The Freelancer “Freedom” Fallacy
Veronica Belmont

It gets even more complicated for those of us of a Certain Age who are laid off by our employers, often with next to no notice and minimal severance. The wonderful new age of “at will employment” has left most of us vulnerable to their whims. Our chances of securing the long-term employment we’d grown to expect (and were generally very good at) are minimal in today’s economy - and the chances go down exponentially the longer we’ve been out of work.

I wouldn’t mind freelancing. I’ve done it before, and I always do good work. My problem, and I suspect that of many in my position, is marketing - how to find people who could use that nice lance of mine, not quite free, but at least reasonable. That’s the crucial skill today that we never learned, because we really never had to. So I’ve got this lance waving around in the wind, and no renters.

I do know that there’s no place for me in today’s academia - I’ve tried going the adjunct faculty route at three different schools. The remuneration is just above minimum wage, with absolutely no commitments beyond next week. I’m just a grading machine - and one that apparently grates a bit, since I have the unfortunate habit of suggesting how things might be improved. Not what they are interested in, it seems.

What I really need is an agent. Dammit, I live in Los Angeles - the home of agents. Everyone has one. But where’s an over-70 organizational psychologist and refugee from academia going to find the kind of agent I’d need? I don’t even know how to define the position - or, for that matter, what I could do for someone. I know a lot about a lot of things, and a whole lot about how organizational dynamics screw up lots of things. I know quite a lot about information technology and information systems. But it’s all pretty general; I’m not a highly certificated technician. I can listen, and give pretty good advice. But how do you describe what I can do for someone, with this kind of background?

In the meantime, I think, and write about a lot of things. Occasionally, an opportunity comes along, and I do the best I can with it. But it’s hard to sustain a vision of oneself as a functioning professional on the basis of market crumbs. I’ve written a whole lot over my career, and some of it even still gets read. But now, it’s more time-filling than rewarding.

I’m not whining. I don’t expect the market or the economy to rearrange themselves for my benefit. I understand that in some crucial respects, particularly marketing, I’m probably functionally obsolete. But I’ve got a lot of good ideas yet, and a still functioning brain, supplemented by a lot of experience.

Over my career, I’ve been enormously lucky (and not just in terms of my white male privileges, which I freely acknowledge) - I’ve had great contacts that have led me to many fascinating and rewarding opportunities. But I can no longer rely on my network to bubble up opportunities - most of the fizz is gone.

I can empathize with Veronica. Life in this lane is very difficult and stressful. But at least she understands the nature and necessity of personal marketing. It’s not a native skill for those of us from former eras. Good luck, Veronica; I’m sure that you’ll find your career niches in due time!