Main Gigs vs. Side Gigs

Jun 14, 2007

A New York Times article Sunday and a Huffington Post blog post yesterday provide different perspectives on a perennial freelancer concern: balancing the projects you love with your bread and butter. The Times story dealt with an event sponsored by the Actors Fund of America, an 125-year-old industry group for performers of all types as well as their administrative colleagues that provides many of the supportive programs of a union, like employment, health care, and even housing. The event was to help performers find meaningful work, such as massage therapy or personal training, that they can either transition into from a performing or use as a pay-the-rent side gig that's more rewarding than waiting tables. I've often thought that actors have vocational traditions--folkways of work, if you will--that other freelancers could learn from. They must have a strong vision and passion. The good ones recognize that looking for work--ie, auditioning--is their everyday job. They are always brushing up and broadening their skills. And of course, they survive unpredictable, short bursts of work with the help of unions. Finding the right work on the side to support their dream is another part of it. On a more whimsical note, career writer Laura Vanderkam spins out a caveman-style metaphor of project management in her blog post. As freelancers, she says, you must spend part of every day chasing the mastodons--the big, dream projects, like a book contract. You also need to pursue the good, smaller projects (fish and berries), and you need to have a rainy-day supply of boring, reliable projects (tree bark) to get you through the rough patches. But even when you're out gathering tree bark, you should be looking for the trail of the mastodon. As a freelance writer with interests that are more marketable (personal finance) and less marketable (progressive policy), I find truth in both the actor and the caveman. I try to balance the projects I love with the ones that pay the bills, as well as the big picture with the short-term rewards. How do you strike that balance?