I am a freelance writer, which can loosely translate into the term, “unemployed”. Don’t get me wrong — I love writing for my site as well as contributing to sites like OKGorgeous.com and lending my magical wordplay to Hyphen Magazine. I love producing my podcast, moderating Q&As with famous people, creating my celebrity interview videos and scouring social media. It doesn’t make me rich, but I love it anyway. I love it so much that sometimes I do it for free. There are people who don’t understand why I do that…and those are the kind of people who don’t need to understand my choices.
Being a freelance writer isn’t like a normal job. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the life of a freelancer, you can basically equate it with a prostitute, naturally. You’re always looking for “clients” to do work for. You aren’t tied down to one company and giving them all your work. Instead, you give your freelancing pleasure to a variety of people. You float from person to person. It’s kind of like career promiscuity, but unlike a lady of the night, you are your own pimp. You don’t have anyone to answer to but yo’ damn self. Even better, there are no risks of an STD.
During my career as a journalist, I had one job where I was legitimately a full-time journalist. That was when I was working for the Oakland Tribune. It was actually my first job as a journalist that paid me a real salary and gave me real benefits and where I had real staff meetings and where I had to do real adult things. It was all good until I got laid off. I was a casualty of the slow death of newspapers and traditional journalism — but it was OK. Shortly after, I got a job at an art university, then left that (I will never, repeat NEVER do that again. There is a certain breed of art student that made me lose faith in humanity). Then I worked at a co-working space as a community manager, which I eventually left for a job at a start-up (we’ll talk about that in detail later). All the while, I always freelanced. I always had a little somethin’ somethin’ on the side to keep my journalism and writing skills boned — I mean honed. If I didn’t have a paying gig, I would always keep up with TheFinerDandy.com (yes, I keep up with this site and I earn little to no money. I do it because I love to hear myself talk.)
Now, I am at a crossroads in my career where I am basically tired of having an “at least it’s something” job. I am tired of just grasping at any job that is essentially a career one-night stand. I am 33 years old and I know that is not “old” but it isn’t young either. What’s the point in wasting my time at a job that isn’t even a stepping stone in where I want to be in my career? Besides money, there is no logic in being at a job that you know is only temporary. I did enough of that in high school. Now I am an adult. I ain’t got time for that shit. As soon as I say, “it’s good for now” when I get hired at a job, I know my time there is limited. That happened to me very recently. The result? I feel like I got anal raped Dragon Tattoo style.
At the end of 2012, I got hired at a start-up as a community manager. I won’t mention any company names because I am classy and don’t want to shit talk or burn bridges. I’ll let them self-destruct on their own. I will say it was one of those companies that measured social influence via your Twitter usage. That should narrow it down for you. In any case, I got the job while I was working at the aforementioned co-working space — which was basically a very concierge-y/receptionist-esque kind of job. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t in love with it, so when I got the job at the start-up, I was excited because it was like I was getting a new “adult job”. I felt like a big boy! I was finally going to get a salary and be able to buy new running shoes! I was going to pay debts! I would have money flowing out of all of my orifices!
My first week of work was the week before Christmas. At first, I thought that was a weird time to start a job — but who cares? I was an adult! I had a career doing cool start-up stuff! In any case, there was another gal who was also hired on as a community manager with me. I thought, “Cool! I’ll have a partner in crime! We’ll go to lunch together, we’ll bond over complaining about work, we’ll go to happy hour, we’ll be the best of friends!” Things were looking great! Then it just seemed to go downhill from there.
It is to my understanding that a Community Manager for any service-oriented website moderates comments, requests, and make sure people who use the site are happy and satisfied customers. With this start-up, we KIND OF did that. Actually, my main job on my first day was to tweet to people and try to convince them to use our site. They wanted me to tweet at over 100 people to get them to use our “product”. I was basically a telemarketer using Twitter. A Twilemarketer.
I, being the positive person I am, thought, “Well, this is just the first day and I am sure that this won’t be the only thing I’ll be doing during my time here. I’m sure there will be plenty of variety! It’s going to be cool!” Then things started getting interesting on the second day. When I got into work on that second day, I found out that they fired my partner in crime — AFTER ONE DAY OF WORK! It seemed that there was no learning curve AT ALL. After my manager told me the news, she said, “You’re it!” like I had won a contest or something. That was some Hunger Games shit right there. I was happy, but doubt about this place’s hiring practices started to surface. But with dollar signs in my eyes, I smothered those suspicions and repeated my positive affirmations. I went back to work and started to tweet to over 150 people. The feeling of a start-up sweatshop continued.
When the third day rolled around, I realized, “Wow. I haven’t filled out ANY paperwork for this job.” I never filled out any tax forms, read an employee handbook, or signed the employment contract they said they were going to send me. They never made copies of my license or social security card. I mean, I am Asian! I could have been a foreigner working for them illegally! I immediately reminded my superiors and they said that they would get those to me. This was when I started to really question if I should be there.
This reflected the organization of the company in general. I understand that the work construct and culture a start-up can be a little disorganized and this company was no exception. In fact, this start-up was one step above “a little disorganized”. At times, it seemed that my manager didn’t know what was going on and her boss with an odd and waify European accent (and essentially my boss as well) just acted like she knew what was doing. It just seemed really messy and, like the website, there needed to be a lot of bugs that needed to be worked out. I just went along for the ride because, like I said, I just wanted the money to buy new running shoes.
They finally got the paperwork to me the Friday before Christmas vacation. I signed all of it and everything seemed OK. We all got little gifts before the break. We got free breakfast and all of us got to work a half-day. It was a magical send off to the holidays…then we got back after the new year.
When we all got back, I continued to do my Tweet-a-thons. For 8 hours a day. That’s all I did. They gave me direction and I did my best to adhere to what they wanted in a tweet. My manager said, “Don’t make the tweet TOO personal” then she would read my work and say, “That sounds too spammy!” then I would re-work it and she would say, “That’s too casual!” She was like the Goldilocks of tweets.
Then the end of the second week came around. There was a weird energy that day. I wasn’t feelin’ this job, but I was gonna stick it out — because that’s what adults do, right? We do jobs that we don’t enjoy so that we can make money and buy shit. At the end of that day, I got called into a conference room by my Goldilocks manager and the odd European accent boss. They asked me how I was doing and how I felt about the job. I said, “OK. I’m still trying to get the hang of it and feel uncertain about certain things, but I’m learning” — and that was my mistake. I said “uncertain”. That’s all they needed to hear. After some long explanation about the one grammar mistake I made and saying “they need someone to hit the ground running”, I heard the odd European accent boss chirp out, “We have to let you go.”
I was crushed. I was pissed. I got NO formal warning. I at least deserved that. Common decency and professionalism caused me not to scream expletives and say something immature like “Eat a dick!” Instead, I nervously laughed out of humiliation and said, “Well, now I have no income. What am I going to do to pay my bills and rent?” I paused and looked at them and continued, “Well, that’s not your problem, is it?”
They said that they would give me references if I needed it and the odd European waif boss said “You have so much potential” in a way that made me feel like the first one eliminated on America’s Next Top Model. The main thing that was going through my mind was, “It’s only been two weeks!”
I remained professional about the whole ordeal and, I admit, I was holding back some tears. It was more because I was pissed than sad. I was pissed not only because they did this to me at the beginning of a new year, but because of their haphazard hiring practices. I mean, how are you going to hire someone for two weeks and then just let them go (in actuality, I only worked for 8 days because of the holidays we had.) Furthermore, how can I know exactly what to do when the management doesn’t even seem 100 percent certain on what to do? It just seemed like a big mess and both parties would have been better off if I wasn’t hired at all. In any case, I was promised that I would be paid for my last week there. It’s been a month and I still haven’t gotten that final paycheck. No need to worry — the California Department of Labor has been contacted. If that doesn’t work, I could go to their office, bang on the door and say “BITCH, YOU BEST HAVE MY MONEY!” That can be just as effective.
For some odd reason, that entire workplace saga was a big blow to my ego. I’m still recovering from it — but it lit a fire under my ass. It’s made me realize that I’ve reached a point in my life where I can’t be wasting my time with jobs that are meaningless placeholders in my career. Those kinds of jobs are keeping me from the things I really want to do — and that’s write about things that I know and love (like Beyonce). I have managed to pick up freelance gigs to keep my head above water — and when I start to drown a little, I bust my ass to get more. Sure, the freelance life can be difficult and it doesn’t bring in the big bucks, but at least I like what I am doing. I do have faith that all of my hard work will lead to something…eventually. I look at this whole situation like an unexpected journey…and I’m Bilbo Baggins.