Last entry I wrote about was the project side of life of a freelancer. This time I’d like to share my experiences of being a freelancer. Poetically speaking you can call it that we are like “honey bees”, buzzing from one flower to another. But the reality is not as pretty or as rosy. Some places are great, some places are fraught with insanity that you find yourself running from the building, screaming with the thought of even staying there a minute longer.
Lucky for me I haven’t been in place that was that unbearable, but I thought I’d share my experience in the world of traveling creative mercenaries.
SOME DAYS YOU ARE A MERCENARY, SOME DAYS YOU’RE A SEASONAL FARMER.
The impression of being a freelancer differs from project to project, place to place for me. Sometimes you feel like a powerful mercenary, coming into support the project that is in trouble – you are relied on your speciality and expertise to get the job done. Then there are times where you feel like a seasonal migratory farmer, traveling from one farm to another – only needed during harvest time and you’re there for just that one stretch of the season. While I may not be throwing around seeds, harvesting hay or shearing sheep, I sometimes imagine that life isn’t that much different – especially when I am bringing my entire set up (computer, peripherals, notebooks etc) with me.
Then again, some days I feel like Mary Poppins. Fly in looking unassuming, but on key points produce effective work, all the while staying disciplined, polite and regimented. I sometimes wonder if I should carry a carpet bag. Then again, I think the character of Winston Wolf (aka The Cleaner from Pulp Fiction) fits me better – coming in with a leather bag full of equipment, come in, do the job, and get out – time is a valuable asset and you economize on time to the minute.
THE SOCIAL PECKING ORDER GAME
It’s all about who’s on top of who:
With any organization, there’s a pecking order to these agencies and companies. In some places the structure is like a pyramid. It’s like playing the Mario Brothers game, where you are climbing up the hill with the concept and creative, and with each climb you face a manager (or several) who gives you their two cents and wants to see it done (and signed off) before you proceed to the next level up, for THEIR MANAGER to see and sign off. After 15 rounds of revisions and updates, you finally make it to the top of the hill… only to be sent back a few levels or worse, all the way back to the beginning because they don’t understand, don’t agree or have their own two cents that trumps everyone else below them.
I also found that those who are at the very top are most often times, too busy to explain why they do not like something. Their answers are short and usually one or two words, in large type size if you get it in an email. You get a response saying “No” or “Like it” or “Great”. When you get a “No” then it throws the whole group into a tizzy because usually everyone is too scared to back to their great leader to ask for clarification. Intense hours and meetings, discussions are spent in translating what this “No” means. Eventually after 10 or more people have “weighed in” on what their boss meant by “No”, you end up in a place you are PRAYING that it’s someplace closer to what he/she wants. But the whole process is condensed in a few days (because you’ve already lost time climbing up the pyramid) and it’s like getting a signal from outer space and you have scientists and government officials scrambling to decode what that really means.
Often times I’ve wondered what the harm is to actually ask the simple question, “what do you mean by No?”. Many man hours and sweat could be saved by the simplicity of asking but fear holds everyone back from doing the obvious.
Follow the “Leader” of the moment:
Then there are those that I’d like to call “Donald Trump – The Apprentice” style operations, where there is no real leader (everyone’s deeply involved) and one person is chosen to play the project lead role. You may laugh at the quarrels that go on in these reality shows but really, it’s not far from the truth. There are as much alliances and feuds going on that I guess makes fodder for reality shows.
You’re always someone’s bitch:
Not that I’ve been in a situation like this but this was something I imagined and joked with a friend of mine, that I could see being a type of pecking order in a company. I’m not saying that these people are gangs or prison inmates, but if you think about it, it is just another social order in which humans like to structure in order to maintain order in the house:
1/ Everyone’s bitch
2/ Some peoples’ bitch
3/ Personal bitch
4/ Everyone else is your bitch
Whether it’s a pyramid or a prison style pecking order, I’ve always believed that the day you have a large group of people working for you and you can get away with responding in one to three word emails without being questioned, then you have successfully “made it” to the top of the food chain.
Are you STILL EATING?
I guess when you are glued to your seat for over 10 hours a day and being so busy, you end up eating more than you would being alone at home. I always start collecting snack foods and teas at my desk and I start “nesting” at wherever I am doing my work.
Most often times I would keep eating – all day. I would have my breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, snack and then finally dinner. Often times an account manager or a project manager would come by and watch me still eating and they marvel that I am able to consume so much for so long.
Thing is… I do gain weight, contrary to popular belief. Dance keeps me fit somehow but when I don’t, I do gain.
But the funniest comment I usually get from someone I work with is,
“ARE YOU STILL EATING?????”
Back when I was in kindergarten (an Irish Catholic school of all places, surrounded by nuns) – I would have
Regardless…. to me, all this is a journey. With each journey and project, you learn more about the people around you and you make new connections, build your network of people you know. It’s not an easy lifestyle by all means, but it’s always fascinating to see how something so simple can get incredibly complicated, or something so impossible can suddenly turn into a lark.
Sowing life’s seeds,
Little (still working) Reiko and (I can’t stop eating) Turkey.