By Harry Hodge
As I near my mid-40s, I have become accustomed to hustling for work. Over a lifetime of relying on writing and teaching as revenue streams, you (luckily? sadly?) develop a personal process for what to do when work dries up.
The best approach is to not have any one source of income; that said, many of us still have a MAIN one, which generates more cash than the others. When that happens, the traditional ideas are to (A) get more work from the other streams; or (B) find a new MAIN, whether it’s temporary or permanent.
I’ve been good since moving to Saigon to always have a hand on one branch as I swing to another. A recent roll-of-the-dice crapped out for me with a writing gig, meaning I needed to get my head in the game and find new work pronto. With a trip to Canada with the wife and children four years(!) in the making, we’ve come too close for a hiccup in revenue to be an issue. So the typical process, based on my experience, goes as follows:
(1) The initial surprise and annoyance.
There are two ways to deal with this one. Sit and dwell or get on the job search ASAP. Luckily, there are generally a lot of job postings in Saigon in April and May for Summer Studies. This is good because my university teaching gig seems to dwindle around that time, and pick up steam in August. Within a week or two I had half-a-dozen interviews lined up and a couple of offers. There were also some chats about online teaching, but I’d like to give my thoughts on that industry in a different blog post.
(2) The wait and keeping costs low.
So, now that you’ve got an offer, it may start right away… or in a few weeks. In the meantime, you’re hoping there’s cash coming in from your other streams. Like I said, I was still at the university until about two weeks ago, with a trip to Nha Trang in between. As well, tutoring at home, a gig teaching staff at a shipping company and a couple of writing gigs have meant that the cash flow hasn’t actually stopped, it’s simply decreased for a (roughly) four-week period. Compare this with people who spend months looking for a new job, like in Canada for example. I’d lose my mind, no joke.
Keeping costs low means doing away with craft beer, sharp imported cheddars and all the other stuff you enjoy when you’re flush. You start to seek out free stuff too; I went to a gym near our place simply because I had a three-day free trial voucher. You go to The Coffee House where a ca phe sua nong is 28,000 VND instead of Starbucks where a short fresh brew is 42,000 VND. You have instant noodles for lunch more. You walk 10-15 minutes up the street for 25,000 VND broken rice because the guy at your building sells it for 36,000. You take a trip and stay with in-laws over a hotel and buy ice cream to eat on the sand instead of paying triple for it at a coffee shop.
In short, you go into spending lockdown. Everything becomes a luxury. Essentials like baby formula, dish soap, paying for daycare and the cleaning lady (she is an essential, trust me) all take precedence. Your phone stops working but you put off buying a new one. And all this is going on while you have a fair amount tucked away in the bank! But that’s for trips abroad, future real estate purchases, and general rainy day stuff.
The fact of the matter is, it’s also a form of self-punishment. How did I allow this to take place? I need to pay for my shortsightedness, relying on “shady company X” when that has rarely panned out in the past.
Also, I’m not gonna lie: When you have a shortage of work, boredom sets in. Especially when you worked like a maniac for the last three years solid, and steadily for the past six. You drop the kids off at daycare, your wife goes to work, and BOOM! You are on your own. But you don’t wanna dip into the cash for outings to the casino or swanky spas. You go running, get back to that online course you’ve been neglecting, read a bit. Funny it took so long to blog about it!
Your focus is getting back to getting back to something like what you were doing two months earlier. It’s difficult to wrap your head around.
The only thing I can really say about it is I’m thankful that Monday, I’m back to being as overworked as ever.