I Can't Go Back to Cubicle Life


"Sixteen tons, and what do you get? / Another day older and deeper in debt." – Tennessee Ernie Ford, "Sixteen Tons"

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — I got my first job when I was 7 years old. I was living on a military base in Germany and hung out with the neighborhood kids. A couple of us approached the pizza place and offered to deliver ads and pizzas on our skateboards and bikes. By the time I was 9, I was putting fliers on cars in parking lots. At 11, I got a newspaper route. I've worked in food service (both fast and slow), retail (corporate, small business and mall), sales, marketing, call centers, the government (and its contractors), and several banking, loan servicing and insurance processing centers. I spent the last two years working as a freelance writer and consultant, and I couldn't possibly imagine myself going back to a cubicle ever again.


The best part about working as a freelancer and consultant is the freedom of schedule it allows me. There are certain assignments and tasks that require my attention Monday through Friday (and I do work weekends), but I can complete my work anytime that fits my schedule. This allows me a very important freedom in my life – my personal calendar has more power than my professional one. It makes a huge difference in my level of job satisfaction.

This freedom allows me a few creature comforts to make up for my current lack of healthcare and a retirement plan. I'm dating a teacher, so during the summer (and a handful of times throughout the year), she has free time as well. We both have an adventurous spirit, so traveling and exploring the world is on the agenda. We're far from the richest people, but we live comfortably in a college town, stay active and enjoy spending time together.

Dress Code and Commute

I'm writing this in a pair of Chucks, shorts and Ray Bans while lounging in a hammock being sprayed by misters, sipping a cup of Chai tea while my girlfriend and our dog and cat sleep. My Monday mornings used to consist of waking up in a zombie-like trance at the buttcrack of dawn to groom, throw on a suit and tie, polish everything and frantically rush out the door to sit in traffic while attempting to wolf down an energy drink and fast food breakfast sandwich. The difference this made in my life is astounding – although I work long hours, I have much more free time and am much more comfortable during the day.

The city is hot during the summer, and the ability to work in my underwear, shorts, yoga pants, pajamas, or even nude, instead of throwing on two to four layers of clothes is a perk no amount of free coffee or ergonomic equipment can replace. The only commute I have these days (outside of road trips) is to the grocery store, park, museum, or anywhere we feel like going. Amazon and other online shopping portals make trips to the store nearly obsolete. The savings in gas alone is worth leaving the cubicle walls behind.

Chain of Command

Back in my days with the banks, I was as autonomous as it gets in Corporate America. I had a relatively open schedule, the trust of my boss and notoriety around the company and our clients. I was known as a fixer – anytime an impossible project needed to be completed, I was the one called. I dealt with upper management and executives on a daily basis. While I enjoyed a high level of respect and professional courtesy, I was still caged. I wasn't calling my own shots.

As a freelancer, things are much different. I decide which consulting projects and writing assignments I'm going to take on. Sure, I have deadlines to meet, but who doesn't? There's nobody breathing down my neck or telling me when I can eat, stand and hit the head. These days I answer to nobody but myself. There's a certain elation that comes with the knowledge that I have nobody to blame nor blame me but myself.

Income Streams and Vision

A fun part of freelancing and consulting is the income. I generate revenue in a variety of ways – some pieces I'm paid directly for, while I'm paid for others with ad revenue. Every week I receive a paycheck of some form; it's similar to working for tips. It's nice having funds fluidly pouring into my account, and it's especially nice knowing my digital billboards are generating residual funds without me even having to work. I may not get paid vacation days or have a 401(k) match or health benefits, but I do have a healthy income stream and full control over every aspect of my work life.

The best part about working freelance is the ability to follow my own vision. I don't have to memorize some company slogan or drink the corporate Kool-Aid – I get to hoist my own flag and captain my own ship. Is it scary walking away from the comfort of Corporate America and forging your own path. I would never have done it had I not been forced into it by circumstance. The idea of working entirely for myself was terrifying at first. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. If I had to do it all over again, though, I wouldn't change a thing.

If you ever feel like your job isn't fulfilling, consider taking a leap of faith into freelance and consulting work. It's by no means an easy path, and you'll work just as hard, if not harder, than you do in a cubicle, but the benefits of a freelance lifestyle are entirely worth it. If it's something you've ever considered doing, there's no better time to start than now.

Brian Penny is a former business analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower and freelance writer. He's a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, Lifehack, and HardcoreDroid, and an affiliate of Manduka and Amazon. He documents his experiences working with Anonymous, practicing yoga, and fighting the banks on his blog.

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