September 27, 2019

Why I'm Not Working Full-Time

Last year, I wrote a resume of failures, which--ironically--became one of my most successful posts. Friends and acquaintances told me that it was “humanizing” and that they were inspired to make their own.

I think one of the things that made the post relatable was how vulnerable it was. We tend to only share our successes on social media, especially when it comes to our professional lives. We see announcements about grad school acceptances, new jobs at Google, white coat ceremonies. I’m always excited to see my friends go places, and I think we definitely should keep sharing major professional developments.

That said, seeing only celebratory posts can give us the false impression that everyone knows what they’re doing, or has a fancy career. So, I wanted to keep it real again and share what I’m doing--working a freelance, part-time role without benefits. I certainly don’t know what I’m doing, and don’t have a clear career trajectory. But I appreciate the freedom I have currently, and hope it becomes less stigmatized to take a non-traditional path. 

What I’m doing currently

I spent the past year teaching English at a university in Dijon, France. I came back in late July and have been doing remote work for a college admissions startup in Cambridge (~27 hours/week). I actually started working with them my senior year of college as an online admissions consultant, did a marketing internship the summer after graduation, and worked remotely as a blog editor during my year in France. My current work is mainly editing/writing for their blog and writing YouTube scripts. 

The concept of college applications consulting can be kind of uncomfortable, as the client base is largely wealthy families. It feels like you’re just helping the privileged become more privileged, when they already have access to more resources--they have the money to pay for SAT tutors, time to drive kids to fancy extracurriculars, etc. Luckily, I worked with only clients from underprivileged backgrounds when I was a consultant, and the current blog work I do provides free resources/knowledge. My company is also shifting away from a service-based model to build a free college advice platform, which will help students of all backgrounds.

Being a blog editor isn’t a fancy or prestigious job, but I like how flexible my work is--I work almost entirely from home at odd hours, and only work around 27 hours/week. I also appreciate that what I’m doing will directly help families with the admissions process. 

makeshift standing desk
My makeshift "standing desk." This was when I was on the move--my current "desk" is a shelf haha.

I applied to full-time jobs, but didn’t get any

I actually applied to 5 or so full-time positions over the summer, but I didn’t hear back. Five applications is really not a lot, but I only applied to jobs that I thought I’d truly enjoy and would want to do over my current remote role. 

I also applied to a part-time IB French teacher position at a private school, but had the worst experience. It started out okay: I interviewed with the headmaster and the chair of the languages department, and the chair had even said that the headmaster “liked me” and was “thinking about making the position full-time if I needed it.” 

I was supposed to interview with another staff member though, and she canceled on me one hour before, and asked to reschedule to a time I’d explicitly said I was unavailable. When I gave her other time slots, she never replied. I emailed the headmaster to let him know I was having trouble getting in contact, but he also never replied. 

I noticed that they’d reposted the job on LinkedIn and even promoted it. I waited another couple weeks before eventually calling the headmaster, and he confirmed what I’d suspected--they’d found someone else with more experience. That was no problem (good for them, honestly!), but the fact that they hadn’t been honest and basically ghosted me was not cool. 

I might’ve applied to more teaching jobs, but I’m not licensed to teach, so I was limited to positions at private schools. I enjoyed teaching in France (when the students were motivated), and like the idea of teaching, but it’s not a path that pans out well for me currently. I’d ideally want to teach at a college level, and I’m not ready to get a PhD and deal with higher education’s mess of a job market. 

After this yucky experience with the private school, and no luck from my other applications, I decided to continue doing my remote blog editing work.

I want time for my personal projects

It was easier just to continue in my current role than to keep searching, but I also liked the idea of working freelance. Maybe I just got used to the flexible schedule I had in France (I only taught 10-14 hours/week and worked 10 hours/week remotely), but I wanted to replicate that same freedom in the US to work on my personal projects. The main ones are:

RunningI’ve been an avid distance runner for several years now, and love doing road and trail races. Having something to train for and look forward to keeps me motivated not only in running, but also in general. My flexible schedule makes it a lot easier to fit my workouts in during the day. When I did a full-time summer office internship, I remember feeling glum about how my entire day was eaten by work--I had time to cook and exercise in the evenings, but that was it. Since I don’t work full-time, I have a lot more time for myself, and can work out in the middle of the day. 

semi marathon de lyon
I look like I love running a lot in this photo...

BloggingI’ve had a blog for a long time; until last year, it was primarily for outfit photos and random life reflections. While I was in Dijon, I began writing posts specifically to help people from my experience, such as Triathlon Training for a Marathon, or A Guide to French Healthcare for American Expats.

One of my posts actually began ranking within the first three listings on Google search (seriously, Google “garmin forerunner 235 vs vivoactive 3”). It was a super niche post comparing two GPS watches, but it’s brought me over 20,000 pageviews since April. I noticed that it had been getting traffic after a couple months, and decided to test Amazon affiliate links in the post. I had originally linked to Amazon in the post anyways, as it’s one of the most affordable and easiest places to buy bigger ticket tech items. 

My timing was good because Amazon Prime Day was in July--my blog got 3,000 views in one day, mainly because of that post. I also made $126 in July through affiliate links because of that post (and Prime Day). I’ve since made $35, for a total of $161 over 3 months. It’s nothing to write home about, but it was awesome to see that I could make money doing something I do for fun. I want take blogging more seriously while I have the free time; I’ve committed to writing one post/week, and have been trying new ways to promote my posts.

Of course, linking to Amazon is another ethical concern of mine, as its warehouse workers are notoriously mistreated. I also don’t want to encourage consumerism, or write posts only to make money. For these reasons, I’m limiting my Amazon affiliate links to items I find genuinely useful, only including links where it makes sense (like a review), and encouraging people to try other platforms if the product cheaper there (like eBay). I also won’t write any sales-y posts that uniquely promote products, like a sales roundup. 

Ideally, I’d reach the point where I’d no longer need to rely on affiliate links for income--it would be incredible to grow my pageviews to the point where I could do partnerships with companies I genuinely love and use. Unfortunately, Amazon Associates is the only way I can realistically make income with my blog currently (~5,000 pageviews/month). I’ve also tried affiliate links, but have gotten no bites. 

I’m a hippie

Finally, I’ve come to realize that I don’t need a ton of money to be happy. In France, I made 1200 euros/month teaching. Granted, my rent was WAY cheaper than it is in Boston (300 euros/month in Dijon), but my French salary and remote hourly work (~$2000 total/month) were more than enough to live on--I was able to pay for the necessities, travel, and save. 

I took this mindset with me back to the US. Working 27 hours/week in Boston isn’t enough for a fancy apartment (I live in an old house with 8 roommates--it’s a lovely community, even if it sounds crowded!). I have to limit my discretionary spending (can’t drop too much money on bougie vegan cafes). I don’t have a job that my parents can brag about (sorry mom and dad). 

I also sometimes feel guilty about not working “enough,” or “wasting” my expensive liberal arts education (I know my parents certainly resonate with the latter haha). In the US, and especially in the networks of selective private colleges, there’s an undeniable pressure to achieve something impressive--whether it’s getting a Fulbright, becoming a lawyer, or working at Goldman-Sachs. On the flip side, I never felt this pressure in France--people seemed to just want to enjoy their lives. I know I shouldn’t feel like a slacker because I’m working just as many hours as the average person--it’s just that some of those hours are spent on my blog, and aren’t traditional working hours. I also like to think that my liberal arts background instilled in me an entrepreneurial spirit and a penchant for the unconventional :) 

Despite this pressure, I feel lucky to have the time to do what I want. I love that I can spend an hour in the middle of the day setting up and shooting the flatlay at the beginning of the post. It’s pretty convenient to work from home in my pyjamas. It’s nice to go to the gym before the after-work rush. I’ve averaged 8.5 hours of sleep nightly over the past month. 

While I definitely appreciate the “freelance life” overall, I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to work independently. I’m still on my parents’ insurance since I have no benefits. Maybe eventually I’ll need to make more money for investments like a car and car insurance. Maybe I'll stumble upon a full-time job that supports an active lifestyle.

But in the meantime, I’m glad to be doing my own thing, and hope to make it work while I can.


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