One Year Without a Job

It hardly seems real that it has been almost a year since I left my job in the non-profit industry. At the time, it was all so exciting – making the big decision to jump out into the unknown. I had such grand ideas of how I was going to spend my free time and how I was going to make money doing only what I wanted to do, and most importantly – only when I wanted to do it.

Well, that didn’t happen now did it??

The reality, and I’m sure that you are all keenly aware of this, is that almost every single gig job that I might have thought about doing, disappeared almost overnight when the pandemic hit. The only thriving gigs were driving gigs and while there’s nothing wrong with delivering food, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I can honestly say that this has been the wildest, most unpredictable year of my life. Some days have been a disaster, some have been really good, but most have been a blur. And while I might would definitely trade this experience for one that was a little less tumultuous, I have zero regrets on leaving my job last September. With that being said, I thought I’d share with you the hits and misses, highs and lows, of a year without job security.

First, the good stuff. I am super fortunate to have two grant writing clients that have sent me an abundance of work over the past year. Not a month has gone by that I haven’t had at least one project to work on. That has helped tremendously in keeping my skills sharp and our bank account above zero. And thanks to sites like Indeed and Flexjobs, I was also able to find a steady stream of retail gigs to fill in the gaps, or at least attempt to. Retail work has been the bread and butter of our income for the past year. Actually, more of the bread. There hasn’t been a lot of butter.

I worked for 5 different merchandising companies during this time – two as an independent contractor and three as an employee. I drove all over middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky doing everything from restocking prepaid debit cards to putting security tags on shampoo. The pay was usually decent (somewhere between $13-18/hour with additional incentives such as travel time, mileage, and/or a car allowance). I could set my own hours (for the most part), but the downside was actually having to be away from home all those hours. For many folks, that’s no big deal, but for someone tasked with caring for an aging parent, it is a different story; and on more than one occasion it proved to be a problem for me.

The upside of retail merchandising is that it can be fun. Every day is different and you have no one to supervise you. It can also be difficult too, especially when you’re left to finish a project that the person hired before you didn’t even attempt to do. This happens quite frequently and is one of the more frustrating aspects of merchandising and the reason that turnover is very high.

Along with grant writing and retail gigs, we’ve also been counting things (and not just our pennies!) Once a quarter, Angie and I count houses that are under construction for a company called MetroStudy and recently, we started a new gig counting people coming and going from various locations in the mall. (What can I say, I have a thing for numbers!) These jobs are easy (and pay very well) and we can do them together.

Now, the not-so-good stuff. Since leaving my job, I’ve worked way more than I thought I would…way more than I’ve wanted to…and I’ve earned way less than I even thought possible to live on. There have been weeks during this past year that I’ve barely had time to breathe. I’ve cried. I’ve gotten mad. I’ve been worried. I’ve felt guilty for things that weren’t my fault. I’ve neglected myself and others. I’ve eaten things I never would have eaten if I wasn’t on the go. I’ve failed at the goals I set for myself. I’ve hated the world. I’ve questioned my sanity. And yes, I even considered getting a real job again (so much so that I even put in a few applications).

Not having a steady job forced us to get very creative with what money we did have. It’s one thing to say that you’ve prepped for a year without a job and feel reasonably confident that you can do it. It’s an entirely different ball game to actually jump in an do it. We felt pretty good going in, knowing we had a cushion of savings and some mad skills in resourcefulness. But…we soon realized we were way, way out of our league!

When I had a ‘real’ job, we could face financial challenges by using our savings because we knew our income was higher than our bills and that money could be replaced at some point. When there is no job, unexpected bills take on a whole new meaning and I can honestly say, we were wholly unprepared for the onslaught of bills we experienced this year (ER bills, emergency dentist bills, vet bills, car repairs, moving expenses, you name it!) In the end, we exhausted all but $596 of our general savings and thankfully, never touched of our investments.

So what does the future hold now?

Yesterday, I started a permanent freelance job in editing. I applied back in February but due to COVID, the contract was put on hold. I’m very excited about the opportunity because 1) I still won’t be anyone’s employee, 2) It is so flexible that I can do it from anywhere and at any time of the day or night, and 3) It is the only job I will have to do to pay the bills. Of course, I still plan on doing a few side hustles, like grant writing, but it’s good to know I don’t have to. After a year of spending countless hours looking for gigs and running all over the state doing gigs, I’m just happy to have a new focus and some much needed free time. (Now, let’s just hope this job is worth the 6 months I waited for it!)

My Great Big List of Little Jobs

Yesterday I read a fun post on Red Two Green called 30 Jobs/Side Hustles We’ve Had. It got me thinking about about all the many jobs I’ve had over the course of my adult life, some way more interesting than others, and I made my own list.

  1. Newspaper delivery (paid for my Associates Degree with this one)
  2. Pizza delivery (helped me pay cash for a newer car)
  3. Phone book delivery
  4. Grocery Store Clerk (and later Assistant Manager)
  5. Data Entry Clerk (for a school fundraising company)
  6. Warehouse Order Puller
  7. Before & After-School Program Assistant
  8. Guitar Cleaner (lasted 13 hours)
  9. Landscaper (lasted 1 day)
  10. Convenience Store Clerk
  11. Carpet Cleaner
  12. Shipping label photographer for UPS
  13. Airport Security Screener (before TSA)
  14. Security Guard (overnight at the Ryman Auditorium – once!)
  15. Merchandiser (of everything from eyeglasses to books)
  16. Flea Market Vendor (selling items acquired for free through a merchandising gig)
  17. Mystery Shopper
  18. Payroll Clerk (left this one because they wouldn’t let me have pictures on my desk)
  19. Gift Shop Clerk
  20. Math Tutor
  21. Sales Rep (pet products)
  22. Used car photographer
  23. Product description writer for pet products website
  24. Commissioned writer for “History of Boating” project
  25. Adult Day Care Bus Driver
  26. Recreation League Scorekeeper (LOVED this job!)
  27. Website Designer
  28. District Manager* (and later Training Manager for a pet products merchandising firm)
  29. HR Coordinator
  30. Term Paper Writer
  31. Resume Writer
  32. Training Consultant (designing e-courses for veterinarians)
  33. Voice-over artist
  34. Editor for coupon code posting website
  35. Marketing Manager*
  36. e-Bay Lister (for a motorcycle shop)
  37. Coffee Vendor (with a great route in South FL)
  38. Non-profit Grant Writer*
  39. Smart Phone App Hustler
  40. Blogger (though I’ve only made 8 cents so far LOL)

As I looked at this list, a novel thought popped into my head. I’ve made a career out of being a side hustler! Sure, I have had 3 long-term employers (marked with *) but the overwhelming majority of income producing opportunities in my life have been short-term, part-time or contract gigs. 

Perhaps I needed this list as a reminder that I can do (and have done) whatever it takes to reach my goals in life. Hmm…perhaps semi-retirement wouldn’t be such a stretch after all. 

What are some of the oddest (or most interesting) jobs you’ve had?