A couple of weeks ago I was asked by our CLO to give a talk on freelancing/telecommuting while overseas. I thought about the topic and made up a short list of useful tools to print out and hand around. Then the talk was cancelled. Oh well. It did get me thinking about the pros and cons of my work situation.
First, some background. I work part time as content manager for a non-profit organization. I’ve been doing this job (or variations on it) for several years.
Before that, I was a website designer in a small way. I pretty much fell into that. I got started messing around with a personal website on Geocities in the late 90s. A friend saw it and asked if I would like to manage her organization’s website. So, I thought, why not? And learned on the job.
In those pre-WordPress days, there was a steeper learning curve to producing a website. So, people were happy to pay me to do it for them. Pretty good money, all considered. But I never really liked it, and as websites got to be more and more complicated, I liked it less and less. Too much time fiddling with code, not enough fun making things pretty!
In the year preceding our move to Vienna, I politely let most of my clients go, and continued to work as content manager for the most reliable and profitable one, with the help of a new (and much more skilled) webmaster. But I still like to keep my hand in, playing around with three blogs of my own (this one and two family history sites) and co-developing TriVienna.
Before my website design days, I edited newsletters at three overseas posts. Around the same time, I joined an online writer’s group and learned quite a few things about both writing and editing. (Much later, I took a couple of online classes that further improved those skills.) I’ve also sold a few articles as a freelance writer and edited a book.
There’s a pattern here: I like working part-time! Or, you could say, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Fortunately, thanks to my husband’s unusual (and rather demanding) career choice, I don’t have to.
Now to some pros and cons to my work-at-home, part-time career.
Pro #1: I never have to quit my job. This is pretty huge, actually. I’ve seen fellow spouses get hired for Eligible Family Member positions overseas and then wait a year or MORE for a security clearance before they can start working. My employment history, on the other hand, is without any gaps going back fifteen years or more. I can work from anywhere with an Internet connection. I love that I can spend my time actually working, rather than constantly trying to get a job, or waiting around to start one.
Con #1: I do not make that much money. Now, that said, my hourly wage is not bad. And my income is consistent, with no breaks due to waiting for security clearances or whatever. When I was juggling several clients back in the States, I brought home pretty good money. Nowadays, I do not make so much. That’s OK, because it is by choice, and we are overseas in a free apartment. When we go back to the States permanently, I will need to either find a job that pays more, or add new clients. This should not be a problem.
Pro #2: My job does not cost me much. Aside from an up-to-date computer and the fastest Internet connection available (which we would pay for anyway) I spend almost nothing to work. My employer buys my software. All the training I need is available for free online. I have never had child care costs of any significance. I don’t pay to commute. I don’t have to maintain a working wardrobe.
Con #2: There isn’t one! There is no downside to not spending money as far as I can see. And I like being able to write a slick computer off my taxes every few years.
Pro #3: I never have to dress up for work. Well, OK, sometimes I need to up my game to “business casual” for a meeting. But I never have to wear heels, or pantyhose, or anything else I don’t want to wear. I like this.
Con #3: I never have to dress for work. Especially in the winter, I can get stuck in a rut, wearing yoga pants for days at a time. I need to remind myself sometimes to wear actual clothes, even if the only people who will see them on that particular day are the cashiers at the grocery store or my family members.
Pro #4: I can be very, very flexible. This is great when your spouse has a job that is not very flexible, that requires a lot of business travel, and involves the occasional unaccompanied tour. When my husband had to travel for a couple of weeks, even when the kids were little, it was no big deal. I just ordered a bit more takeout food. When he was gone for an entire year, I did not need to scramble for extra babysitting, chauffeurs for my kids, or anything, really. I was very (very!) busy, but I could get it all done. It wasn’t a crisis.
Con #4: My family takes me for granted. Let’s face it, they do. I am the default person for every doctor’s appointment, trip to the vet, wait for the plumber, and so on. Now, I can do this, no problem. But sometimes, especially when the kids were little, I wondered what a shock it might be for my husband to actually have to take off work when a kid was sick, or to drag one of them to the doctor with an ear infection.
Pro #5: I could be there for my kids. I was never a true PTA mom, but I could be there when needed to chaperone school trips, work a bake sale, or drive them to soccer practice. This was nice. It gave them opportunities that I did not have when I was their age.
Con #5: I was always there for my kids. My parents both worked full-time and there is no doubt that my brother and I learned a few life skills earlier than my own kids did. This is not a deal-breaker: it is never too late to learn how to make a quick dinner or unstop a toilet. But without those “Oh geez, there is no one here but me to fix this” situations, the learning curve is definitely longer.
Pro #6: I never have to leave the house. This is more true now that my kids are older. For many years I was out playing chauffeur every day. Now my daughter is an adult, and my son takes the U-Bahn. It’s handy to be able to easily get the laundry done, bake some bread, put some dinner on the stove. We are able to live our lives at a fairly relaxed pace because I am around to do these things. Even without the need for constant child care, our quality of life is definitely higher because of my unorthodox work arrangement. And I personally do not miss commuting.
Con #6: But what if I want to leave the house? One thing is for certain: I would never be able to do my job full-time because then I really would be stuck at home. So, that is a limitation to freelancing or telecommuting, in my opinion.
But, working part-time, I can find lots of activities to get a little social or out-of-the-house time in nearly every day. In previous years, these activities were largely child-centered. Now they are for ME. I took German lessons three times a week for the first two years of our tour here. I coordinate a weekly craft group at post, and have often taken art classes when they are available. I participate in activities with the local women’s group: tours of local museums and businesses and history walks. I take yoga classes, work out at the gym, and walk for exercise nearly every day. And yes, I go to some of those often-mocked embassy spouse coffees. (What, you don’t go out for coffee at your job?)
So, while there have been some liabilities to working at home, and the routine of my day has changed a lot over the years, on balance I am still happy with the arrangement.
But I don’t actually wear bunny slippers. That would be silly. Fuzzy house socks are more my thing.
I think you summed it up very nicely.
One issue that is huge for me is the social aspect. It can get really lonely working at home, and it can get difficult to get motivated to leave the house and see other people when there is no “real” reason to do so.
Solution: make up a reason! 🙂
Thank you for this. My husband is in the process of trying to become a diplomat and while I am very excited about the prospects, I am also trying to figure out how I would fit into the equation as someone who has always enjoyed working. I have been able to find quite a few post and blogs by people who are not happy with their situation, but not many have shown their solutions!
You are most welcome. The people I know who are self-employed may not make that much money but they seem to be on balance happier than the ones who try to pursue a “traditional” career while overseas.
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