Tuesday, May 05, 2009


We’ve had a particularly rough couple of weeks in the career department (with many more to come, looks like). On April 23rd, MrB was let go from his job, which has required quite a bit of scrambling for both of us since he was the main breadwinner, the one with the 40-hour a week steady paycheck. For the past 3 years, my regular paycheck has been for 20 hours a week, then I’ve padded it out with my dream-chasing hobby job. The padding varies.

This bucket of cold water in the face has just hastened the inevitable – probably a good thing in the long run – we were hanging on by threads, which have now snapped and we have to find a safe place to land.

We’ve known deep down that his job was probably not one where he would be when it was time to retire. The workforce was young, with lots of temps and high turnover of employees, a company dependent on marketability of high tech products, and driven by the quarterly bottom line.

In my work, I’ve been chasing a dream. When we moved to Austin I almost immediately began doing website work (gratis) for my favorite guitar player (readers – you know who I mean – trying not to mention clients by name in this post) and my work was featured prominently on his website. Then I did the CD artwork for an up-and-coming world music band who did quite well in the Austin Music Awards in 2003/04, and my work came in at #6 in its category in the Awards. I did that project while I was working at a full time day job, and it was very labor-intensive over the period of a few weeks, but it was something I had always wanted to do so it was worth it.

It was pretty exciting being part of that, so I decided to chase it further and suggested to one of my favorite local bluegrass bands that I could do a good job at redesigning their website and taking care of it for them. My rate was dirt-cheap, the kind that gets your foot in the door...

[aside] I don’t think that using non-paid support people is a good idea for either party. Your work will eventually suffer because you are feeling used and burned-out. The entity you are supporting may be reluctant to ask from you the things they need, or, if need be, let you go or replace you even when it needs to be done, because they don't want to hurt you, especially since you are one of their biggest fans. [/aside]

...but that was cool, we weren't well-off but we had enough money. I had a full-time job (and so did MrB) and this was a labor of love and devotion, I was finally doing what I always wanted to do, and I was supporting a good cause (music), and the band was (is) wonderful. Starting out, it was 4 or 5 hours a month. Before I knew it, other opportunities started coming along, mostly all musicians or creatives associated with musicians. I took on projects that I felt were a good fit for me and soon I was the webmaster for several bands. I got an offer to take care of a rather large site that belonged to an entertainment PR company that handled a lot of the Americana acts that Austin is known for. They fed me a steady workload – a few hours a day – always. I made an arrangement with my "day job” to work part time, and I ran my home-based biz the rest of the time... and by “the rest of the time” I mean almost all of it. I worked every day, every night, every holiday, through all my vacation days, through all my sick days. I worked every day whether it was an hour or 12 hours. As much as I loved the work I was doing, I reached the point of exhaustion. My nerves were frayed and I was over the edge. No question about it. I was falling apart.

My work was good, but I had made some bad business decisions.
(A) I continued to work cheap, as I didn't raise my price on existing clients, I took on new ones for the same low price... hey, my clients all knew each other! I didn't want to be perceived as ripping people off.
(B) I had no backup for myself and no safety net. I couldn't hire anyone because nobody else would work for my salary and also there was a lot of confidential stuff entrusted to me - passwords and such things - and I was not willing to share those.
(C) My workaholic tendencies drove me to not be able to walk away from from the InBox. If there was work in it, I had to finish it... so that it would be done and the customer would be happy and I would be freed up... except that it was never empty - as soon one task was complete, someone else would send me work. It might only be a 5 minute job each time, but if there are 5 minutes between jobs, that's 5 minutes of uncompensated time. That's right, my compulsions never allowed me to time-manage and give myself breaks. Constantly checking email, and responding to what's there, I was never freed-up and never had actual down time.

I finally felt that I had to let the PR company go as a client. It gave me a little relief, time-wise, but I was putting a whole lot less in the bank as I now had a part time job plus a few music clients on the side, so I was still working pretty much every day, but for much shorter durations - like, maybe an hour instead of 5 hours (unless I was designing a new site or something). We came to be on a very tight budget. That's what this last year has been like. I've been feeling like I've been getting nowhere on every front. Not holding up my end of the deal on being gainfully employed, not having quality time with loved ones, not working toward retirement either.

My day job employer is going to allow me to return to full time status. I have also contacted my clients and resigned. I am closing the doors of my business. There will be some loose ends to tie up, transition periods, and that’s pretty much it even though the transition could take months. In spite of needing money, it’s not going to be good for anyone if I try and do it all. Everyone deserves better than that.

I am very proud of the work that I have done, not only of the projects (websites, newsletters, CD art designs, posters…) but of the fact that people like working with me. I am hard-working, trustworthy, devoted, meticulous and conscientious (yes, and cheap). I care. I really do, it’s not bullshit and it was never about the bottom line. My business failed, but I did not fail. I am not a failure.

I am honored, humbled and privileged to have been associated with such great talents. I am in awe of them all. It’s not over. I hope we will always be friends.

I will be returning to the 40-hour job, pecking away in a dimly-lit windowless office, dealing with traffic jams, getting through hump-day, looking forward to the weekend, planning something for a holiday, having fewer worries and responsibilities, someday... that is, if both of us end up employed. It’s a very big IF in this economy. The saga continues.

Cartoon from Toothpaste For Dinner


Th' Rev said...

That's a bummer all the way around.
Hope it all works out!

Blueberry said...

Thanks, Rev.

Ellen said...

Sorry to hear about your situation. Having worked from home while my husband was unemployed, I think you're better off not being there - or maybe I could have handled it better, but I didn't appreciate hearing him snore in the next room while I was working away at the computer! How are his job prospects? Can he do some kind of freelancing or temp work?

Blueberry said...

Ellen, he has really good people skills, good at selling, talking on the phone. Wants a green job but may not be able to be picky. He may end up temping before finding something. I've done that myself in the past.