Alumni Career Commentary

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Liberal Arts, Life-Design and the Millennial Freelance Career

Last summer, I moved to New York City with no job.

It was my second time bound for Brooklyn from the Berkshires. Reflecting on my initial experience, I set some ground rules for Round 2:

In order to live in NYC, this time I must:
1. Have roommates
2. Save money
3. Work freelance

Relocating with a blank slate was exactly the motivation I needed to begin designing an authentic adult life. A year since leaving the known and familiar for the explorable beyond, I am blessed with my dream job(s).

I facilitate nonprofit community organizing, freelance social media education and communications consulting. I write. I work remotely.

Since graduating from the College in 2013, I’ve tutored, learned about brewing coffee, co-taught dance fitness sessions, contributed to my local newspaper, worked at Williams for two years, started a blog, backpacked in Jamaica, sold vintage clothes, assisted with audiovisual art installation, walked dogs and house-sat for friends, built websites for family, managed social media accounts, begun doula training, photographed food and worked as a waitress.

When I graduated, I took a full time job in New York, and left the city less than six months later. Now I know why: I needed a crash course in this path is not right for you.

In the four years since undergraduate life, I’ve embraced downsizing, simple living and minimalism, and come to a point where travel-meets-work-meets-life.

My experiential education is continuing – it means living on a human scale and melting the chains of fear. I practice radical municipalism and radical self-love. I had to take an honest, metacognitive perspective on what I was painting with my life’s brush – but also what hid between the bristles. I realized that to be happy in my career path, I had to integrate my work into my life – not the other way around. I recognize and share the roots that anchor my path:

Let your lifestyle lead

I have faith in millennials to take work-life balance to the next level, embracing paths that prioritize our passions and values. In February, The Atlantic reported on a study by Intuit that 40% of working Americans will be independent contractors by 2020.

Instead of asking where I wanted to be in 10 years or even how I could make important change in the world, I visualized my ideal day, thinking critically and compassionately about the lifestyle I wanted to lead – traveling, creating and building a flexible schedule with time to write, run, sleep, meditate, dance, practice yoga, cook and support regenerative economy.

I learned that at my core, I am an individually-motivated, relatively private person who enjoys living simply, and spending time in natural settings. I love exploring new places and experiences, but also the solace of the virtual do-it-yourself community. I work best from my laptop, mostly alone, and outdoors, or at least facing the sun.

Live what you learn

Working at Williams in College Relations endowed me with a lot of the skills I use now as a freelancer – including a knowledge of how to effectively leverage spreadsheets, shared documents and email outreach in marketing and social media.

A year ago, I began learning about privilege, local urban economy and food photography as a lunch server in the East Village. I met new friends, connected with clients for the business I started, and began my plant-based journey in nutrition. “Living what you learn” extends beyond applying a repertoire of skills on the job – it’s also embodying the knowledge you carry about the world by living deliberately, through social actions, economic choices and career direction.

Using active, present-tense – I’m a writer, instead of I want publish in a magazine, casts an effective and instant net in conversation with creative and project-oriented individuals desiring to collaborate – especially digitally. Once we learn how to learn, we can teach ourselves.

Strategize on a sensible scale

When I first began to freelance, I imagined canvassing locally with with a stack of business cards. I never actually got this far. I formed all my work relationships through word-of-mouth encounters – clients I met through a combination of the Williams network, family, friends and customers I met while waiting tables. While it’s important always to be ready for the next project, so too is knowing how simplicity speaks volumes. For a while I had to talk myself out of listing half a dozen “services” on my website just because I was capable of them, until I decluttered and streamlined my creative vision. Microbusiness is underrated.

Simple living to-scale also keeps thrift in perspective – crucial for new freelancers and those of us shifting our career trajectories and scale to prioritize health, sustainability and passion, and to live from the core, outward. At Williams we discuss self-care – but what does it look like for millennial alumni building careers in the anthropocene?

My self-care looks like working part-time, from home, and cultivating a passion-project lifestyle. That means staying curious; embodying what I learn; and seeking outlets for exploration, experimentation and expression. Recently I read about Stanford’s new life design lab, and I recognized the relevance for undergraduates and alumni to think big-picture about preferences and worldview while navigating post-college priorities.

The little local life I build is a ring of concentric circles – from personal health to environmental sustainability. I start localized in thought about what rings true. We know how to get honest with ourselves about what we want. As liberal arts alumni, it’s important we forgo fear and stigma about gig or service jobs – and about having less money than our friends.

The daughter of two independent contractors, I respect the non-traditional, impactfully small-scale paths of my parents, and feel connected through the nature of our work. The tipping point from fear to faith is powerful, and humbling. Empathy and social change grow from inclusive, sustainable economic-career consciousness. Today, our peers run the gamut of life paths. I believe we recognize, increasingly so, that time is our most valuable currency.

Taylor Rae ’13 is a localist blogger, freelance writer, editor and social media consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow her on Twitter at @LittleLocalLife.

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