me strongly enough yet to want to abandon my life as a freelancer.
So, what does ‘freelancing’ entail? How does it actually work out and how is this all related to travel? The short answer is freedom and accountability. As much work as you are willing to hustle for is as much work as you’re going to have, and on the same token you basically ask yourself permission to travel, take on a new project, go take care of a sick relative or anything else you can imagine. The long answer is it’s certainly not as simple as it looks on the surface. Not every industry allows or fosters freelance work and it’s pretty rare to find a line of work where you can depend entirely on that industry as a source of freelance work, which means you end up working in several different disciplines. For me, as an actor first and foremost, this concept works perfectly. In the performing world we view most jobs as “gigs”, usually we’re hired as subcontractors for a short and finite period of time to work on a show and when it’s done its out to the wild audition cycle once more. We also have what’s commonly known as a “day job”, a source of survival income that is hopefully consistent and reliable and in other words pays our bills from gig to gig (and sometimes even during gigs!) Where these worlds perfectly intersected for me was, finding a day job that is ALSO a freelance job, but one where work is abundant, well paid, rewarding and mentally challenging – court interpreting.
So, with the flexibility that I have by being my own boss essentially, I’ve been able to travel on mission trips, for pleasure, to see family and so much more. I accept as much or as little work as I want and then live with the consequences. Whether that means tightening up my budget one month to work on an artistic gig or travel OR interpreting every single day the next month to pay my grad school bills. I am the sole person responsible for how much I work. While I realize on paper that sounds fantastic, the slowdowns are inevitable, and it’s a delicate balancing act to keep yourself busy, but not too busy where you burn out. I have found it’s vital to take advantage when work is available, and also to save in those times of abundance, because in times of scarcity it becomes easy to fall into depression, despair, frustration and hopelessness. While a person with a conventional job may never truly understand how a slow-down in work could cause such drastic reactions, business owners and freelancers I am sure can relate to this – feeling useless and not knowing where from or when your next paycheck will come can be soul crushing (aside from terrifying and stressful).
The key to all of this is ALWAYS be looking for work. Be creative in your pursuit of new opportunities. Put yourself out there in every way imaginable. Look for work even when you’re overwhelmed with the amount of work you may have at that moment – not just when you are sitting at home frustrated because you have none. Lessen the gaps between gigs by establishing a handful of reliable repeat clients that you can constantly count on to give you some work. Persist and believe in yourself – as cheesy as it may sound, you are your boss, you are your own business and if you don’t carry yourself with confidence how could you possibly expect people to want to keep calling you? In short, no, it’s not easy. But the flexibility freelancing offers you in terms of scheduling, especially if like me, traveling is a priority to you, is priceless. It’s worth paying for health insurance, it’s worth the uncertainty, it’s worth it all. And the opportunity to work in different settings, fields, locations, projects, with different people every single day is unique to this style of work and is honestly AMAZING!