I am sat writing this in the train between Berlin and Brussels. It’s the 7th time I am taking this trip (or the opposite direction) in 2015; in 2014 I did it 25 times. Yes, I could fly, and pump some more CO2 into the atmosphere to save myself 90 minutes each time, but that’s not the issue here.
I am off to a city – Brussels – that I visit too often for work purposes, to do work I have done too often and is hence no longer as fun as it once was, for pay that is inadequate given the time and responsibility it entails.
Back in Berlin – where I actually am supposed to live – my bank balance is close to the red. I scramble every month to cobble together enough money to pay my rent. Both my laptop and phone are on their last legs (and – as my work is in digital comms – I am heavily reliant on both) but I cannot afford new ones. I am almost 35 years old, I have two good degrees and speak three languages, and my work – past and present – involves considerable responsibility, and working with senior people.
This is clearly an absurd situation. But I am a slave to this freelance life, and I do not know how to escape my enslavement.
I have ended up as a freelancer, predominantly running training courses about online communications and social media in politics, because other things I had done were worse.
But this work I do comes dangerously close to selling snake oil – I am not sure I actually believe in it as much as I did, and as online communications professionalises, so those who had edge and ideas (as I hope I did on this blog in the early days) get pushed to the side by those who have the larger budgets. I also worry that what I would like to see politicians and organisations communicate from the point of view of a voter or citizen, and what I ought to advise them to do as a consultant, are diverging further and further. I also have always had this impending fear that I am making it up as I go along.
But I have to keep on as a freelancer, and keep doing the same stuff (that feels more of a drag, and takes longer, because I am not as motivated as I was), because what else have I actually got?
My writing is inadequate to work as a journalist of some sort. My research skills and lack of a PhD mean academic work or think tank work is not open to me. I have done web design and development work, but I am not really a coder – I just know enough to blag it with non-techies. I would like to try to write a book, but so few would like to read what I’d like to write (about EU communications and framing) that it would actually cost me to find the time to write it, and money is something I do not have. I have also proven myself to be pretty useless at the business aspects of being a freelancer over the years, and have let people down along the way. This nags at me.
I could, I suppose, take some sort of regular job. But then I would have to have a boss. And an office. And fixed hours. It might sort the financial questions a bit. But I do not actually know who would want my odd combination of comms knowledge and skills, mixed up with EU politics, blogging, and an obsession about borders and railways. I am half-good at a bunch of things, and in some kind of weird combination that I doubt could easily be applied in an organisation or company, and my ethics would also not fit in a whole lot of circumstances. I would also be like a caged bull in a regular workplace – I’d never employ someone like me if I were a boss.
So that then, is why I am a slave to the freelance life. I find myself in a spot where I have neither the professional skills nor the financial freedom to really do anything other than what I am doing. So much for the freedom of the freelance life, eh?
(Note: I do not blame anyone but myself for any of this, and I am not in any way seeking pity, or work suggestions. This is more a collection of thoughts in response to those who say to me “if something is wrong, change it”, but my menu of options feels rather limited.)