Friday, February 28, 2014

The Freelancer Dance

Being a freelancer anywhere is well... odd... frustrating... tricky at best... painful in a despairing sort of way at worst. Though of course it can also provide substantial profit when successful, in addition to very fulfilling amounts of flexibility and freedom. The sad reality is that most people have very little interest in your finances, your schedule, or your needs. And how can you really blame them? Freelancing work typically consists of jobs and services that are extras or icing on the cake. They are the first to go when money becomes an issue or timing gets in the way. With any luck, you can find prospective clients who will be respectful and courteous, giving some sort of warning when things will change, pay on time, and all that. In less desirable circumstances, you can run into people who borderline con artists and seem to be completely oblivious to other people even existing in their realm. 

However, being a freelancer in a foreign country adds an extra special amount of pitfalls. Cultures vary, people have different standards, and expect different things than you are used to. In France, I teach English as a foreign language. I learned this skill through a TEFL program I took in Paris two years ago. When I returned to NYC, I was able to make my way into the world of English language schools and ultimately private students, finding a rather large amount of fulfillment in teaching my native tongue. Though I'm not a particularly huge fan of grammatical nuance (or at least teaching it), I clearly love words, vocabulary, and creative expression. I have been very fortunate to have built a small client base of students who I have a very positive relationship with. I have learned some business skills along the way, being sure to charge in advance, implement a cancellation policy, and not lower my rates no matter how many times someone wills me to do so. 

In NYC, I had my same mix of helpful and less than compliant students. People run late without messaging, cancel last minute, disappear or ask for money back when they decide to stop taking lessons. It's the same in any field, no matter the subject. The difference in France is that you're not only dealing with the language barrier, you're also dealing with the cultural one. Vacations are law here. Kids don't study while on break, and there are a LOT of breaks. 5-30 minutes late is on time, so while I may run like a madwomen through metros to make it from one place to another, I could just as easily sit waiting for 20 minutes once I get there. Perhaps it's just the English teacher thing, but running your enterprise like a real business seems to be a bit formal for many. I check in on schedules, notify when a payment is complete via email, and I have learned the hard way that making sure things are in writing is the absolute most important way to deal with your issues.

There are many ways in which this interaction is clearly like a dance. The graceful back and forth, the give and take, the artful subtlety of painful niceties. You can get too close and take things personally, or stay too closed off and remain disconnected. In the moment, it can be intensely satisfying, making you glow with the accomplishment of a creative task. On the other hand, sometimes you feel like you've pulled a muscle after bending over backwards for those who don't particularly care. When fluid and consistent, like a graceful waltz, the world is your oyster. You have the flexibility to make your own schedule, command your own affairs, travel, see friends, live life. Other times? You feel like you've been krumping for hours with nothing to show for it and just want to take a big ole nap. The Freelancer Dance is inspiring and exhausting, uplifting and depressing, never a dull moment in a life on the dance floor.


  1. someone must have taught you to always be on time

  2. True... Not sure who that was, though ; )