A recent photo of the author ecstatic to be at the beach
Last September I went the freelance route.
Though it’s been paved with stomach-churning scares (“what do you mean my check is arriving NEXT week?!”) and painful boredom (“maybe I should drive down to Whole Foods and stare at people”), career-wise, I’ve never been happier.
Though I’m not rollin’ in it, the most joyous attribute of going freelance is the amount of time off I have to travel.
My last 9-5 job gave me 5 vacation days a year. Those five days included sick and personal time. Since the company decided to place their business almost an hour outside of Austin, that meant one had to add two extra hours of drive time for a doctor’s or DMV appointment. Personal errands that you could only attend to during the business work week took almost all day to achieve which meant one less vacation day a year. Needless to say, I never felt encouraged to go to the doctor when I needed to.
We also had no bookend days off on important holidays which meant I wasn’t able to go home for the first Christmas in 2010. This was devastating for my whole family.
My lack of freedom often led me to tears. Having been a personal assistant for many years prior to then, I was familiar with devoting my life to work I was ultimately not passionate about, but the more I ascended into my 20s, the more I thought working long and thankful hours was a crock of shit.
To play Devil’s advocate, I would say to myself, “Well, Lauren, you have to pay your dues. People of your parent’s and grandparent’s generation spent 15, 20, 30 years devoted to a job before they were truly rewarded!”
Yeah, that’s a load of horseshit too.
Those poor people had no lives, and for what? Hopefully for enough security to support their families and retirement at the end of the haul, but nowadays, that promise is becoming more and more obsolete.
When the opportunity came for me to take the freelance jump, I didn’t hesitate. I made sure I had enough work lined up to pay the bills and I’ve been managing ever since.
My former 9-5 employer thought I was crazy for leaving, but deep down it was them that I thought were crazy. How could they give their hardworking employees such little time off?
Since I went freelance ten months ago, I’ve had over 30 travel days. I was able to visit my mom and grandmother in New York and my father and friends in Los Angeles, I was able to travel to Burlington, Vermont with my boyfriend for his film and we’ve taken small trips to Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico in between. I’ve also been able to attend more events during the day and most importantly, take assignments anytime I like which has helped my career in many ways. When I was working 9-5, it was difficult finding the time to accept freelance work (also, my employer encouraged against it).
The extreme joy and freedom I felt after every trip I took over the last 10 months was not lost upon me. I felt so lucky to have these opportunities and the thought of ever going back to a work environment like my previous 9-5 sends chills down my spine.
It is no secret that America is one of the worst offenders for offering vacation time.
America does not require companies to offer paid vacation time compared to most European countries that offer at least 20 up to 35 paid days off a year. Sadly, 57% of workers also have unused vacation time at the end of the year averaging at 11 days. If most people are in similar work environments like I’ve been in the past, taking time off was frowned upon. In fact, I felt scared and guilty requesting time off, so I didn’t. In most cases, I also couldn’t afford to take a vacation.
This is messed up. All of it. Every single part of this story and stats is redonk.
We wonder why America is having so many problems, well here is one of the many reasons why.
It has always boggled my mind how employers think that working their employees to the bone is what gets the best performance out of them.
And we wonder why so many people drink!
It’s no wonder that Google is one of the most successful companies in the world- their employees are happy! With 15 vacation days (your 1st year), unlimited sick time, 12 paid holidays and encouragement to work on personal or philanthropic projects 20% of work hours, how could they not be? Or how about Netflix’s unlimited vacation policy, where value is placed on how much work you get done, not how often you’re at work?
I understand that we’re often tied to work situations we don’t like. Believe me, I never thought I would be able to make the leap to freelance. It seemed like an impossibility. It seemed like I was doomed to a lifetime of slaving away at a desk and pretending to give a shit about people who didn’t give a shit about me. Whatever your work situation is, remember, you have a life and your life is important. Don’t forget that. Don’t forget that you deserve time to yourself and time to have fun. Like water, time off is essential to our souls, our minds and our creativity. We need the work-life balance to ensure a healthy life for us and those around us.
I’m lucky in that the company I work for doesn’t even track vacation/sick days. You take the time you need to keep your family/work life balanced. Obviously you don’t want to overstep the bounds, but it’s a great policy (that and no meeting Mondays is amazing).
On the other hand, my brother, just started a job that was supposed to start leading him into more of a management/process lead role. I recently found out that not only are the people there clock-watchers, but they don’t even provide days off/sick days in the first year unless you’re not late and don’t miss a day you get 1 day a quarter.
I was absolutely shocked to find this out because in order to interview for another job he has to decide that the loss of however much pay he loses for missing time is A) Worth it and B) Worth it.
By the way… he’s got a college degree and is working in a job that “requires” one.
Wow! That’s some bs about your brother’s new gig. Sad thing is, they can get away with it. It’s really disgusting. Good luck to your brother!
I’ve been fortunate to work for companies with relatively generous time off policies and now work in a place where I can work from other locations when I need some quiet and/or alone time. But it is deeply troubling how American companies try to literally squeeze the life out of their employees to make sure they aren’t losing money. People are willing to do more when they are happy. Restricting days off, forcing them to watch the clock, and discouraging time off is unfair and a shitty business practice. Thanks for sharing this!!
I know! Seems like a no-brainer, right? I’m glad you’re enjoying your new gig, Cathy!
I am so glad you talked about this. Even though I get three weeks paid time off (I only got this privilege after working for this company 5 years), I’m only allowed to take two weeks, the last week is used as a “Christmas bonus” check. I have to request off at least a month in advance, and I’m not allowed to take more than two consecutive days. My boss says that a greater stress is put on her when I’m off, so I’m not allowed to leave. Hell, I haven’t even had a lunch break one time this week. Sigh. I hate it.
Not allowed to take more than two consecutive days? Oof. I understand the whole not eating lunch thing too. I worked in places where, though it wasn’t actually said, going out to lunch was frowned upon. Messed up. Good luck, girl!
I’ve been a freelancer for 13 years, so welcome to the club!
What I’ve found tho is that as easy as it is to take a Friday off here and there and to do errands during the day and just make up that time whenever, it’s much more difficult to take a real vacation. I went to CO in June for a Thurs-Sun mini-vacation. I always give my clients a week or two of heads up and I finish projects before I leave. But you wouldn’t believe how some of them freaked out and how much work I had to do when I returned. I just scheduled a trip to L.A. for 9 days in August and I’m trying to figure out how to turn off my email completely so they can’t email me and ruin my break 😉 I’d like to just be able to go out of town and not have people clamoring for me to do ‘just this one thing real quick’ while I’m trying to relax. Regardless of how much I plan ahead and prep them for my absence, it always happens.
I’ve discovered that my most difficult aspect of freelancing is taking time off without being so stressed out over it that I need a vacation when I return. 🙂
Melissa, you are right and I didn’t get into that. I’m actually more glued to the computer than I was while working a 9-5 job, but I love it. I feel passionate about what I do for the first time. I usually end up having to do work while I’m vacay too, but I’m willing to do that if I’m able to have more time off. You are also way more established than I am and probably have a slew of clients. I may be singing a different tune in 13 years too!
Oh, my hatred of the American vacation time or lack there of. Although, I had no idea it wasn’t required. I never have any vacation days at the end of the year when the company we’re contracted to is off for a week during the holidays. I literally go in and surf the net…so painful:-( Glad freelance is working well for you!
Ugh, really? I’ve definitely had to work holidays before and it’s painful. It’s infuriating!
And this isn’t even to mention maternity leave (which I don’t blame you since you haven’t gone that route yet). At my last job we had to use whatever PTO we had, then went on FMLA (unpaid I believe?) for the remainder, but no more than 12 weeks total. Having had kids, I can’t imagine dropping them off at daycare at 3 months old, but some people do it as young as 8 weeks. Canada and some (most?) European countries give mothers an entire year off with their job secured.
My last job was a great company to work for, with probably average vacation time, but I also hated having to work out the Thanksgiving/Christmas battles. My goal is to write as much as I can now so that when my kids are in school full time, I can make it a full time/almost full time career.
Awesome post, Lauren (and it was great to meet you last week!).
Hey Leigh Ann! You are so right about maternity leave. I should have mentioned that. I can only imagine how frustrating it is. Keep at it, girl! You’re on your way! Great to meet you too!
I can’t believe you only had five days off in a year, that’s crazy… In the UK the standard is 20 days, although I’m lucky enough to work in a school so I get 13 weeks (I know, it’s great!). I really value my time off, I think it’s during travel and time spent with family and friens that you create memories that will stay with you forever. And you can’t put a price on that.
You are absolutely right! You can’t put a price on that. We only have one shot at this life. I’m sure Europeans have their grumbles about certain policies, but the union’s view of vacation/holiday/maternity time is smart. American should adapt! Even a little bit would be nice!
Agreed. I actually spent my formative years living in Europe and got used to their VERY balanced work-life schedules. Long lunches (or tea); leaving work at 6pm in order to be home with family and – most importantly – vacation galore! My stepfather (he’s German) has 60 days of paid vacation a year (doesn’t include holidays). He can’t even use all that vacation time! So when I moved back to the U.S. and started working after high school, I was surprised with how little vacation time we have!
I do not understand why employers think giving more vacation to workers is detrimental. Like the example you give of Google – people are MORE WILLING to work when they have added time off. Happy workers = good work being done. Maybe even better work.
American employers should really rethink vacation and give people a break. I love how our generation is bringing the work-life balance back into the picture. I feel like for the past 20 years or so, the workaholic has been praised and working insanely long hours was glorified. I feel like those under 40 now are putting a stronger emphasis on life outside of work. Probably, because (as you mention) we watched our parents and grandparents slave away for years and we don’t want to work our lives away. Hopefully more companies start taking on the Google mindset!
Also, when taking a job – I negotiate my vacation time and think everyone else should too. If a company wants to hire you, they will consider your requests. If their standard is 2 weeks and you want 3 weeks – ask for it.
Thank you for your insightful post, B. I haven’t thought about it, but I think you’re right. People under 40 are putting more emphasis on work-life balance. Gotta give it to these young tech start-ups. They’re usually trying to do right by their employees! Good point about negotiating vacation time. I’d be too much of a weeny to say anything, but we all should!
My current job gives 10 days vacation, 4 personal, and 6 sick (which really is just a guideline to make sure people don’t abuse sick time, and after the second year its on the honors system). We also get 12 paid holidays and Summer Fridays (every other Friday I get to leave at 1 pm). I also only work based on a 35 hour week, so I work 9-5 with an hour for lunch. We get one additional day of vacation per year served.
My last job gave 20 days vacation (I was at the 4 year mark, before that it was 15), but I was routinely working 50 hour weeks there. It was also pretty frowned upon to call in sick/take your personal days.
Having this extra time to do stuff for myself has made a WORLD of difference in my life. I would love another few days…but hey.
Sounds like a not too shabby gig. More time would be nice, but Summer Fridays, 35 hour week and personal & sick time are great!
oh, it’s great. I am VERY lucky.
I too have left the 9-5 world, for this any a few other reasons. I always struggled with the whole turning up at 9 and leaving at 5 thing. I wanted more flexibility in my days, just to live my life! I couldn’t be happier for having stepped out. And there is no stress or guilt around planning trips now. I hope more people start to realise how crazy the whole system is. Nice post.
Good for you, Jacqui! It’s so easy for me to say, “Remember to live your life! Be free!” but for so many people, it’s not easy. They’re prisoners to their work. I hope that people can gain the confidence to start speaking up for themselves though. Like B commented!
Obviously my path is not a traditional one by any standards, but as an actress I have to have a very flexible job so I’ve been a bartender and a waitress for a long time. It’s varied between not being able to take off more than 2 days at once (one place I worked liked to only employ 5 people. Ever) to being able to take endless vacation time (people always wanting to grab your shifts).
America needs to step it up. Let us RELAX. Most of this country is WAY too stressed out. Let’s take a long, collective hot tub, America.
Agreed! Hopefully you’re at a place now that let’s you take a lot of time off!
I live in Australia where we get 4 weeks off wach year, plus something like 10 public holidays. I just found out that my workplace is offering for people to buy an extra four weeks holiday off the company (essentially lose 4 weeks pay). Given most people are pretty well remunerated I guess they’ll have some takers. I’m not sure how I would cope with 5 days off a year. I suspect very badly!
Amen. Here’s hoping that Google’s view of vacation policies will “trickle down” to the rest of us!