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VOICES: Work@Home

Cutting Free

At some point, most people think about abandoning the security of their jobs and pursuing their dream. How do you know if it’s the right thing to do? And what makes that decision worthwhile?

For me, it happened in 2005. I left a sales job to write for a living. I even marked the occasion by writing an article, which was prophetically headlined: Time to smell the roses. Faced with a new lease on life, I was filled with hope. Things could only get better, yes?

As I write this, four years have passed. I have just survived an exhausting day turning in three difficult assignments. My mood is decidedly more sober.

The longer I do this, the more I want to tell my ex-colleagues — those who complain that I am so lucky to be able to have cake and tea at 4pm or wake up at 9am and read newspapers at 10am — that they aren’t so badly off themselves.

Companies have whole departments dedicated to every work function. In my old job, the marketing department constantly plied us with free meals, free gifts and even free overseas trips — all so that we would sell their products. There were department initiatives, budgets, ops reviews, ensuring that every employee is well-fed and well looked after.

Writers? Guess who chases errant clients who drag payment, negotiates with tight wad customers who offer below market rates, and burns the midnight oil to fulfill 24-hour deadlines? We are manufacturer, marketeer, salesman, clerk, and debt collector all rolled into one.

As freelance writers, we don’t get many second chances. In an industry where deadlines can make or break you, consistency — the ability to meet deadlines with decent work — is often a writer’s most valuable asset. If we beat our brains out and turn in a fantastic piece of work, we’re expected to replicate the same Herculean effort for the next one.

If writer’s block hits and we turn in something substandard, we have to work doubly hard to regain our client’s trust. There are plenty of newer, hungrier, brighter talents waiting to fill our shoes. In other words, our position is as secure as our last article.

Not so cushy after all, is it? So why do I still write?

I’ve always loved writing. I still do. With each new assignment, I learn new things. Life is one continuous, exciting learning curve.

I like the perks that come with it. The free meal, the odd travel junkets. And of course, getting nice letters from readers is great for the ego.

I became a writer because I loved playing with words, but it’s not why I remained one.

One of the perks of being a freelance writer is that you get to work from anywhere. Assignment in hand, laptop, Internet and you’re good to go. As I type this, I’m in my favourite place in the whole world — Ipoh. I try to spend at least 10 days a month here.

Life here is like a balm to a harried soul. It’s also home.

Every morning, I wake up at the crack of dawn, hop into our old Nissan Sunny and follow dad and mum out to the Polo ground for our morning jog.

Then comes breakfast, a ritual we never miss. It could be noodles at one of the myriad coffee shops in First Garden, or Siamese Laksa at Canning Garden, or chee cheong fun at Kampar Road.

Then it’s back to the nest, where I continue working on my pending assignments. Lunch follows next. Then more work. Or drive Mum around on errands. Or go out for tea at Maria’s or Indulgence with my best friend.

Evening is my favourite part of the day. That’s when, after dinner, we park ourselves in front of the TV to chase the latest Astro Hong Kong serial. Does the resurgent Michelle Yim make a better villainess than Susanna Kwan? Is Charmaine Sieh prettier or Tavia Yeung? Cheesy or not, it’s always fun to debate about the peccadilloes of Hong Kong serials.

As I’m glued to the screen, Dad or Mum might slip into the kitchen and reemerge with a plate of cut fruits.

“Yun, have you tried this sour sop? Very sweet and tasty. Dad just plucked it from the garden this morning.”

Our resident green thumb, a. k. a. Dad, has grafted more than a dozen type of fruits and planted enough vegetables to set up stall in a market.

Back in my old days, this would never have happened. I was so focused on meeting my job expectations that it consumed everything else, including that little voice of conscience within. I would drive back once a month, stuff fifty-ringgit notes into my parents’ pockets, spend the rest of the weekend holed up in my room, and dash off on Sunday evening without a backward glance at the Garden of Eden right inside my home. Go jogging with the folks? Never in a million years.

Yes, there are easier, far more lucrative jobs out there.

But they could never give me what I have now. The freedom to live life on my terms. The clarity of vision to recognise what really matters. And most importantly, the time to spend with people that I love.

And that, wouldn’t you agree, is worth all the money I could have otherwise made?

Alexandra Wong (bunnysprints.blogspot.com) thinks that million-dollar job can still wait.


Source: Article by Alexandra Wong from the Star Online, 31 October 2009

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