So here I am, three months into my “freelancing” venture, though, to be sure, I haven’t been working full-tilt over the summer, what with the kids home from school and all, which means that the one “independent contractor”-type project that I have has gotten deferred long past what I intended. But I thought it would be useful for me to do a check-in and perhaps interesting for readers as well.
First, the “family” part:
My oldest son is away at college. The school he settled on, Hope College, is a small Christian college in Holland, Michigan. Those of you familiar with the area will know that this is on the “West Coast” of Michigan, as they call it, a touristy town where in the summer people come to browse the boutiques and hang out at the beach (which is actually a bit of a distance from the town itself, which is someone inland on the river, as made sense at the time it was being settled and access to beaches for recreation was a lower priority). The area was also heavily settled by the Dutch, which means that the school follows the Reformed tradition and the lists of donors on various plaques throughout campus have a lot of “Van der . . .”s on them. Following recommendations, we targeted midlevel schools — “good” schools but not super-prestigious — so that he’d have a better chance at getting a scholarship which would put tuition at a level competitive with state schools. And Hope seemed to be still reasonably conservative and nurturing, and while it’s not a Catholic school, there are enough Catholics to have an on-campus ministry for them.
But he spend a fair part of the summer being nervous about the prospect of heading off to school, and, even though, two weeks in, nothing all too terrible has happened, he’s still got a long road ahead of him as learns how to make his way in the world himself and how to problem-solve when things get difficult. And some kids’ memories of college are “I met my friends on my dorm floor and we’ve been BFFs ever since” but he struggles here, too and it won’t be easy for him.
The middle son is a sophomore in high school. He is also trying to find his way. He’s smart but knows he doesn’t want to sit at a desk all day for a living, and he is trying to find out what really engages him. Over the past week he’s stayed after for chess club, debate team, and (theater) tech crew, but is leaning towards sticking with the tech crew.
And my youngest started middle school. Granted, it’s less of a transition at the parochial school than it would be in the public school, since the class size is so small, but he says he really likes the idea of changing classes, and having that break, however small, between one class and the next.
Then the “me” part:
I have finally found someone to take over the Committee Chair role in Cub Scouts, since my youngest has now moved on to Boy Scouts. It is not easy, since the pack is so much smaller that it used to be and, of the parents, so many of them are already involved in coaching their kids’ sports teams, to which they assign a higher priority. There was even discussion of disbanding because most of the parents who are already involved in other capacities have sons who will be crossing over to Boy Scouts this year, so there’ll be a need again next year for more changes in leadership. But I have said that I’ll help out in various behind-the-scenes capacities as desired. And I have taken on the job of advancement coordinator for the Boy Scouts, of which my husband is the scoutmaster, and I have told my middle son I would help him in his goal of getting a Venture Crew (co-ed scouting program for high schoolers) started. Oh, and I am taking over the job of “milk captain” at school and I’m sitting on an e-mail in which, if I send it, I’ll at least offer to coordinate the “coffee & donuts ministry” at church, since the current coordinators are moving.
As to writing, I had a decent stretch of getting some articles published in The Federalist (list here), though I haven’t submitted anything lately, and I haven’t yet figured out other places to publish articles. I have been keeping up my writing at Forbes, though I have still not gotten to actually writing up a string of articles that exist, for now, only in draft form, and I still have to figure out how to get more notice for my articles, which includes, among other things, improving my title-writing skills, since they often come out clunky instead of eye-catching — who wants to read “Required Minimum Distributions: Is There An Unintended Nudge?” when you can read the flashier “Trump Helps The Rich With Retirement Executive Order” instead? The latter, with its Trump-bashing headline, is a Forbes article which got roughly 5 x as many pageviews as my article on the same topic. But I am, by and large, not cut out for the click-bait titles or the outrage-filled content that, in this day and age, gets the clicks and shares instead of articles that attempt to be more measured and balanced, which is what I am trying to do in my writing at Forbes, because (in addition to just not having the skill at writing click-generating articles) whatever added pageviews such articles might generate is balanced out by the need to, in fact, be professional, to engage with professionals in the retirement policy world.
(I have learned, though, that a headline which is explicit about content and uses search-engine optimizing terms can have a huge impact, especially if it’s related to items in the news. I just need for retirement to be in the news more often. . .)
I’ve also had a project, a sort of “independent contractor” engagement, which has proven to be significantly more challenging than I anticipated. To be fair, some of that is because I have had to teach myself some basic excel macro/VBA knowledge and work with mortality tables from scratch, and some of that is because I’m just not as adept at working with excel formulas as I ought to be, and some of it is because I kept needing to take a break when getting overwhelmed by it. But part of it is also that the formulas are much more complex and the data file much bigger than I had anticipated. I had thought I had finished off one harder part and would be moving on to a simpler part today, but then discovered that this is no easier, and in fact more complicated. All of which means that I either negotiate a higher fee, or accept that the hourly rate works out to much less then anticipated, or consider the largest part of it as pro bono and/or lots of (self-taught) training time.
I also have had the ambition of getting into the practice of reading the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) new working papers when they’re released each week, and getting up-to-speed on the methods and vocabulary used in that kind of research. After all, I should have learned much of this with Exam 120 and Exam 4 (two different numbering systems due to a change in the overall exam system) and want to be conversant in this. But — well, I haven’t done any more than do a quick skim of titles and abstracts so far.
In general, it is a difficult transition to move from working at a traditional employer (however nontraditional my working hours may have been) to crafting a different kind of work, with uncertain and very long-term objectives (“write things that get people’s attention and ultimately make a difference in the Illinois public pension crisis, and in retirement policy more generally, figure out some way to make a contribution to the broader discussion of the future of Christianity in an increasingly secular world, and figure out how to get published more consistently/have a wider audience for what I write and/or after some suitable stretch of time, find paid work of some sort again” is different than “provide the client with their pension budget projections by Tuesday”). I’m not distressed at having made this change, though I go back and forth between “I am now a freelance writer/researcher” and “I am taking an informal sabbatical.”
It’s also a lot harder to figure out where “work” ends and where “free time” begins. I spend too much time, during my designated “work time,” mucking around on twitter and facebook and checking pageviews with the rationale that I need to keep up on the news when, really, I am just looking for that dopamine hit of seeing notifications or readers or comments, and consequently, I am spending too much time during my designated “free time” writing or calculating — which isn’t a problem because I dislike the writing and reading and math-ing I’m doing but because I do want to be, well, well-rounded. I am trying to use some of my available time (also since I am no longer Cub Scout committee chair) to do something more in the way of volunteer work or community involvement more generally, but haven’t quite figured this out yet. And I want to get my sewing machine back in use, though what I’d make, exactly, I don’t know, and develop other self-enrichment-type hobbies, and get back to reading real books rather than just online articles.
So that’s a bit of an update. How are things with you?