How I’m Approaching Freelancing in a New City

First Things First: Update That Resume!

As soon as we knew we’d be moving, I updated my resume, something I hadn’t done– not really— in years. I needed to know my exact dates of hire and separation, as well as exact rates of pay, which took several phone calls and a visit to an HR department across town. I had worked there so long ago, my employment history was on microfilm, but as the work was still relevant to my career, it was important information to track down.

Once I had my resume in order, I made sure to send it to all the potential employers in my new city, with a short note introducing myself. Also, I included it as an attachment with follow-up emails, so that they wouldn’t have to look it up, if they wanted to refer to it.

 

Attend to Social Media

Because I’d worked at the same jobs and with the same agencies for many years, I’d never bothered to join LinkedIn. Nearly the moment I did, a client of mine from years ago wrote me a glowing recommendation, for which I was very grateful. I spent some time creating a professional profile that was as complete as possible, working from my aforementioned resume and also poring over the pages of colleagues, scouting for language and ideas that might be useful for mine. I endorsed every connection that I legitimately could, and took a look at their connections for names that I knew (or wanted to know).

I recently posed for a professional headshot, as well, to add to my LinkedIn, as well as to a few other sites specific to my profession.

Mine is a tight-knit profession, based almost entirely on reputation. Personal and professional relationships are quite fluid and often overlap, and so in my case, it was appropriate to reach out to my Facebook contacts, and to add my new colleagues as friends right away. Because of that, I took a closer look at my privacy settings and personal timeline, in order to ensure that my social persona was represented as being in alignment with my professional image, so that potential colleagues and employers in my new city would be able to see whether I am someone they’d like to work and play with.

The idea here was not to change how people might see me, but rather to ensure that what they were seeing was congruent with how I actually live and work. Funny enough, the links I posted to the Community Supported Agriculture garden we have a share in sparked many a workplace conversation about healthy, local eating with colleagues who vary widely in their other interests. Being honest about my home life in social media has strengthened several good professional connections!

 

Reach Out to Tenuous Contacts

Several colleagues of mine from Southern California had moved to Austin in the few years prior to our move. Although I wasn’t particularly close to them back then, I asked a mutual friend to help me get in touch, and that proved quite helpful. One man in particular sent me a detailed email, outlining every agency and employer he could think of in the area. He was also, I suspect, instrumental in helping me get the part-time gig I like the most, and you can better believe I won’t forget that soon!

 

Manage Finances to Avoid Desperation!

Even though Mr. Vega would have liked a new car, and we both would have liked an infinite number of new gadgets and furnishings for our new apartment, we kept a tight rein on our spending until we had secured reliable income. We sought out free fun and inexpensive sustenance. We diligently turned up our thermostat each day until we got our first electric bill, and waited for those occasional free Redbox codes to show up in our email.

Moving with a fully funded Emergency Fund, and staying frugal during our transition allowed us to accept assignments based on more than money, and to gracefully weather those first few weeks before the checks started coming in. We’ve been able to avoid overworking ourselves just to make the rent, and to keep our options somewhat open while we learn the nuances of our new home town.

 

Accept That Not Everything Will Pan Out

Before we moved, I applied for a few job openings online, and, for the first time in my career, wasn’t even asked to interview for any of them (remember, our field is based on reputation, and no one knows me here, yet). Well, as it happens, my freelance assignments and part-time gig turn out to pay much more than the regular positions would have. And since Mr. Vega has a job with benefits, it’s better for us financially if I take the higher-paying work over the stable, lower-paying jobs that come with health insurance and the like.

I also had a few coffee dates with potential new friends in my field that weren’t quite a match. We tried our best, but just like romantic dating, there’s an indescribable something that must be present for a friendship to work. And like romantic dating, the magic usually happens when you least expect it.

But it’s a numbers game: the more you try, the better your chances of making a connection.

 

Listen More Than You Speak

Rather than trying to impress everyone with my vast knowledge and spectacular word usements, I chose to keep my opinions to myself for a while and listen to what others had to say. “Tell me more,” became my favorite response. In this way, I got to hear how folks navigate the professional culture here, and what works best for them. And although I do my best to avoid gossip, when three people I met in three different environments each expressed misgivings about a particular employer, I paid attention! Because the only thing better than leaving your difficult boss is never working for her in the first place!

Waiting to express strong opinions also gave people the opportunity to get to know me by my presence and work ethic, rather than by what labels I give myself elsewhere. Letting people think of me as “the one who always shows up early,” or “the one who is attentive and hardworking” is probably better right now than being remembered as “the one who votes Democrat,” or “the one who avoids GMOs.”

 

Attend Orientations, Meetings, Workshops

As much as I’d prefer to avoid any event where I get to wear my name on a sticker, I’ve gotten to as many networking events as I can since our move. The Saturday morning staff meeting at my new part-time job that my boss said I could skip because I was so new? I was there bright and early. The annual end-of-summer gathering of hourly employees at my other tiny gig? Present and accounted for, with my name tag on. Spend an entire Saturday in a skill-building workshop with other members of my profession? You’d better believe I’m going. Right now, I’m the person who will attend the opening of an envelope, if it will help build my name recognition, and familiarity with my peers and clients. Suiting up and showing up is half the battle, GI Joe!

 

Avoid The Temptation to Overbook (Accept Sub Assignments)

It’s been important to leave a little blank space in my schedule, so that I can accept the occasional last-minute gig. This allows me not only to be helpful when there is a need, but also gives me the opportunity to work in jobs I haven’t been hired on for permanently. And again, any time I’m able to meet a new client or colleague, it’s an opportunity to build reputation and create connections. As an added bonus, every time I accept work in a new part of town, I get to learn the city a little better.

And if the work doesn’t show up for the days I’ve left open? I still have plenty of post-move organizing to do, and it seems like I always am in need of a car wash, a manicure, or a trip to the grocery store.

 

Do Something Else! It’s Not All About Work!

We’re very fortunate to have moved to a place that offers abundant opportunities to get outdoors and have fun. Austinites are serious about their fun, and there is live music and good food just about everywhere you go. It’s been lovely to get out of the house a couple of times each week to disconnect and recharge. It took years to create the rich, supportive professional network I enjoyed in my hometown, and my new life won’t be built in a day. After doing all the work outlined above, it’s important to give it all some time to develop organically. Because as much as I love my work, it’s really only something I do so that I can enjoy the rest of what life has to offer!

Texans are Nice, Y’all!

A few weeks ago, Husband went to get gardening supplies at a big home improvement store, and when he came out, an apologetic man was waiting by our car. The man’s car door had gotten away from him in the wind, and banged heck out of ours. So he did what his Daddy probably marched him to the neighbors’ house decades ago to learn after he broke their window with an errant baseball: he waited, apologized, and set out to make it right. By the time my husband came out, the man had contacted his own insurance company and told them to expect our call.

Mind you, I once got my car keyed in Los Angeles because my friend asked the guy parked next to us if he was really planning to just leave all the trash he had dumped in the parking lot. I’ve been screamed at by two different men at two different gas stations for not pulling up to the front pump (which had been occupied when I arrived). I was actually threatened with a gun in a church parking lot for touching someone’s parked car.

And while I’m sure there are (proportionally speaking) just as many mean, irrational, and mentally ill people in Austin as there are in Los Angeles, there also seems to be a culture of helpfulness and consideration here that a person could get used to. In every store we’ve been to, the employees have guided our experience with helpful information… And so have other customers, for that matter! We’ve been encouraged to try the house salsa, politely informed that growing soil suits our balcony gardening needs better than potting soil, and given a bite of the end piece of brisket to taste at Franklin’s Barbecue. At a burrito shop, when we were trying to choose between the refried beans and the pinto, the tattooed young woman with the blond pigtails who was serving us gently offered that we could in fact have some of each.

Such behaviors might seem like the minimum standard of service in a retail situation, but we’re accustomed to trying to navigate transactions with cashiers who are deeply involved in conversations with their co-workers, or flagging down restaurant servers who plan to drop our check as soon as they finish texting.

And it’s not limited to people who have something to gain from being nice to us: I started a new job last month, and everyone who works there made sure to introduce themselves and see how I was getting along. They answered my questions, recommended shortcuts, and high-fived me when I mastered something difficult. That’s a far cry from the nine years I spent working side-by-side with an ever-changing group of people, some of whose names I never learned. A year after I left, I’d occasionally bump into a colleague who would remark “Hey, I haven’t seen you at work lately, are you on nights now?” We just weren’t that invested in each other, I guess.

The nice man in the parking lot who sat and waited when he could have left a note, or just driven away may never know how much his kindness meant to us, but I hope it comes back to him a hundredfold. Because he, and everyone else that’s been nice to us over the last couple of months, did a lot to make us feel welcome in a place that we aren’t sure we belong yet. And just for today, that’s worth all the palm trees in California.

Keep Friendship Weird!

Unlike my Better Half, I’m an introvert by nature. I take a long time to reveal personal details about myself, and many of my closest friends and family, unless they have asked directly, are unaware of my spiritual beliefs or my political views. Making friends is a slow, organic process for me. But I’m determined to be brave, because having lots of strong, healthy relationships is essential if we’re going to thrive in our new home.
Some of my closest friendships have unexpected, and even downright weird origins: My best friendship in high school started with a fist fight (well, it started with me running my mouth and her pounding me to a pulp)! As an adult, my close relationships have had more peaceful, but still unusual beginnings: There’s the one who taught a workshop for prospective service providers, and I can’t remember if we met because he was my teacher first, or my client. Another was an acquaintance who confided in me when she was going through an intense breakup, because it was easier for her to talk to someone she didn’t hang out with often. Later, I went through an intense breakup, and called upon her to walk me through the thing she had already survived. And a third who, even though we weren’t very close at the time, quietly showed up at my mother’s rainy Monday morning funeral, in between her work assignments. We’re closer now, I daresay.
So when I got a message last week from someone I used to work with in Southern California, who transferred to the the Pacific Northwest some years ago, telling me that one of her people was moving from there to Austin, I told her to give the lady my number. I don’t work for that company anymore, but our field is made up of a close-knit group of people, regardless of who employs us… we had a nice chat over coffee one morning, and have since traded hair salon information, and gardening tips.
Husband and I are also considering volunteering for a statewide political campaign, and joining a local sports league or two… because you never know where your next best friendship is coming from, and we’re trying to keep our answers to “So, how do you know So-and-So?” question interesting.
Have you ever moved to a new place and gotten to make new friends? What worked (and didn’t!) for you?

Frugal Fatigue

Being tired probably cost us a couple thousand dollars on this move. For the two weeks leading up to Moving Day, and a week afterward, we were the Takeout Kings. Too tired and overwhelmed to shop, chop and cook, we just rolled our cars up to some clown-house speaker box or called over to the local Asian food takeaway… We don’t eat out much, and our old neighborhood was bordering on being a food desert, so our choices felt limited and inferior.

And after a while, so did we.

The more junk we ate, the more sluggish we felt, but we were doing this move ourselves, and so we had to keep going no matter what. I, for one, have never felt so sleepy in my life: it was like driving a U-Haul through the enchanted poppy field on the way to Oz.

All that fatigue led to many rousing choruses of “Just throw it out! We’ll get a new one when we get there!” But what we didn’t consider was that, when we got here, exhaustion changed our tune to “That one seems good enough. If it’s not right, we’ll return it,” and you can guess the third stanza of that tune… For a couple of people that literally count every nickel (and who won’t be seeing any real income for several weeks yet), we went a little crazy.

We’re dealing with the last bit of unpacking and one heck of a spending hangover, here. But we’re back on the frugal, healthy bandwagon, and looking forward to finding our Austin groove.

When Life Gives you Lemon-Face.

What stereotypes do you have when you think of Californians? What images come immediately to mind?

Perhaps you think of people that say “Dude” a lot, folks that eat organic food and put avocado on everything, or drivers that see stop signs mostly as suggestions. Do you imagine Californians to wear jackets only as fashion statements, vote Democrat, and talk to children as though they were already fully formed human beings?

Ok, then you’ve got a pretty accurate picture of us, as well as most of our friends and family. And if these descriptions don’t apply to you, then a lot of it might sound humorous, if not downright distasteful.

Now think about Texas.

Different, right?

We spent a lot of time sorting out where in these United States of America would be the best place for us to live. We took into account weather, culture, economy, demographics, geography, crime statistics, opportunities for career and education, and of course, the availability of organic food. We researched property values. We talked about how it might feel to move so far away from family and friends, and what cultural shifts we might end up making. A lot of time and effort went into this decision, and we believe it to be a good one (Still, though, we do have a backup plan, in case we’re wrong).

But occasionally the response we get from people with whom we share our choice is a face that looks like we popped a lemon wedge into their mouths when they weren’t looking: “You know that’s in Texas, don’t you?!” they sputter, “That is a Red State!”

Or they remind us that it’s so very very hot, or that it’s over a thousand miles away from our current home, or that the pollen count in Austin is off the charts. My favorite was the one who turned her nose up and the corners of her mouth downward; “My ex lives in Austin,” she sneered. The whole state of Texas, it seems, is therefore contaminated. Dude must have really done a number on her (Hilariously enough, one of our exes just moved there, too. Won’t it be jolly to bump into each other and say “Hello” over the organic avocados?).

As for the rest of their objections, well… We know all that stuff. We actually have a few friends that are Republicans, and most of them are all right (which is why we’re, you know… friends). And we have cars with air conditioning, and access to maps, and doctors who confirm that while we are allergic to grass, and sensitive to dust, and that one of us could die if shellfish is on the menu, neither of us is allergic to pollen. Also, it must be said, we’re excited to move from the highest-taxed State in the Union to one that has No. State. Income Tax (“But they have high property taxes!” Yes, yes, we know that, too).

We get that our people don’t want us to leave. We’re going to miss them, too. We’re also going to miss living near(ish) to the beach, and perfect weather, and having our favorite theme park an hour’s drive away. But we were hoping for a little more excitement and a little less… Sour Face. And certainly, as each person registers his or her response, they have no way of knowing that it’s our dozenth time sitting through some version of “Texas sucks, and you’re going to hate living there.” Which might be true, but on the day we move to Austin, we’ll be just two of over a hundred humans that day who move there. Unemployment is among the lowest in the nation, and rental occupancy among the highest. If we’re making a horrible mistake, at least it’s a popular one.

Maybe– hopefully– the people who love us will come to accept and support this move. Maybe they’ll even find their way clear to getting on an airplane sometime and seeing what this place we’ve chosen is all about, when you get past the stereotypes and into the reality of it. The way they did when they moved to Hollywood, and discovered that not everyone here has perfect teeth or drives a convertible (Although most of us do, so that’s probably a bad example. You get the point though, right?). And, in all fairness, people do seem to enjoy SXSW. As a matter of fact, they’ve all pledged to absolutely, positively visit us for a week next March.

In the meantime, we’ve got plenty of raw, organic agave to go with those lemons…

(Los) Vegas are Leaving

A little over two years ago, after a ten-month courtship, we stood in front of about twenty-nine people in Twentynine Palms, CA, at 2:29pm on February 29, and got married.

In our wedding vows, we promised to come together and create a new home, one that would be a place of peace and joy. I don’t know how many couples include homemaking in their vows, but I think we had each found ourselves in so many tough spots in our lives before we found each other that it was important to us to have a soft place to land in this marriage, and not just figuratively. We’re gentle, sensitive people, and we need sanctuary from a world that’s getting harsher and more indifferent by the day, it seems. We also long for a space big enough to not only keep us safe, but also to welcome in loved ones…and strangers who may become beloved, as many of our friends already have.

We found a tiny little apartment in a not-so-great neighborhood for much less than the going rate, and we got down to work: there were debts to pay, bodies to mend, losses to grieve. Most importantly, there were dreams to be dreamt.

Over hot stoves, on long car rides, in the relative safety of our bed at night, we began to create the vision for the life we wanted. We spoke of a small house with a big garden, and (hopefully) a child or two. In our minds’ eyes, we sketched out the kitchen, decorated the family room, and chose the type of insulation we wanted. And all the while, we counted our pennies and saved as much as we could.

The pennies added up, but not quickly, and the harder we worked, the farther away our dream house began to feel. We watched real estate prices rising in our city, and calculated how many more years it would take for us to afford a home… The younger of us turns forty this year, and we began to awaken to the reality that, if we don’t want our starter home to be a retirement home, we needed to consider leaving Los Angeles.

Our search for a New City began with the one we visit the most, in the Great Pacific Northwest. We have siblings there, and a niece (and now a new nephew!). Could we forgo our dream of a long growing season to be closer to loved ones? Almost certainly. Would the one of us that’s prone to depression find a way to thrive in a city that sees two hundred and fifty rainy or cloudy days annually? Probably. Could the spouse that identifies as “Hispanic” acclimate to going days at a time without speaking Spanish to passersby on the street, or folks at the grocery store? Um… maybe?

As we considered that city, and the next, and the one after that, we came to recognize, and be able to define, what elements our New City would require in order for us to manifest our full potential as individuals, and as the family we were becoming. We began looking for a place that would offer ample opportunity for growth in each of our careers. A place at least as sunny (if not as arid) as our beloved City of Angels. A city where each one of us, brown and white, could see ourselves reflected in the faces of our neighbors, and hear the music of our native languages in their voices. We wanted big-city happenings, and a small-town feel. A place where our aspirations could rise as our roots deepened. As our list of wishes grew longer, our list of cities grew shorter. Until finally, one city remained: Austin, Texas. And we’re not only asking what our city can do for us: The city has issued a plea for years, on bumper stickers and tee shirts, to “Keep Austin weird!” We figure we could help with that. We’re givers, that way.

We set a timeline for early 2016, and re-dedicated ourselves to saving up for the move, but as luck would have it, we lost a job rather unexpectedly, and for confounding reasons. It seemed unfair, but it also seemed like as good a time as any to go. After all, if we were going to conduct a job search, why not do it in our New City? Moving Day just advanced by a couple of years, and is now set for June 2014. Which is like, almost now.

We don’t feel ready, but perhaps that’s the point of a Big Adventure, isn’t it? At some point, you just have to start, and trust that, if you’re on the right path, what you need will be provided.

At least, that’s the plan…