Cubical Monkey Evolution

I’ve always been a writer in that I’ve always written in some manner — stories, poems, journals. But before I struck out as a freelance writer, I spent better than twenty years working in Human Resources departments for a number of companies in Southern California. I’d chased a steady paycheck rather than following my dreams and had ended up just another replaceable cog in the Corporate American machine.

I was a good Office Drone. I received recognition, I got raises, I was promoted and I worked hard. Or, at least, I thought I did.

It was no big deal to work through lunch or bring my laptop home to finish a project in the evening or over the weekend. If my boss needed me to come in early or stay late, I was there. And I took pride in my work. I liked the praise I got when people were impressed with my fancy-schmancy reports and analysis. I liked my bosses and wanted to make the department look good. Basically, I was the kind of employee you wanted to have around.

But then I started freelancing and I’ve learned that what I considered hard-work or going the extra mile in Corporate-mode is a world away from doing those things in Freelance-mode.

As a cubical monkey, I worked overtime. As a freelancer, I’m pretty much always working. I’m either doing work, looking for work, bidding on jobs or contacting clients. When I was crunching numbers in HR, e-mails that I got on Friday afternoon could wait until Monday morning for a reply. Now that I’m freelancing, I try not to let an hour pass without a response. If someone was waiting for a report from Corporate Me, they might get a call saying it would be another day or two before it was finished. Freelance Me will pull an all-nighter to avoid missing a client’s deadline.

It goes beyond doing whatever it takes to get the job done. I feel a sense of responsibility to my current clients that I never felt when I was down home on the cube farm. I had bosses and superiors that I liked and respected and wanted to please, and there was some semblance of the feeling with them. But I never remember hustling or busting my ass for them the way I’m willing to for a client today.

I’m trying to put my finger on just what’s behind the difference. It’s definitely not the money.  I made far more as an HRIS Analyst than I’m currently making as a Freelancer (I was also quite miserable toward the end of my corporate life, and no paycheck is worth that kind of employment-induced despair — I’m poor now, but I’m happy). I’m sure part of it is the work. Spending long hours doing what I love is far more appealing than doing headcount and turnover reports at 4:30 in the morning.

As much as I don’t like to admit it, I think a lot of it comes down to my attitude. As much as I wanted to think of myself as a go-getter and a team player, I was still just an employee. I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, I suppose there are better people than I who didn’t experience this, but for me, there was a tipping point. Past a certain level, I would begin to get little resentments about the extra work required of me. It seems immature and petty now, but maybe I was immature and petty then.

My tipping point seems to have vanished, replaced by a drive to get the job done and get it done well. Most of my clients I’ve never met, I’ve never even spoken with them. All business is conducted via messaging or emails. And yet it really matters to me that I do my best job for them. I’ve been ghosted by a client and I’ve gone unpaid, and honestly, it just shocks me. I can’t imagine promising something to someone and then disappearing; or worse, not paying them.

Maybe it’s because it’s all on me now. There’s no one else responsible for my workload, and no one to point to if something doesn’t get done. I don’t have the luxury of slacking off or the time to complain about how busy I am. And the truth is, I don’t really have any complaints. I’m feeling pretty productive and successful right now.

And maybe that’s where the real difference comes in. This sense of pride and accomplishment feels pretty damn good. So if I need to hustle seven days a week to maintain it, then bring it on.

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