The View From Your Recession: Checking Back In

This reader was an information architect working on contract who had been out of a job for four months. Original post here. The reader writes:

I first wrote you in April, and I'm glad that person had no idea August was coming, because August was AWFUL. That was the month employers started auto-replying to job applications with a sinister "don't contact us unless we contact you, or we'll take your resume out of consideration" message. I hadn't been called by a recruiter or heard back from a job app for months, and I was going into debt to my parents at a massive rate and seriously considering giving my landlord notice so I could move back home to my childhood bedroom. Ugly, ugly month.

A few things happened in September. I got an interview and, just like the few prior interviews, got to the final stages before hearing that the job had been pulled "for budget reasons". But instead of leaving it, I immediately turned around and pitched myself as a contractor. (I know my initial email to you said I was a contractor, but there are different types -- in 2008, I was in a full-time onsite contract-to-employee role through a staffing group, so really a "contractor" in name only.  2009 was a whole new ballgame, where I was really pitching myself as a self-employed freelancer, someone who'd be billing a handful of hours per week.) I'd sensed the department head was desperate for help, and figured this might be an HR restriction, and I was right -- after some negotiation, I signed on as a part-time independent contractor.  This, paired with a completely random contact on a message board that turned into another ongoing working relationship, got my head above water by the end of October.

Not that October should be seen as the magical month where the recession suddenly lifted, mind you.  Everything came together in October, but I'd spent my unemployment focusing on a few projects, something I could show so the months weren't entirely wasted. I set up an extensive site for my LLC, I imported all my existing blogs to a central location, I started a new blog about urban gardening (I was home all the time anyhow, dammit), I did some free work for local NGOs, I wrote the majority of a novel. And it turns out that lots of that stuff played a role in getting me the work I have today. So while it felt like shouting into a void at the time, those projects became hugely valuable later.

Cautiously, I'd say I'm doing okay now. Today I'm working steadily as a freelancer, with four long-term clients and a bunch of others in the works. The money coming in is enough that I'm comfortably on top of my expenses, and I'm slowly climbing out of my own personal Pit of Debt (credit cards and parents), but at least I can see daylight. It's been no picnic getting here, though.

Nine months of unemployment, followed by three of self-employment. It's a new, piecemeal style of living; I work from my home, my hours can be bizarre. But I'm liking the variety. As a matter of survival I'm learning all sorts of new software and I'm using more of my accumulated skills than ever before. And I stopped being shy about hitting up friends and old coworkers to push my resume, and I'm starting to see those efforts bear fruit as well.

It wasn't easy getting into this freelancing thing, and I'm fully aware that luck and timing played a large part in where I am today.  I really was about a week away from packing up and moving, and I don't see many signs that I'd have gotten a full-time job by now.  I'm incredibly thankful for my new, weird career path.  The whole family's still getting potholders for Christmas, obviously, but I finally feel like I just might make it.