The Secret Upside To Being Unemployed

Gail BelskySomething happened last week that has made me call off the hunt for right now: I am flooded with freelance work. I'm up to my eyeballs, which is great -- not only from an income standpoint, but also because it's given me some perspective.

After the sobering barrage of comments to my last post about contingency work, much of it complaints about age discrimination and long-term unemployment, I'm glad for the break, and for the chance to reflect on this whole career reinvention thing.

Reflection No. 1: You can't work full time and reinvent yourself full time.
Patricia Smith, a career coach with New Directions, in Boston, told me that job-hunting is a four-day-a-week endeavor. When you're working full time, as I am now, that's impossible. So I need to remind myself of my original goal: shifting to a more sustainable and rewarding version of my old editing and writing career. It's a strategic move, not a seismic one. But even if it were, I only have so much time in a day, and as long as I have a lot of work, it's going to be a slow process.

More:Biggest Barriers To Successful Career Changes

Reflection No. 2: Being self-employed has real benefits in this job market.
Given my age, the state of the current job market, and predictions about the next one, I shouldn't just turn my back on my 11-year freelance career. People may not like it, but the use of flexible workforces-consulting networks, project employees, independent contractors and temps-is a growing trend, according to Tracy Burns, CEO of the Northeast Human Resources Association. "The more fluid environment is pushing the corporate mold," she says.

It means no insurance or steady paycheck, but I haven't had either one for years. (My husband, thankfully, has both). It may also mean less money, but freelancing is a supply and demand business, so hopefully that will change. (Plus, if I switch career paths entirely, I might have to start at a lower level, anyhow.) And while there's no job security in contingency work, I don't think anyone has that safety net anymore. Working for yourself, in fact, may give you more control over your future, not less.

More:When NOT To Hire A Career Coach

Reflection No. 3: Finding the right "fit" requires knowing who you are.
As long as I've got money coming in, there's no reason to rush a job search-and every reason to slow down. Since I can wait, any move I make should be a happy one, according to the coaches I've talked to, in order for it to be long-term and fruitful. It should be a good fit for everyone.

I thought finding a good fit was a priority for me, and yet I realize now that I've paid little attention to it. Recently, I took one of those personality tests that tell you what your work style is, and what you're suited for. But this one, the Role Fit Survey, by a company called Manifesting Talent, isn't intended for jobseekers; it's for employers to see if applicants are a good fit for the position.

I saw the test as a chance to see what would be a good fit for me. The questions covered everything from how organized I am to whether prefer I writing to talking. The results showed that I'd make a better pipe fitter than an editor (it was considerably higher up on the list of gigs I'm apparently most suited for), but they also revealed some traits that I've pushed aside when I've looked at job postings. Traits that make certain jobs a bad fit.

For instance, I don't naturally enjoy dealing in details, which apparently, lots of people do. I make sure everything's done right, of course, but it's not something I want to spend tons of time doing. So last week, I found myself looking at a particular job posting, one of the first requirements listed was copyediting - a job that requires a lot of crossing t's and dotting i's. There were other requirements that involved detail work, too.

A month ago I would have applied without thinking twice. Not anymore. If that employer ever gave me the test, they'd know what I know: it's not the best fit. And right now, with the interesting mix of work I have coming in, I'm not looking to do anything that doesn't feel right.

What about you? Do you see any benefits to not having a full-time job?

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