If You Worked for Free…

If I were going to list some favorite movies, Princess Bride would be near the top. Forrest Gump would be up there, too. But the movie that really defined where I am now is Office Space. I spent my time in a cubicle with a boss who would peek in over our heads to see what we were up to. I even had a consultant named Bob – no really, I swear. But the biggest lesson I learned from Office Space was to find something I’d do for free.

“So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life.”

There are plenty of reasons to work. The biggest is, of course, money. But let’s pretend for a moment that all jobs paid you enough to live on easily. What job would you pick? What career would you seek out? I can tell you right now it wasn’t power accounting for me. Been there, did the job just fine, but was miserable doing it.

I decided to make the rest of my life a journey of sorts to find the things I enjoy doing and then to make money doing them – as much money as possible, of course. And for the most part I have. I took a huge pay cut to teach at-risk kids and never looked back – ten years later I still love it, and there are ample rewards, if not financial ones.

“If they take my stapler then I'll set the building on fire.”

And then almost seven years ago I decided to use the other part of my brain for business and I started to write. Some might write for the sake of writing, and I tried that more than a few times over the years, but I found the small business format much more successful and a great deal of fun.

Would I teach and write for free? A juvenile phrasing, but very effective, in all honestly I probably wouldn’t do it for nothing. I have some serious bills to get paid over here and I thrive under my own little capitalistic system. Money is motivation when the sheer pleasure of writing website copy is not. But there’s more to it than that.

“This isn't so bad, huh? Makin' bucks, gettin' exercise, workin' outside.”

I’ve written frequently about finding balance with the writing, teaching and mothering, especially as a mother who also works outside of the home. Over the summers I just write and hang with my little men, so I know both sides of the working mother lifestyle – the home and the workplace. I still get questioned about having the two jobs, but not as frequently as I used to. Most people have realized that I enjoy having both careers and I’m reasonably successful at both. But it does take some work and some positive self-talk at times to barrel through the tough days.

For example, on Monday I watched my kids take an exam the district put together to get them ready for the new standardized test in my area. The exam they were taking should have marked the end of a grading period, but there was no curriculum on the thing – teach the test, indeed. Annoyance with the stupid test aside, I was fortunate to have almost half a day that I could work at my desk and just keep an eye on the kids testing. I used to time to play with numbers.

“And here's something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.”

All freelancers have to play with numbers. It’s a maintenance task that I love to do (I do have a business and accounting background, after all), but often I put off because there are only so many hours in the day. I also have my self-employment taxes taken out my teaching paycheck, so I don’t have to file quarterly for the writing. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to put off accounting tasks otherwise.

But we’re coming up quickly on a very special occasion over here – my husband is allegedly going to be getting a nice raise when he’s hired on permanently to a computer company in this area. He’s been contracting for the company for about nine months now.

So I played with the numbers. I only have eight months left of childcare payments. Big savings there starting this summer. I’m almost finished paying off one of those zero-interest loans on a much needed sofa. More savings there. Then I factored in the raise we’re hoping for and realized that in about a year I will only “need” to make about a third of what I do now to maintain the lifestyle we’re accustomed to.

“It's not just about me and my dream of doing nothing. It's about all of us.”

That’s a very big deal, and one we’re working hard to reach – we cancelled cable since we can watch shows online. We condensed cell phone plans to cut bills, and in another eight months I’m going to be freed from a lot of the financial obligations I’ve had to meet with my various careers for the past few years. I texted my husband, “We’re almost there!”

It was a clarity moment for me. I’ve been working hard for years because I enjoy writing, but also because I need the income while my husband builds a new career. Now that phase of my life is drawing to a close, and guess what! I don’t have to write very much in just a few short months. But I will. Hell, I’ll probably write more because I’ll be free of the money worries and stress that have driven the career for so long. I’m once again enjoying a job that I would (but certainly don’t have to) do for free.

I hope the same is true for many of you, especially my fellow moms working at home to supplement the family income.

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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

2 thoughts on “If You Worked for Free…”

  1. I agree with you, pick your career and don’t let it pick you. I’ve seen so many people who would go on shooting rampage if they didn’t need their paycheck so badly! Though I do write for pleasure, I still have to remind myself this is a business and the bills have to be paid. It’s tough balancing the two, I’ll admit. Now throw family and responsibility into the mix and we got ourselves a tight-rope act!

  2. And this is why I (we) write. This is why it’s taken us the passed three years to conceive and write our serial novel series coming in December. We can’t help but write, it’s something we’d do even if we had to PAY to do it. It’s something we can’t help doing.

    Sometimes I feel sad for those who have not found that thing (or things) they really want to do with their life.

    Thanks for posting!


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