What It's Really Like... Working Part-Time

Photo: Nongnuch Leelaphasuk

I’m writing this in bed. It’s lunchtime on a Thursday, and I’m sitting in a decade-old pair of pyjamas and a sanitary towel, ‘working’. In the next seven hours I will probably only leave my bed to go to the toilet, and to eat. If I were a normal five-days-a-week, 9-5 worker, my schedule today would signify serious illness, potentially depression. But I’m a part-time, freelance writer so I actually do this twice a week – and it feels fabulous.

I didn’t intend for my job to look like this. I grew up neurotically industrious, and my fantasy for my future professional life was basically rushing about Achieving Stuff while looking exactly like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. But when I graduated from university, the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do, coupled with a strange and horrible bout of agoraphobia, meant that I just sat on my own in my parents’ house for about six months, contemplating eternity.

Eventually I got a four-days-a-week office job, where I was paid well below minimum wage to print stuff out and file it. I think that office job was where I picked up the part-time bug. I would sit at my desk all day pressing print and listening to Desert Island Discs (I averaged about six per day), interspersed with extremely long loo breaks. By the time it got to Thursday, I wanted to get out so badly, it felt like dying. A year later I got a job I supposedly actually wanted, full-time at a national newspaper, and had another breakdown. I’ve been part-time ever since.

There are some obvious downsides to this arrangement: I have hardly any money ever, I have no sick pay, holiday pay or pension, and I’ve only just moved out of my parents' house, at the age of 25. Everything else about it is amazing. Mainly it’s the freedom. I have the regularity of three days a week writing in an office – which I desperately need as it makes me get up – but the rest of the time, I do what I want. I wake up when I want, I pitch articles when I want (usually never), I work on my own projects.

Most of those projects don’t come to much – I’ll write a truly terrible short story about a love affair between myself and my imaginary tutee, say, or I’ll start and never finish the first episode of my one-woman podcast about anxiety. But I enjoy the creative space. And I like knowing that no one knows how deeply bad what I have been typing all afternoon is. When I was working at that national newspaper, I spent most of my time praying that no one would give me anything to write, because I would reveal myself to be totally untalented. Eventually I was fired – not for anything dramatic, just because they were culling freelancers – and it was the biggest relief of my life. It was only then, when I was unemployed, and afterwards when I was working odd jobs that I had time to get over myself a little bit. To stop thinking that everything I made and thought had to be perfect, and to realise that no one actually cared what I was doing with my life except me.

There are little freedoms that I love, too. I go to the post office. When (if) I leave the house, I can wear whatever I want. Usually that’s leggings, no pants, no bra, no makeup, a jumper and purple running trainers. This is bad if, say, I run into someone I fancy. Other than that it’s great. I feel like no one can actually see me, so I feel free to stare boldly at strangers in cafés and read people’s texts over their shoulders on the bus. Sometimes it’s lonely, but I’ve realised I quite like the loneliness. I am the star of my own movie, basically.

Of course there are days where I spend five hours on Twitter scrolling through all the things other writers are writing and feeling hopeless. In our culture, there’s a tendency to feel like every moment you’re not working, you’re a waste of space. I'm not sure I’m capable of having a full-time job; every time I try it I become mentally ill, and that makes me feel weak, and more than a bit self-indulgent. For now, this makes me happy.

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