How to be good at everything: tips from renaissance freelancers

Dec 29, 2014

So, in case you haven’t heard, freelancing is on the rise. Nearly 1 in 3 workers, to be exact, and the news is rife with stories of former 9 to 5-ers swapping their power suits for home offices. From writers to CPAs, nearly ever field and every profession is going rogue. But with this new workforce comes an entirely new phenomenon: the renaissance freelancer.

You know who I’m talking about. It’s that guy you met at a dinner party who casually explains he writes articles for a handful of magazines, then starts talking about his ceramics. Oh, and the music lessons he teaches in the evenings and the handful of other “projects” he’s got going on simultaneously. And while you’re staring at him, wondering how he has time to sleep, you become aware of how incredibly inspiring these renaissance freelancers are. It’s not just that they have the interest or the time management skills, it’s that they have the do-er gene. That amazing ability to not only dream the dream, but to buy the domain, to network, and to have stamps with 3 different business logos made up for branding.

So how did they do it? Undoubtedly platforms like Etsy, Big Cartel, content management systems for websites and blogs and other tools play a major role, but there’s also a creative flow surrounding the renaissance freelancer. Are they born that way? Or is it just another case of “necessity is the mother of invention”? Turns out, it’s a little bit of both.

Brooklyn’s Christy Kurtz Harmon is, above all, she points out, a fulltime mom. She is also the owner of Etsy shop Hill and Her which sells hand dyed burp cloths, swaddles and crib sheets, as well as her special order cake sculpting shop Sugar Buzzed (need a sloth cake for your birthday? Sugar Buzzed is your stop—and even if you don’t need a cake, you should follow her amazing instagram @sugarbuzzednyc, so you can see her phenomenal creations). “I’ve kind of made all my ‘not work things’ into businesses now,” she laughs. After leaving a fulltime job in photography with the birth of her daughter, her businesses developed out of “creative energy. I needed something I could focus on cultivating outside of home life and I’ve always been super crafty.” Harmon says she sneaks working in at any spare moment. “I’m rarely not doing something,” she admits, “for better or worse.”

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Los Angeles-based vintage online shop owner, musician, photographer and cook Lisa Cole has a similar creative stamina. “I like to make things and I’m happiest when I’m doing that.” she simplifies. Cole’s personal blog allows her to combine all passions at once, so you can see her not only looking fabulous in the vintage clothes from her shop, but also hear her music, get recipes for her vegan delicacies and see her photography skills (as well as pictures of her other passion, two hairless cats). Says Cole, “selling Vintage clothes came out of wanting to not have to find a new job, but my goal is to always enjoy everything I’m doing, because if you’re not enjoying it, why are you doing it?”

Rion Suarez boasts a similar medley of skills. As a graphic, web and user-interface designer, Suarez also makes various home goods he sells both online and on consignment—wooden spoons, cutting boards, planters and tables. He also moonlights as a handyman in Los Angeles. “I just kind of fell into it. I was laid off from the advertising company I was working for and I heard about this app called TaskRabbit. I thought I’d make a little extra money and gain some stories from it, and I definitely have. I also have some regular clients and I can take on a lot of work now because I have a whole set of skills.” But Suarez, despite his renaissance freelancer energy, is quick to admit the lifestyle isn’t always easy. “I work 7 days a week pretty much at this point. When I’m not working I wishing I had more time to create things,” he explains, “and for my most recent nerdy hobby: designer board games.”

Fueled by creativity and rarely afraid to try new things, the renaissance freelancer does seem to have just a little more of an energy about them than most people. And, not surprisingly, each of the freelancers interviewed seemed to have one more thing in common: a deep-rooted love of their downtime. One can only assume because they have so very little of it.

Jamie Ramirez is a freelance writer and archivist.