with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
When I worked in an office, I had colleagues. Coworkers. I had people I reported to and people with whom I collaborated and people who reported to me. There were good things about this and not-so-good things, and one of the things I enjoy about freelancing is that I more or less get to stand on my own merit in this job.
Let’s face it: everyone’s had a crazy boss or an offensive coworker or some other incarnation of a difficult office relationship, right? For me, the downside of losing regular social interaction and project help was vastly outweighed by removing the variables of Other People’s Stupid from my daily work life.
Now, for the most part, I get to pick my colleagues. And my work is diversified enough that if I find myself in a bad situation with someone—they are not as competent as I’d originally thought, or just grate on my nerves or whatever—I can extract myself from gigs if I don’t want to work with a particular individual and it doesn’t put me in a difficult spot. (I don’t know about you, but when I worked office jobs, I didn’t really have the freedom to just up and quit every time someone annoyed me.)
The thing is, though, I don’t know many freelancers who find success by being islands. We do have colleagues, most of us, and there’s no shortage of excellent reasons to forge bonds with others in our field. We can mentor one another, learn from one another. It can be lonely, working in a home office and in mostly solitary ways—it’s good to have a posse of similarly-employed folks with whom to blow off steam or just discuss ideas. Networking amongst our peers can and does lead to more work (this runs contrary to the notion that you are fraternizing with the enemy if you ever consider a fellow freelancer anything other than competition for the next job, I know), because there’s always jobs that “spill over.” Say I’m contacted by a great client but I simply cannot take on another project; I will absolutely refer that work to a colleague I trust. Or maybe I’m contacted about work that isn’t quite my expertise; I’ll refer that out as well. I don’t do it because I’m a saint or anything, I do it because it’s good practice—it keeps my image in any potential client’s mind as someone who is professional and eager to help, and it means that when my fellow freelancers have a similar situation they’re more likely to refer work over to me. This is pretty much the “a rising tide lifts all boats” school of thought, and I subscribe to it.
All of that said, how does a freelancer figure out whom to count amongst her colleagues? As with anything, I guess, there are kind of different levels of association.
There are people I consider professionals I admire and feel I know quite well, and I would refer work over to them without a second thought.
There are people I consider professionals I admire whom I maybe don’t know all that well, but feel that I would like to know them better, and we maybe come into contact at conferences or in other ways.
And then there are people in my field who are viewed as “important” or “powerful” who… well, maybe I don’t quite understand the big deal, let’s say. It’s not necessarily even that I feel negatively towards them, more that I just don’t entirely understand their fame. This is where the same sort of politics I was happy to leave behind in the office world comes back to rear its ugly head. To wit: Let’s say Famous Blogger sends me a friend request on Facebook. I used to go ahead and accept friend requests from pretty much anyone, but in the last year I pruned down my friend list and have stopped accepting requests from people I don’t know or genuinely enjoy. Maybe I used to go ahead and “friend” someone because I know they are considered “important” by a lot of folks, and I don’t want to look like I’m snubbing them. Maybe I know this person has connections, and I probably shouldn’t do anything that might make me persona non grata.
Like I said, I don’t do this anymore. But I would by lying if I said there weren’t other ways in which I maybe tolerate or network with someone I might not care for, otherwise, because I worry it could be disadvantageous for me to not be friendly. I kind of hate that. Watching people actively participate in those sorts of Let Me Find The Important People politics has made it clear to me that I never want to be that person.
Lately I’ve started thinking about another aspect of this, too. If you do something like appear on a panel at a conference with someone, as a freelancer among other freelancers, does that cause people to assume you’re colleagues of a sort? What if one of those people is someone you really don’t want to be associated with in any way… say, you were placed on that panel by a third party but you think this particular person is just kind of nutty? Does being there suggest some sort of tacit agreement with that other person?
I may be overthinking this. I just wonder, in this world of connectedness and interaction, how you decide who’s part of your virtual office pool and who’s not. And how you potentially run damage control, if necessary, too.
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