On second thought

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“So wrapped up were they in the minutiae of whether she was his ‘type’ that she failed to realize that he had ceased to be hers.”

Sometimes things seem resolved, she thinks to herself standing in the tram, keeping her balance while rounding a corner, but they keep turning around and around until they no longer are. That is, resolved or sensible. It’s so easy to ignore all the underlying debris, just being glad for the semblance of resolution. It doesn’t matter that what’s left isn’t what is wanted – or needed.

The tram stops. The bustle of the busiest stop in a not-terribly-busy city causes her to shift her place. Without realizing, her place is shifting all the time. A place standing in the rickety, ambling tram as much as a place in the lives of others. The pseudo-aunt to friends’ children; the daughter, the sister, the sister-in-law with all the connections; the invitations to all the events she never attends; the go-to, last-minute, “she’ll save this project from the fire” person when chaos ensues. It is no wonder, she thinks, leaning against the railing, that it always ends up being this way: what someone else wants and me trying to comply. I can’t fucking say no.

She keeps wanting nothing; she wonders, Is that lack of want the problem? Does it not imply that I’d cling by the fingernails, with a mix of fight, fortitude and relief, to something just to triumph, to say I fixed it, to hold fast to belief in illusions? To believe I’d seen a project, an opportunity, a clear path, a spark, an idea, a personality, an intellect, a humor, a humanity, a problem-solution axiom, an openness, a compassion, a depth, a cure, a caring, a kindred spirit, a team, a folk song, a story, a beauty, when in fact all were proven incomplete or figments of my imagination?

The tram winds its way to the other end of town, the outskirts, one of the places she never wants to go. She promised more than a year ago that she’d never go again, but here she is. Jumping off, heading toward this place she’d eagerly departed, everything feels like a soft ultimatum. Ending up here, with hand-wringing automatons or a pit of vipers, depending, still fighting against the long-irrelevant tune of the eternal freelancer: feast or famine. She feels like merchandise on a shelf, with a set of traits that can be picked and chosen, handled, and cast aside when it’s not quite right or when the novelty’s gone. A mute toy, still silently filled with the weird internal exclamation of elation, I’m a toy that was picked up and played with! Thankful, grateful, lucky, relieved for a split second, thinking she has a chance to show that she is worthwhile, and is in fact capable of doing anything.

But, goddamn: Just say no.

Freelancing: Never Off the Clock + ANZAC Day

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Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I have written about ANZAC Day and ANZAC biscuits before. And more than that, I have baked ANZAC biscuits almost more than I have baked any other kind of cookie. You can find my recipe in the link above and make some for yourself. They are easy, probably healthier than a lot of other kinds of cookies (full of yummy oats!), quite flavorful and they keep well for longer periods of time than most other cookies. Make some now – you won’t regret it! And I won’t be bringing you any ANZACs since baking just has not happened for me much this year. So instead I can just acknowledge that it’s ANZAC Day and post a picture.

ANZAC biscuits

ANZAC biscuits

We’ll Meet Again” – Vera Lynn (who will apparently release a new album at the age of 97).

Part of this is just a lack of motivation for it. Part of it is also the occasional freelance project that pops up now and again. I have a normal full-time job that is relatively stimulating and busy – and I learn a lot. But having owned a small business for a very long time and having lived solely on freelance work alone, I find it is impossible to say no to freelance work. Not just because I always feel that old pull of “feast or famine”/you never know when your next job will come but also because it’s a challenge – it keeps the brain agile, putting together new things, learning new industries and jargon (never quite becoming a specialist). And the bottom line – I am never saying yes to things I don’t ultimately really enjoy. That often means working through weekends and nights – stuff that “normal” people are not that keen to do. The Salon article cited above captured all the feelings and experiences of being a freelancer – and never off the clock, and how that is both a blessing and a curse.

“If I love doing something, spending more time on it isn’t a chore. I’m not oppressed because I work all the time. I’m fortunate. What more could I wish for? I get paid to do everything I do. My actualization is monetized. I’ve won capitalism.

Nice as winning capitalism is, though, it’s also somewhat unsettling. In an economy more and more focused on cultural production, the line between producer and consumer and marketer just about disappears. Writers throughout history have often simultaneously exulted and despaired at the way that their lives turn into their art, but having your life turn into a content mill seems like a new, unpleasantly banal twist.  Even happy cogs are still cogs — working all the better because they’re happy, and willing to turn all the time.”

A World Beyond Telecommute: The Digital Wanderer

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Location-free living and working. That’s the dream for a lot of people. For a long time I thought my dream was just to be able to work mostly from home – and that works for me since I live somewhere that’s like a dream in terms of just feeling contentment oozing from every pore almost every minute of every day. Idyllic countryside with a few modern comforts in the peaceful respite of Sweden. But the urge to pack up and spend a few months in Uruguay or spending a year in Australia … or Turkey… or wherever… that’s tempting to lifelong nomads like myself. I feel content and rooted, but the wanderlust never quite leaves.

I have written a lot and frequently about employers being flexible enough to allow employees to work from home. By extension, what’s the difference if you are “at home” or on the road – staying for long stretches in different places? Granted, it can be difficult if you have a regular, full-time job and need to liaise with people on a daily basis (and thus must have a guaranteed stable internet connection). But more and more, this is becoming a moot point.

I am not alone in my feeling that this lifestyle is possible. There are in fact a lot of people out there doing it – living it – and writing about it, giving the rest of us inspiration and/or envy on the way. But they are living proof that this lifestyle is possible and sustainable. The infrastructure to support this lifestyle is a bit ad hoc still but as more people choose to live with this flexibility, the supporting structures making it possible will improve.

Some online resources for budding/curious potential digital nomads:

Digital Nomads

Digital Nomad Podcast

Digital Nomad Life

And my favorite: Never Ending Voyage

Let go of the fear – just go! Loads of barriers prevent us from choosing to break free of the 9-to-5 life, but there is another way.

Geographer” – Sydney Wayser

The changing workscape: Clawing your way to a “career”

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It’s never permanent – and would you want it to be? Recently I had a conversation with someone who had been a die-hard loyalist to a company, going so far as to say that he “would have died” for the company, and he was devastated when he got laid off. My response was that my own feeling about companies is that it’s a “two-way street of disposability”.

Much like the trend of offering “every man for himself” “hot desks” in workplaces (a step beyond the open landscape office we all hate so much), jobs themselves are becoming a bit like hot desks. We are doing one thing (sitting somewhere) and the next thing we know we are on an entirely different career path (or desk). No rhyme or reason behind it – but the changing organization or – some factor (who knows what?) – means that a lot of people get in line for one career and end up with something else without having had much say in it. All this just to point out that sometimes we find ourselves cobbling together or clawing our way to a career. And the bottom line – nothing is ever permanent.

In fact, at least in American workplaces, the prospect of a “career job” has never been less likely. At the core of this article, the CEO of online recruiting site, Jobvite, Dan Finnigan, explains that today’s workforce will be made up of people whose careers comprise up to 20 jobs, and will require a lot of shifting and changing jobs. In an environment of economic uncertainty in particular, “…employment—even for well-educated and -trained professionals—is never a sure thing.” The essence of the article – and of career building in general – is that we, in some ways, end up being our own architects. Sometimes driving the process, sometimes clawing our way in or up. Either way, as the article states, employed people never feel secure, and even if they are happy with their current situations, they actively search for the next job or next connection that might lead to a job.

A side note: Of course cultivating all these connections can also lead to the ultimate in cobbled-together careers: freelancing/running your own business. It can be satisfying to pick and choose what work you do and want companies and industries to work for (if you have that luxury), but not everyone wants to or can do this.

But along the same lines, the job market being what it is – with everyone on the hunt all the time – are perceptions changing about what constitutes a career and how to get there? Are our frames about “working” changing at all? A recent article I stumbled across on LinkedIn covered how most people synthesize information, which then creates certain “frames” that frame or govern the way things are or how we think they are supposed to be. The article takes the frames theme a step further by questioning the frames we commonly have for how we perceive work and the search for meaningful careers.

“We have frames that we’ve been building since we were children, and those frames dictate how life is supposed to go.

The collection of frames itself becomes our religion. We don’t question our frames. We’re very comfortable with them, because we grew up with them. We don’t even see them. It’s the examination of those frames, questioning them and pulling them apart, that makes up much of our activity and our worldview at Human Workplace.

One of the biggest job-search frames most of carry around is the frame “You’re lucky to get a job at all. Who are you to be choosy?”

Another one is the frame “The employer is always in the driver’s seat.”

This is a good and relevant question given the landscape of free-market, gun-for-hire workers: Who are you to be choosy? But shouldn’t one be choosy? We are choosy about everything else – so how is it our frame when it comes to work has been built using limitation-inducing barriers?

Freelance machine: I will never be a specialist

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Many times people have asked me why I never pursued a PhD in anything. I have given it some thought, and I realized that I am an MA-level kind of woman. That is about the extent of expertise that I can undertake myself. For most of my adult life, I have been enrolled in higher education pursuits – because I was interested enough to learn formally but not interested enough to get too deeply into all the subjects.

My work in many ways has been the same thing. I stick with one profession (communications/writing/content) but never with one topic. I like to dig deeply – but temporarily – into in-depth subjects. I actually have to learn fast, absorb a lot of new and diverse information and act on it. Get in, become an overnight amateur expert, get out. This is how and why I switch industries periodically. It is also why I was drawn to freelancing and self-employment after I did not really need to do it anymore. The more subjects and topics the brain accumulates, the more of a jack-of-all-trades one becomes, the easier it is to get bored – or at least want to branch out all the time.

It is for this reason that I realize I will never be a specialist. At least not in the sense that I would likely become a doctor of anything. I can be a specialist without being a specialist. I don’t want to get too bogged down in a specialization. There are individuals who know everything about their field of expertise, and we need those people. I am just not one of them.

It’s Personal – Networking and Admitting Needs

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There are about five million articles out there about “how to network”, “how to build a network” and use networking to find a job. Most of these articles are generic and repeat the same things. I am not going to echo the repetition. You can get some fairly good insight from a veritable library of online resources. But I am thinking that the right way to network is a personal journey. Articles can provide pointers, but the building process is about finding the right ways and means for you as an individual. It’s not a prefab house, after all.

About networking, I can say from a personal perspective that when it comes to advancing my own career, I am not a person who is skilled at networking in the social and schmoozy sense. I have friends who are pros at this, making personal and genuine connections almost immediately, and I am in constant admiration. (I can turn on the schmooze in a professional setting when it is not for my own gain or self-advancement because then it is impersonal.) I have largely been a highly productive, behind-the-scenes doer who believes that the work product speaks for itself. But this is not really true. After many years, I believe that both the network and the built-up work reputation are important. (Not that that is a mystery or rocket science – it is just that I think maybe many people struggle because they rely too heavily on one or the other. I have known some who schmooze their way into situations in which they are way over their heads; I have been guilty of relying too much on the work and not being as driven by relationships as I could be.)

In the early days of my freelance experience, this was one of my biggest hurdles. I did not even have a personal, let alone professional, network because I was working in a new country. I knew no one. But little by little I met one person here, one person there, I awkwardly dropped hints about needing to find work, and eventually I had a flow of freelance jobs coming in and, mostly by word of mouth, had more clients popping up. This happened because I worked hard, fast and usually overdelivered. People remembered me, both when they needed work done and when others needed work done. There is a lot to be said for willingness and the inability to say no. Bottom line, though – when there are personal stakes and personal interest – or some form of a relationship – networking is at its most effective.

As the Lifehacker articles I point to explain, networking requires a personal and genuine approach. This means that networking is a two-way street. I have needed help, but more than that, have been first in line offering my help to others in their own professional pursuits. You’ve got to give to get – and being able and readily willing to reciprocate actually improves the networking channels. Everyone needs a way to get their foot in the door.

For me, as for most introverts, it is incredibly hard to admit to needing help or even to making the kinds of connections one could eventually turn to for help. Another Lifehacker article cites a New York Times piece that tells introverts to force themselves into in-person meetings and into small talk. Any introvert would react with something like, “What fresh hell is this?” It is also a bit too much like cold-call sales versus the kind of networking I would prefer to do – which is both based on my work performance and my own quiet, observational analysis of people and situations. I eventually prove my value this way. My approach to networking is the long-game approach.

Lately, though it has been many years in the making, this approach has really begun to bear fruit. At this point, people are coming to me without my having asked for help or having reached out at all. My network has become so strong and trusted that it spreads on its own.

The positives are adding up, and the first step was finally coming to a point where I could speak up for myself to say I needed help. When I needed it, help was there. It is not unlike the incredible difficulty of admitting a need for love, really. The whole concept of surrendering to some need that you cannot completely fill for yourself invites vulnerability.

In a slightly unrelated matter, of course admitting and facing what we really need can also be comical!

We accidentally played a clip from the Al Jazeera America channel that was threatening to get inappropriately in depth about foreign policy. Obviously Al Jazeera America is new here and don’t know how we do things.” (From The Daily Show on 11 February)

We need real information and news, but we have managed to fool ourselves into thinking that we need to know the salacious details of politicians’ personal lives. We are blind and never focusing on the right things. And how this relates to what I started writing about in the first place? Well, we live in an era that makes heavy use of comparatives – and I spend too much time comparing, particularly the present against the past. And where that’s led me, now, is the path toward figuring out how to get beyond all the wrong triggers, targets and foci to get to who, what and where I need to be. And of course, in keeping with the generous and reciprocal nature of real and valuable networking, helping other people get to their right places as well.

Tennis – “It All Feels the Same

My political platform: Bringing back capes, gloves, postage stamps, anti-hypocrisy and flexible work options!

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It’s another one of those random days where random thoughts are weaseling their way into my brain too fast to keep track of them.

I’m not sorry we loved, but I hope I didn’t keep you too long.

First of all, I overthink. All the time. All weekend in between working and then taking breaks from that work to do other work, I was beating myself up over the realization that it is always just when you ease into a comfort level, feeling like you can let your guard down, that you are at your most vulnerable, a victim to be gutted. You know, gutted and chopped into pieces, not unlike a poor, hapless young giraffe minding his own business in a Copenhagen zoo (and see below). Trust me.

In other news (or non-news), what the hell is wrong with Fox News and other conservative talking heads? I cannot come up with words – nothing that has not already been said. They have started blabbing about how free healthcare disincentivizes working. Who says it best? Why, Jon Stewart, of course!

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-february-6-2014/terror-on-bulls–t-mountain

Writing (oh so seamless the segue) about disincentives to work and purported laziness, I was heartened to see a series of articles from Virgin on the future of flexwork (Richard Branson is a big supporter of flexible work solutions). Three cheers! It’s one thing for me to bang my own pots and pans on the subject of flexible, remote and virtual work (only I hear the ceaseless clanging – and maybe a handful of other folks who happen upon this blog). It is another thing entirely when someone as respected and well-known as Richard Branson puts his weight behind this flexibility.

The website covers different aspects of flexible work – which can include remote work, shared locations, next-gen workspaces and enabling “intrapreneurship”. Be still my heart.

Of course, another aspect of flexible work, as I have learned since the dawn of my professional life, is doing the most flexible kind of work there is (and that means you will get a lot of flexibility but you are going to have to be equally flexible in kind – and sometimes to your own detriment): freelancing. I find these days that when I apply for jobs that are not ideal for me but my skill set matches some other need a company has, I get calls on occasion offering me freelance projects, and I cannot complain.

On a slightly tangential note, I will never get used to how potential employers in Scandinavia, in formal interview settings, often use the word “shit” in interview conversation. This must be a failure to understand that “shit” is not quite the casual profanity that they imagine it to be. (It makes me laugh.)

As for the music and magic of hypocrisy, who embodies it better than my favorite punching bag, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! disaster fame? The Virgin remote work segment highlights the hypocrisy and head-scratching quality of Mayer’s decision to end distance-work options for her employees (“How odd that the head of a tech company that provides online communication tools doesn’t see the irony in that statement?”). Mayer has become the lightning rod for this issue, really. One article I read questioned the fairness of piling all the blame on Mayer when other large corporations scaled back or eliminated their distance work options at the same time (e.g. Best Buy). The hypocrisy of it – the real rub – is precisely what the Virgin article on supporting remote work points out – a tech company supposedly at the forefront (or wanting to believe it is still at the forefront) of innovation and online communication is taking the workplace back to horse-and-buggy days when most of the tech world is, I don’t know, driving a Tesla or taking a high-speed train.

Another nod to hypocrisy, even if not an entirely matching overlap, is the recent decision of a zoo in Copenhagen, Denmark to kill a perfectly healthy young giraffe in its care and feed it to the zoo’s lions. I posted something about this on my Facebook wall, which sparked an immediate argument between two people who are strangers across the world from each other. One argued that those of us who were lamenting the giraffe’s senseless death were hypocrites who cannot handle how nature works when it’s shown to us with transparency. While I can appreciate the argument on its surface, the bottom line is – this happened in a ZOO, not the wild. This took place, apparently, in front of zoo visitors (the killing and the feeding pieces to lions). Yeah, if a family went on safari somewhere or were out in the wild, maybe “nature” and its transparency would be expected. In the zoo? Not so much. The zoo has defended its decision and now is paying an unfortunate price (I saw on the news that the zoo’s employees are receiving death threats now).

Back to the flexwork thing – all the articles come down to one thing: trust. Flexwork is possible when you have trust and no need to micromanage. You would also think we could trust a zoo not to kill a juvenile giraffe, and maybe once upon a time, people would have thought Marissa Mayer would not take a giant tech company back to Little House on the Prairie.

The Changing Workscape: A Stance on Freelance

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Moving to new country is one way to force yourself to become a freelancer and small business owner. I catapulted myself to a new country once, long ago and far away, and having an in-demand skillset that was only really in demand on limited projects for limited times made me a shoo-in for the feast or famine world of freelancing. The timing made a lot of sense – technology had made possible a lot of the things in this realm – meaning I could keep clients I had cultivated even after I had started to bounce between Iceland and the US and later to other countries.

With services and websites, such as dedicated freelance platforms, oDesk, Elance, Microlancer, Guru, Peopleperhour and even general sites like Craigslist, and a variety of resources, including the Freelancers Union (one of the US’s fastest-growing labor organizations), and online networks, project management tools (like Basecamp, Trello) and blueprints and advice for helping put together a freelance plan, and even shared work spaces and incubator space, becoming a freelancer is easy. At least in theory – the tools are there, but no matter how good the tools, if you don’t have some crucial pieces of the puzzle, success is going to be a tougher thing to find.

A freelancer has to define what success means, which usually entails realizing that you’re doing two jobs – not just the freelance work you’re selling yourself to do – but also marketing and selling yourself, which takes a lot of time. You will network and introduce and offer up samples and shove your foot in all kinds of doors and keep it there even when there’s nothing for you there because there might be someday. Put your finger in a whole lot of pies – most of which you baked yourself to pile the sweet sugar right on in all the schmoozing and convincing you will devote yourself to doing!

In my own experience, freelancing might have been the only, or at least the early, route to success as a foreigner with a specific toolkit and work experience – but freelancing is also a competitive boon for women. Elance statistics show women outpacing men in freelance earnings. Apart from earnings, the online freelance marketplace seems to level the playing field, making merit and skill the most important factors in granting projects – giving women and men equal footing. The online freelance marketplace may not be “the great equalizer of the gender gap in tech” but it is one step in the right direction. All the talk about women struggling to be a part of the workforce, especially after having a family makes freelance options seem and feel like real options. (“As a working single person, I can only put myself in the position of a high-achieving mother frustrated by the options provided by the current work force. I can imagine, though, how frustrating it might be to have time to work but not the time when a traditional job wants me on the clock. I can imagine how frustrating it might be to have the skills and the drive and find the workplace unable to make use of them in the current structure.” Isn’t this the kind of argument I keep making about remote and virtual work?)

Self-employment is challenging, make no mistake. But it’s freeing and provides flexibility where the corporate world doesn’t. Set your own hours, set your own workload, set your own terms, pay and deadlines. And the corporate world actually has a growing need for this “contingent workforce”. It’s sort of win-win if you don’t want the full-time job with its demands and also do not need the benefits of having a full-time job – you and the company get what you want.

It’s all part of the whole changing, shifting palette of the economy. Markets seek to innovate and find ways to utilize talent and resources more effectively. Or maybe that is just the optimistic way to describe it. But, as an article in The Atlantic contends, the “gig economy” is the mainstream economy. The way we work, the jobs we take, our perception of how we will work and live our lives as employees – it is all in flux, in large part because people are starting to work independently and fitting work into their lives rather than fitting their lives into work. The article tells a story that makes the move to freelance sound like a revolution. To some extent, it is. “This transition is nothing less than a revolution. We haven’t seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost 100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Now, employees are leaving the traditional workplace and opting to piece together a professional life on their own. As of 2005, one-third of our workforce participated in this “freelance economy.”” Of course this fails to acknowledge that the people who choose to go into freelance are in a position to choose it. Even if it seems like there are few alternatives (for example, when I chose to move to another country), there are options. Plenty of people in the messed-up economy of the day don’t have the experience, skills, etc. to capitalize on this “revolution”.

I don’t have to be a freelancer anymore, but it is hard to let go of the networks and client relationships. It’s clear that in this kind of economy, you need to be ready for everything.

The changing workscape: Going it alone

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Whether picking up freelance projects here and there as a kind of sole proprietor or doing something a bit more formal, setting up a company and running it, the current job market coupled with the difficulty of being “seen” by recruiters (even if you’ve got the experience, talent and skills required) are making more and more people choose to go it alone. Obviously deciding to work for yourself requires a kind of independence, confidence and belief in your skills and ideas that will give you the strength to persevere through lean times. The challenges of launching and marketing a new business – and the need to basically do at least two jobs at all times (the job/specialty you are selling and then the actual selling/marketing of those services) can be daunting. Never mind the bureaucracy and accounting work you will have to consider…

But going into business for yourself isn’t all risk, no reward – or people would not do it, keep doing it and loving it.

Beginning to see the light
The job search has been long and tough – very few interviews, or a lot of interviews that lead nowhere, and you start to think that maybe you would be better off – and much more in control of your professional destiny – if you strike out on your own. This initial “seeing the light” can be deceptive, of course, because on the surface it sounds a lot easier to just take matters into your own hands and go from there. If you’ve never started or run a business, though, you could be in for a few surprises in terms of how difficult it can be. Do your homework. But don’t let the challenges stop you. You will actually be a stronger person and may either become a successful businessperson, recognizing that this is where you belong – or you may just bolster yourself and gain insight and independence enough to know that you do belong in a regular job. But the experience of starting your own business and creating your own job has prepared you in whole new ways you could not even have imagined for the job you eventually seek. You are broadening your horizons no matter what road you take.

But first things first.

How did the “light” first come on that made you consider becoming your own boss?

The hard search – not being seen
The aforementioned “not being seen” in the job hunt is becoming more common. A recent, popular thread on LinkedIn discussed the increasing difficulty of differentiating yourself as a job candidate, particularly when you are something of a jack-of-all-trades. This inspired me to write on the subject of recruitment and HR and the foibles therein. A friend and former professor sent me another article about how HR has begun to embrace “big data” – and this is starting to influence hiring and retention decisions to, as the article points out, an almost creepy degree.

A true jack-of-all-trades, as many people pointed out in the comments to this post on LinkedIn, may be better off channeling all of those myriad skills into his or her own enterprise. If someone else cannot take in and appreciate the generalist, DIY, can-do approach to business, who better to benefit from your work than you – and the stable of clients you eventually cultivate?

When you have done your due diligence – and that means, really taking the time to tailor each application you submit (which may mean cutting back on the jack-of-all-trades theme to market yourself as a specialist in a few key areas, targeted for the specific job) – and you still find yourself getting nowhere, it might be time to apply the same efforts you make in the job search to assessing what kind of business you could do on your own using the skills in your toolbox that others have not seemed to cotton to. Do some market analysis – what needs exist that you can address?

This may be the best way to be seen and to make a mark.

The risk of self-employment 
Most things really worth doing do not come without any risk.

The biggest risk – you might fail. Many small businesses fail. It’s par for the course. But is failure in this case really failure? It’s a mixed bag. You may lose your shirt, but you know that there is always another shirt where that one came from. You will never learn as much as fast as you do in starting and running your own business – succeed or fail. If you fail, you take away valuable lessons and experience. You can either apply these lessons to your next business venture (the entrepreneurial bug is strong once you start) or apply the lessons to your next job. You are richer for it. “..a recent survey of 1,000 small business owners (conducted by Deluxe Corp and reported in Business Insider) shows that the vast majority of them are confident in their endeavors and say they’d rather embrace potential failure than never try at all”. Once you make up your mind, you’re pretty sure that you can live with failure – and need to be optimistic about success, regardless of the statistics, or you would not be likely to give the business your all.

Some might argue that it is a risk to work for yourself because you are sort of taking yourself out of the workforce specifically in your field and thus might fall behind on new trends or technologies because you are not active in that field. I doubt this. If you’re leveraging your former experience, chances are, as a self-employed person in a similar field, you have to stay ahead of the curve on trends to be competitive. This is why companies will turn to you – as your own enterprise, you are expected to be on the cutting edge. You might ultimately end up ahead of the game.

Difficulties & hard times
Money, money, money
I think one of the major reasons that more people don’t go into business for themselves, which goes beyond the not knowing how or where to start is the cash flow situation. Not only do you not have start-up costs on hand, but you, like everyone else, have bills to pay. And many people are motivated in large part by the paycheck. A steady job, even one you hate, pays you and ensures that you keep a roof over your head and all the rest. But, while theory won’t keep the wolf from the door, the idea that you work just for a paycheck is the kind of mindset that you should work to change.

Learning curve
You have a lot of skills to apply to the work you eventually want to do in your business. But to get there, there’s a lot to learn about starting, operating and building a business. This kind of knowledge doesn’t come overnight, and you will have to work hard and be patient, embracing what may be a steep and possibly winding learning curve.

Overreaching & lack of planning
You might try to do too much, too fast and overreach. You can easily lose the plot by doing this – and burn yourself out. Be sure to have very specific goals – and don’t stray too far from these, even if you see opportunities to dabble in a bunch of different areas outside your core business. This can lead to trouble, especially in the early days when you struggle to find your footing. You need to have a good plan from the beginning and, while you can exhibit some flexibility, straying too far outside the guidelines can get you into trouble, mired in projects that you cannot fulfill your commitments to. The temptation to do this can be great, especially when money is tight in the beginning, but you’re better off in the long run if you stick to your guns and do not take on something you cannot handle. Does that mean you should not challenge yourself? No, but definitely evaluate whether a project is within the scope of what your business and your expertise can offer. You risk a big bundle of stress, financial losses and a potential hit to your reputation if you don’t manage yourself and your obligations carefully.

Legal trouble
Further on the previous point, if you are careless about making delivery promises or careless in taking care of all the required aspects of establishing a business legally (especially where it concerns intellectual property), you can quickly find yourself in legal trouble. This is somewhere you definitely do not want to go. Failing in a small business is one thing – getting tangled up in lawsuits is entirely another. Always put in the time to make sure everything is above board and legal.

The rewards of self-employment
Flexibility
One of the biggest bonuses of working for yourself is the flexibility you can build into your work life. Sure, you will probably be working most of the time – but it’s your business and your time. When you need to run out and do an errand, no one is looking over your shoulder and asking you to punch a time clock. Your time is your own, and you know that you get what you put into whatever efforts you are making. For me, the home office has been a boon – I have discovered that unknown levels of productivity are possible for me when I am working at home, so the readjustment to office life has just not worked well. Sure, I need to be flexible as well – but having your own business buys you this kind of freedom.

Nonstop learning
If you are anything like me, one of the battles of working in a regular job is that many of them have an initial learning curve (new company, new project) but then once you have mastered a few things, there is not a lot of brain stretching going on. This is not always true – there is always something to learn but you’ve got to be proactive about seeking it out. Sometimes the traditional work environment, even if you are like a sponge, picking up new knowledge and skills, just wants to pigeonhole you into whatever role you are doing, and the lack of growth that results from your gusto to learn leaves the learning less than satisfying. This is never a problem in your own enterprise. You have to learn to keep going, and you will apply everything you learn all the time. For those for whom endless curiosity is a constant nag, self-employment is one salve for the soul.

Building your network, building your reputation
Don’t give yourself a bad reputation! Building up your network of clients is the best way to get more clients. In my own experience, I have tried various types of advertising and marketing, and the single best way – that keeps paying off after literally years – is word of mouth. Former/current clients are asked by friends and peers for recommendations, and even if eight years have gone by, they will remember the work I did and pass my name along.

This leads to the next point – working for yourself, you are the show, so you have to put your best foot forward and manage your reputation. Clearly building a solid reputation with clients makes you memorable, keeps them coming back and will grow your business even without you exerting effort. The effort you make today can pay dividends later.

Satisfaction
You did it! Whether you stick with it forever and keep growing or just do the self-employed thing for a while, you did it. You stuck with it and now have this invaluable experience to show that you’ve got business experience, sense and acumen.

Seeing the signs Do it alone
The way things are going – both in the job market as a whole and in specific industries, and perhaps just in your own field – you should be able to read the writing on the wall to assess whether the time has come to strike out on your own and make a go of it.

It’s not that I am a vocal advocate of starting one’s own business – I have done it because I found myself unemployed and with few options living in a new country. And if it seems like a bureaucratic rat maze navigating the vagaries of legal, financial and other considerations in starting a business in your own city, imagine doing it in a foreign country in a new language. But the fact that I managed means that pretty much anyone can do it if you have a solid plan, a target clientele, a way to market yourself and a lot of patience – and networking skills don’t hurt one bit. It is hard work – perhaps even harder and much more time consuming than going to a regular 9 to 5 job, but it can be a salvation and even an addiction once you start to see positive results and the fruits of your labor.

The Changing Workscape: The Problem of Presenteeism & Baking Bounty

Standard

I often joke about the “always-on” nature of the American professional. The work ethic is baked into the American psyche to the point that most Americans have trouble going on vacation without checking their email (what little vacation Americans get). It is not always so much that an American cannot stop working as it is that Americans feel less stress and enjoy the vacation more if they track what is going on in their absence, even if they don’t take action on anything during the vacation.

The Nordic work ethic, on the other hand, is just about the polar opposite. Vacation is serious and no interruption will be tolerated. In most cases. At least this is how it has been in most of my Scandinavian work experiences. While I will never be able to turn off the American worker bee inside me, I support the sentiment of separating work from vacation and time off, and thus am surprised and not pleased when I encounter Nordic corporate exception.

In managerial roles, people need to lead by example. I have of late encountered a lot of people who are taking work home, proudly announcing that they are up late at night answering emails and get up early to get two or three hours (!) of quiet time to work before they actually come to the office. The problem with this is not so much that managers are working at all hours, which is their prerogative, but that they are placing these kinds of expectations on others. I would call this a problem of “presenteeism”. You can be too present. Being present and working at all hours of day and night – and showing everyone that you are working – a manager is creating an environment that makes his/her entire team feel as though he is not doing enough if s/he is not working as much as the manager is, especially when this workaholic enthusiasm is overflowing. Nothing wrong with doing your job and loving it- but maybe some of the sending emails in the middle of the night could be curtailed.

Personally, I find this more troublesome when a workplace is particularly inflexible otherwise. With the way the workplace is changing, I would expect something different.

I have spent almost 15 years freelancing and working remotely. As the new century dawned and I took up residence in a new country, I had to adapt to a lot of new things – and part of that was finding a professional niche for myself. It also seemed like the dawn of a new era that would enable remote/virtual work, particularly in fields like mine (content development, writing, editing). To varying degrees, things have been moving in that direction, depending on the industry I worked in. Obviously the home office let me be the ever-present, never-present workaholic. That is, I have been available to work 24/7 without ever being present in an office. I have always been a happy American-style worker, and my home office is the most productive environment for me. As my regular, full-time jobs took the direction of allowing me to work primarily from home, I have realized that this is the only way for me to work.

The trick now will be to find the place that acknowledges my home as my office and will let me turn up in a real office on occasion, car loaded with hundreds and hundreds of cookies.

Send me a sign/leads – and cookies can be yours. Seriously – give me a lead, and I will give you cookies.