By Harry Hodge
It’s 9 a.m. on a Thursday. I was busy like a madman 2.5 weeks ago, teaching summer school science in the mornings and ripping around Saigon for different tutoring clients in the afternoon. Then pick up the kids after daycare at 5 p.m. Some nights I’d hit the pillow and it was lights out.
Towards the end of the summer school, I had an interview and, eventually, an offer for a full-time (F/T) position which would have meant I’d be in training this very minute, prepping to start teaching this coming Monday. But I ended up turning it down, as well as the chance to take on part-time (P/T) hours at my old university lecturing gig.
Knowing I hadn’t been back to Canada for more than four years, with two grandchildren who haven’t met the family in the Toronto area, I figured the time home was needed. I also find now that I’m 43, I still have a fairly high motor, but it doesn’t rev like it did 10 years ago. Teaching classes full of hormonal teens demands energy, and I’m drifting closer to avoiding burnout than boredom. Or so I thought.
Get those hours up!
Apologies if the focus here drifts somewhat; today I’m just offering views on the F/T set schedule vs. the freelance “easy rider” method. I can see the pros and cons of both at this point.
The worry when you’re freelancing is that (A) you won’t get the same hours/work as if you had a permanent employer; and (B) what happens when your students cancel. No play, no pay as they say. I left my office gig in February feeling like the drive across town and the general tedium that the position started to bring outweighed the (decent) salary, freedom to choose holidays, etc. This coming after I worked at an international school where paid holiday time was the main draw, making up for what I considered wasted time “lesson-planning” all day just to keep you on the school grounds after you’d taught the requisite 18 hours of classroom time.
The beauty of those full-time posts were having daily social interaction and feeling “anchored,” as in when you told someone “I work at ______” it equates to some degree of professionalism, work stability, whatever you like. The number of times I’ve meet other “freelancers” in Saigon (usually writers) and left the conversation having no real clue what they did or who paid their bills left me more bewildered than envious.
The gamble for me at this point is, of course, financing our family unit. We have land payments, condo payments, daycare payments. Usually I just hand cash straight to my wife and watch the mountain crumble away. We still live comfortably enough, although before the summer school gig and after a copywriting post dried up, I had a month of “reflection.”
That time, as now, left me with a few side-gigs that ensured cash flow hadn’t completely dried up while I sought out replacement revenue. In Saigon, if you’re a foreigner with voicework, writing/editing/proofreading and teaching experience, as well as a decent network. you don’t need to worry (much). In fact, as long as no one cancels, I exceed my income at that old international school job, quite easily in fact. However, it’s the solitude that I struggle with.
If you’re someone who just happened upon this blog without knowing me, you’re likely unaware that I’m an extrovert. This is probably why I got into journalism, and teaching. I talk, I express opinions. I like having people around (generally). Working from home has perks and cutting commuting time in Saigon has been good for me health-wise, there’s no argument. But it’s so … QUIET. I live in one of the noisiest cities in the world, and yet my fingers tapping on the keyboard is echoing in my condo right now.
So when our whirlwind Canada trip wraps up in late October, and we return to town, I foresee getting back into the game full-time. Industry? Employer? Salary? Unaware at this point. I’d love to know those answers myself, but life has been so interesting getting this far with no clue where I’ll end up or what I’ll be doing week to week, year to year. I can see until September 23rd, when my family boards the flight to Vancouver. After that, let the chips fall where they may.