I’ve always had a thirst for independence. And I endured all those years of reporting for duty at the newsroom before dawn and working long, stressful hours by clinging to a dream that one day, I would have the freedom to wake up any time sans a call time, have the choice of what to write about, and go anywhere without having to file for a leave.
That day came in January 2015, when I found myself with all the independence in the world. I wasn’t tied to a network and I could do whatever I wanted without a boss looking over my shoulder. Finally!
However, it wasn’t all as romantic as I imagined it to be. I was unemployed, wandering, and a bit clueless about the new virtual industry I was trying to penetrate. Not to mention, I was nervous that my bank account would run out before I even land a freelance writing project.
Though I didn’t have much financial responsibilities then, there were bills to be paid – phone bill, WiFi, laundry, groceries, my part of the rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Quezon City that I shared with three friends.
How did I end up sitting on a desk in my room, counting on my laptop to find me a job that is excitingly, but also scarily, virtual?
I’ve been a television writer-producer since the year I graduated from college. I spent most of my 20’s in one of the top television networks in the country.
Despite working as a news and public affairs producer in that network for seven years, I never became a regular employee. We, in production, were called “talents” – a classification that gave us good financial compensation (we were paid “talent fees”), but did not provide regular benefits including vacation leaves or sick leaves.
For instance, if I was absent for a day, I would have to find someone to replace me. That pinch hitter would receive my talent fee for that day.
We also didn’t have security of tenure as our contracts were renewed every year, or every two years, depending on the TV show we were producing for.
By the last quarter of 2014, my parents decided to take us on a two-month family vacation to the US, to see the sights and visit relatives. My parents were both self-employed professionals while my sister worked for a company that allowed long vacation leaves depending on work merits. I was the only one who didn’t have the privilege of going on vacation for that long.
And so, I devised a plan which my program manager approved: I would resign to cancel my contract for the rest of 2014, and would come back to work in January 2015 under a new contract.
But while I was marveling at the lights of Time Square, staring wide eyed at the Grand Canyon, and feasting on my first legit Thanksgiving turkey dinner and Costco pumpkin pie, new talent work policies wreaked havoc in the network.
The management amended talents’ contracts and changed our tax classification, resulting in higher taxes and a handful of paperwork.
They wanted us to register our writing service as a business and issue a BIR receipt for every payment cutoff. Though it was stipulated in our contract that we don’t have an employer-employee relationship with the network, it’s not like we can do any other work for other media entities. For one, we worked full-time for the network. And despite the lack of benefits, we were required to do the same amount of work as regular employees.
Because of the changes, merely staying became a hassle. People were leaving. Many of my friends were leaving.
Trouble at work was not something I wanted to chew on while gorging on churros in Disneyland, so I tried to stay off Facebook Messenger and pushed worries to the back of my head for the rest of the trip.
As soon as I got back to NAIA and was greeted back by the sweltering heat, I knew there was no way I could further delay making an important decision which would be a turning point in my career.
If I was going to register myself as a self-employed professional with a writing business who issues receipts for completed projects, then why not go all the way and be an independent contractor?
So I talked to my manager and told him that I wouldn’t be reapplying for a new contract in 2015.
It was fun while it lasted – call times earlier than the sun, the savage race of who gets to break the news first, coverage in jails, evacuations centers, and whatnot, all in the name of public service.
Though complying with the network’s new job contract requirements was easier than, well, not having a job at all, I saw it as a perfect chance to check out other possibilities.
I’ve had the privilege of fulfilling my dream of being a TV producer for most of my first decade out of school. Life was handing me a new opportunity to go after other things on my bucket list. And I took it.
And so, we go back to that moment when I was sitting in my room, clicking away on Freelancer.com and what was then Elance (now Upwork after marrying oDesk). There was just so much to learn. How do I propose for a project? How does this Paypal thing work? How much should I charge or bid? What freelance jobs can I actually do?
Just as I was pondering on these things, I heard a ping and saw an envelope icon appear on my Freelancer.com window.
It was exhilarating and horrifying.
I felt a bit lost, but I also knew I was right where I was meant to be. I clicked on the envelope.