Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Original Freelancers

Few people know that the term "freelance" was first coined to describe paid mercenaries. It implied that if you possessed a "lance," were willing to travel and had no problems working for a variety of employers (for the right price, of course), well, then you were "freelance."

Today, being freelance is not so terribly different. Excepting, of course, the killing/dismembering part. Instead of a sword, today's freelancers have a laptop and a portable skill set (e.g. writing/editing, graphic design, translation). Something that's in demand. Something that employers often look to outsource. Something that can be performed around the world, from a home office or a virtual office or pretty much anywhere that has cell phone coverage and high-speed Internet. In addition, you have to carve out your own path, and a warrior-like attitude is often required to succeed.

I am one of this breed, and we currently make up 7.4% of the US workforce. That means there are over 10 million freelancers or "independent contractors," as the IRS labels us. A good many of us work from home. Why do we do it? A short list would be: freedom (psychological, geographical and otherwise), flexibility, lifestyle, control, entrepreneurial drive, variety (of both assignments and daily routine), opportunity, an escape from corporate ennui and the desire to spend less time commuting/polluting/road raging and more time living. How much more? One analysis found that telecommuters have the equivalent of five weeks of extra free time per year when compared to those who commute to a job five days a week.

The aim of this career/travel/lifestyle blog (at least as of today) is to show where I am able to take my lance, literally and figuratively. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am afflicted with wanderlust. Even though I have not taken more than a typical full-time employee's annual vacation day allotment (10-15 days) in my three years of being freelance, I've been able to live and work in a number of places during this time, including two countries and several states. These stints have ranged from a few days to a few months. Because I really can live anywhere given my freelance status - and often think of relocating my home base to somewhere with a cheaper cost of living - I consider every trip a chance to "date" another city or state. Will it be a fling? Or perhaps a long-term match?

The next sojourn involves two weeks of telecommuting from Arkansas, the "Natural State." Population: 2.8 million. That's a quarter of the population of greater Los Angeles, where I am based. No wonder it's so natural. It also has the 9th lowest cost of living in the US. (California's ranking? I had to wince when I read it. It's the second highest. Only Hawaii is more expensive. Exactly why I need to move.) So far, I am intrigued, but it'll take more than just a bargain to spark a romance.

Stay tuned...and thanks for reading my inaugural post!


Anonymous said...

Umm. Could we please take a step away from hearing about you flailing about with your lance? This is a family column (I think).

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Anonymous said...

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nancy oarneire graham said...

I am a freelance writer/editor/actor and my husband is a programmer. I googled "most bikeable cities" and came up with this first...we are exactly in this boat, about to sell our house, trying to decide whether to buy again or hold off, put our stuff in storage, and poke around a bit. We have two children, 10 and 12, who are free to travel with us, as they learn outside of school. I look forward to reading more here!

nancy oarneire graham said...

ps: I also take inspiration from the original meaning of "free lance."