Adventures in Freelancing: oDesk

Today on Kathleen’s Adventures in Freelancing, I share some things I’ve learned as a virtual work virgin in the last couple months.

I signed up on oDesk in the last couple months, in the hopes of finding supplementary income. I am learning about being a virtual worker without having to earn a degree in it. I am getting exposed to software and other people who work in things I knew nothing about before, and those two things are PRICELESS and I am loving that.

SPOILERS/LET’S GET REAL: If you haven’t yet or were thinking about diving into online work, please be advised that these platforms probably aren’t a great idea to fund your wedding in 6 months, save for college next year, or other short term strategy to raise fat cash.

This is a slow burn. For a writer, it’s yet another delayed gratification income stream. That’s not bad, it’s just I am still adjusting from being a long-time “wage-monogamous” (so to speak) employee.

I’ll go ahead and warn you I am snarky with some of my commentary below. Now, on with the show.

I signed up on oDesk. After passing 4-5 multiple-choice writing-related tests (this is not the best determination of writing skills, mind you), I earned a 20+ job application limit per day. Unfortunately, after 2-3 hours of filtering through ads for work any given day, I can typically apply for maybe five legit jobs, tops. I wouldn’t suggest getting on there daily and spending hours scanning their ads. It will feel like a lot of lost time. It does for me, anyway.

Here are some reasons why:

  • PORTFOLIO LINK FRUSTRATIONS: oDesk has relationships with some portfolio sites, but not all of them. I am a writer, I have profiles at contently.com, clippings.me, and slideshows on my blogs. oDesk has a relationship with LinkedIn and Behance, but not Contently or Clippings. Behance is great for graphic designers, web designers, photographers, videographers, and other visual artists, however, they are not a one size fits all (OSFA) creative work showcase site. There’s a wide array of workers out there, oDesk, try to meet more of them halfway.
  • REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE THAT DOESN’T TRANSLATE QUICKLY TO THE VIRTUAL WORLD: I have years of real-world experience, but I am new to oDesk. I make a point to put this information in my profile and every one my cover letters. A lot of employers on oDesk want seasoned oDeskers. They point-blank tell you they are discriminating against the newbies. Seasoned oDeskers have 4.5 stars, lots of positive commentary, lots of happy clients, lots of high test scores. I don’t blame any employer for wanting any and all of those things, but I suspect, like me, there are perfectly qualified people are out there getting brushed off for simply being new to this virtual neighborhood. I only apply if I know I could do the job; I want the work and need the feedback to build my profile. I think you should be able to get points for writing coherent applications so people can see your skills, energy and commitment in lieu of happy clients. Big picture, skills and quality performance should win out, not seniority on the platform, so I hope that’s what oDesk plans to work toward.
  • LOTS OF JOBS, NOT LOOKING FOR ANYONE IN PARTICULAR: Many job listings are written poorly, sometimes with one vague line: “Need a writer now, please apply” or something to that effect. This ad is far too general to be worth responding to and I don’t think it should be “post-able” at all. If the employer can’t take the time to say what their project is, what type of writing is needed, what language, and how many hours may be needed, I (nor anyone else) can apply with a good conscience. It’s a waste of one of my limited number of applications to respond to this half-a** job post. I thought about pinging them and saying “hey if you can tell me much more about your project I may apply” but then I decided against it because I’m not their mom and they probably aren’t listening to a lowly newbie like me anyway.
  • PAYMENT FRUSTRATIONS: Many jobs are “fixed-price”, which means oDesk can’t intervene if you did the work, but then didn’t get paid for it or get any feedback because the employer’s account magically disappeared. Sorry overeager, naïve virgins, life isn’t fair. If I hadn’t had my share of getting stiffed in real-life 15 years ago, I’d get burned here too, I’m sure of it. Again, I just don’t apply. But the minutes it took to review this post are time I’m not getting back. Perhaps jobseekers could click a “report this post” button on these type listings so they are marked for deletion.
  • PAYMENT METHOD  NOT VERIFIED FRUSTRATIONS: Many jobs aren’t fixed price, but a little question mark appears to the right of the screen in 9 point pale gray type (READ: easily unnoticeable) that says “payment method not verified.” Again, I don’t apply to these. If it were my job site, you couldn’t list any work until your bank account was linked and verified. Until you can pay people and plan to pay people for work performed, you’re not an employer, in the real-world or virtual-world. oDesk should police these employers better.
  • EMPLOYERS MAY BE COLLEGE STUDENTS DELEGATING WORK: Maybe I should just write these term papers that get posted on oDesk as long as the pay is coming in, who cares? But kids getting the degree but not doing the work cheapens the degrees of every student that did do the work and truly earned their degree. Sadly cheaters and slackers don’t get a special colored degree to indicate they cheated and slacked their way through college, and will probably resort to those same tactics in the workplace. Yeah, I’m old-fashioned, I just don’t like being an accomplice to this work.
  • LONG-TERM WORK MAY BE AVAILABLE, BUT NOT COMING TO YOU EVEN IF YOU DID A GREAT JOB ON THE SAME TYPE WORK FOR THIS EMPLOYER: Many employers post separate tasks and work assignments, and find workers that worked out great for each task. Everybody’s happy, right? Only when you read a new assignment, you scroll down to see what previous workers said. Mysteriously, it doesn’t appear experienced oDesk employers sought out their former oDesk stars to do repeat business. Don’t they want to be happy all over again? I just want to forewarn new and potential oDeskers that taking a low rate because you think this is going to be a longterm relationship is something you need to be wary of. They may say there’s more work in the future, but they could be saying that just so you lowball yourself. This could be a one-night stand and it’s probably safest to approach it that way no matter what. Do the best you can regardless, and rack up the stars, but never expect a long-term partner or oDesk soulmate, so to speak.
  • LANGUAGE AND NATIONALITY FRUSTRATIONS: Many  job postings are looking for speakers of languages other than English or residents of specific Asian countries. That’s fine. Until I become a speaker of those languages or a resident of those nations, I don’t want or need to see these ads, period. On the flipside, people who do live in those countries shouldn’t have to see ads seeking native US English speakers, Americans, or countries besides their own. It’s wasted exposure. oDesk needs to let its users conduct a more filtered search based on their background and skills, and furthermore (echoing previous bullets) seeking people who can and will actually pay.
  • SEARCHING FRUSTRATIONS: If I’ve clicked the “X” to the right to not see an ad in my feed, users need to have the option to not see it again, ever. Ditto for ads more than a few days old or ones with too many applicants or already interviewing “finalists.” I could be your dream applicant, but if I am too darn late to the apply, no one cares.
  • CHARGING FRUSTRATIONS: What a user charges on oDesk usually does not correspond to what he/she would charge in real-life, at least not at first. Typically, the user is lowballing his/her rates to get their profile noticed and get work and feedback. As the user applies for jobs, he/she adjusts his/her rate accordingly. I am not publicizing my profile on oDesk until I am charging more, which kind of makes the whole process seem like a wasted effort early on. I don’t think it is long-term.
  • OTHER PLATFORMS: I’ve signed up on other platforms. Elance expects me to pay if I wish to apply in multiple categories of work, which I think stinks when I’m a writer who simply wants to be available to type things for other people if they need it. Maybe the answer is to just offer admin first, they foray into writing on their site.  I also signed up on TaskArmy and have yet to hear from anyone about writing articles of various lengths.

When I hit snags in the freelance or virtual economy, it’s easy to reminisce about what it was like back in the old days of reporting to an office for a 9-5.

But really, it was just the steadier, higher pay that was better. The rest was limiting and frustrating. I had to dress up, look cute, and commute daily and sit in some insane traffic jams with hundreds of other people every day of the week doing the same things. I wasn’t paid for the time it took to do any of that primp, prep, and travel. Yes I was paid for the hours spent in the office, but there were wasted hours being onsite and being available but waiting on others, information from others, or paperwork processing. In government, what should take an hour can take weeks. And if its December, the people you need approval from are off for the rest of the year and you’re at work with almost nothing to do in the interim. UGH!UGH!UGH! And then there’s all the theatrics and mind games of getting along with your officemates, which really sucked during periods of downtime. I definitely don’t miss petty office dramas that were the norm in white-collar jobs. If I had to go back to work I’d take blue collar work or temp work. Why? Because let’s work or let’s go home cause there’s no work to do.

Nowadays downtime with one client means I can maximize my time in so many ways. I can look for other work, read a book to improve my game, take a walk outside, take a drive, go to a lunch lecture (which never was possible 9-5), go to a conference (which never was possible 9-5), write a blogpost, join an online discussion. Hooray freelance work and wage polygamy.

My spouse and I hope to hit the road and work from it very soon. ‘Fingers crossed.

Easily Confused Words

Easily Confused Words: Scents vs. Since vs. Cents vs. Sense

Scents, since, cents, and sense are easily confused words. Spell-check in word processing software doesn’t catch these mixups; if each one is a word and it’s spelled correctly, it keeps right on scanning. A keen editor has to detect these situations and realize if the right word was used in a given situation.

Since is a conjunction that typically leads a dependent clause, as in: “Since Alyssa did not do her chores, she is not getting her allowance this week.”  or as Kelly Clarkson sings, “Since you’ve been gone, I can breathe for the first time.” When you hear “since” there’s more information anticipated by the listener or reader, and more information should be coming from the writer. Otherwise, that’s a fragment.

Sense is a noun meaning intellect, or a sensory ability, like the five senses–seeing, touching, feeling, smelling, or hearing.

Cents is the plural form of the noun “cent.” In the U.S., one cent is a a penny. Most coins, (i.e., pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters) are collectively called “cents.” One dollar ($1) Sacajawea (and Susan B. Anthonys of the 1970s)  coins do exist, but they are rare and they don’t seem to catch on culturally.

Scents is the plural form of the noun “scent.”  Scent refers to how something smells, be it a flower, a food, a bottled fragrance, or garbage.

In conclusion, here’s an example sentence using all four correctly:

Since Myra had a cold and was flat broke, she had neither the sense nor the cents to buy new scents. 


Just Musing

Just Musing: Trigger Warnings

I’ve been reading about the phrase “trigger warnings” recently. Here’s a few bulleted links:

I do not work in academia, and I admit I am late to the game. [I doubt academia or the blogosphere held their collective breaths in anticipation for my thoughts.]

Apparently trigger warnings started in the blogosphere and carried over into academia. In short, students want their required reading to brief them in advance with the words “trigger warnings ahead” or “trigger warning: reading contains child abuse, racism, rape, <<i.e., insert other violence or bad behavior that’s upsetting here>>.”

I guess I understand where some young adults are coming from to expect trigger warnings, or TWs. If he or she has grown up seeing disclaimer-type statements in a lot of situations in life, they might think they belong everywhere, in every situation.

For example:

  • The evening news has made a point to brief viewers about graphic images being shown for years.
  • Movies, TV, and video games get ratings that imply their content’s intensity. Some shows, like Family Guy, even have a list of potential content shown before its episodes air, even in syndication aka “reruns”
  • Just about every music album in certain genres contains a “Parental Advisory” sticker, so do many popular video games
  • We live in an age where food labels are getting a revamp for genetically-modified organisms, gluten, soy, and other content.
  • Drug ads list all potential side effects.

It’s safe to say warnings are pretty ubiquitous in our daily lives here in the States. Add in terms and conditions statements for software, one could easily say we all suffer from some form of ‘briefing fatigue’.

Today’s collegiates certainly aren’t the first generation of college students to have members who have experienced trauma, but they may be the first to request special treatment by their teachers because some students have had that trauma and the rest just don’t want to get worked up by their reading, maybe?

When older people, myself included, read this development, they shake their heads for lots of reasons. Here are mine:

  • IT’S A PRIVATE MATTER. If a student who suffered trauma is concerned about their experiences making their classwork difficult to accomplish, I think that is a private matter between a teacher and the student. It’s possible the student should opt for a different class, if not a different major. Hopefully they aren’t an English major, because they’ll be having a lot of talks with a lot of professors about reading material ahead of them. In the time it took to rework lesson plans in multiple classes, the student could have earned an additional degree.
  • FEASIBILITY. I think it’s unrealistic if not impossible to produce an all-encompassing trigger warning statement for classes of 50-200 individuals that are reading 5-10 books, maybe more. Everyone’s triggers are different, and one person’s trigger is another’s minor annoyance.
  • LIFE COMES WITH NO TRIGGER WARNINGS, WHY SHOULD READING ABOUT SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE? Life’s major changes come with no trigger warning, why should literature written about someone’s life experiences? Epic moments are not all happy, but they are unforgettable. They shape each one of us. Usually what’s uncomfortable today is something a person is thankful for tomorrow, if for no other reason than because of what he/she learned from these experiences about him or herself. Now deceased authors shared their experiences in the hopes of creating a better future. Future generations covering their ears or turning a blind eye on darker parts of history or someone’s life because these stories are hard to hear are doing their ancestors a disservice and quite possibly, fumbling their role in creating a better world in their own lifetime. If you can’t accept the truth of the past, how do you move things forward for the future?
  • STUDENTS CHEATING THEMSELVES OF THE JOYS OF READING AND WRITING CRITICALLY aka WHY A STUDENT PAYS TO GO TO A FOUR YEAR COLLEGE VERSUS CAREER PREP SCHOOLING. Students are cheating themselves of what a good college program is supposed to do for each of them in their lives if they want a disclaimer or TV guide synopsis of their required readings’ major plot points before doing the reading of the actual books. Reading about racism and or rape bothers you? Thank goodness, that means you’re human and capable of empathy. Fight those things in real life, don’t turn your frustration on books about things that already happened you can’t change. To “photoshop” the past means creating myth.
  • TRIGGER WARNINGS (TWs) ARE CONSIDERATE BUT NOT EMPATHETIC OF THE READER, AND NOT CONSIDERATE OR EMPATHETIC TO THE BLOGGER (OR OTHER WRITER.) The blogger (in bullet 3 at the top) suggested that it’s not censorship to include trigger warnings in blogposts because it’s empathetic for the reader. My problem with this is, blogs, like all written work, are intended to be read in full. Blogposts build connections and have emotional impact, whether the reader chooses to like them, comment on them, or neither. Until one party shares our experiences with the others, I don’t think empathy occurs at all. A blogger wrote because they had experiences they felt compelled to share, as do authors and writers, both past and present. Why would someone write a book, and then give readers the copout to just read plot points? What about the journey or the character who experienced these things, and how those experiences shaped them? That can just be fast-forwarded through?When I encounter people that repeatedly demand empathy from others, I fear they presume they are the only ones who possess feelings or warrant empathy. Worded another way, they expect and demand to receive empathy, but lack the interest or concern to provide empathy to others. I feel true empathy is all-persons-inclusive, not some-persons-inclusive.
  • Which reminds me, that I keep hearing what a empathy deficit exists in our culture, and I truly believe part of is because some kids were denied arts, literature, and theater exposure growing up. They haven’t had to think once about how others feel, why those others’ feel as they do, and others’ life experiences. As these children become grownups, they may gain the money, the time, or both to seek the arts out, but there’s an allergy or an aversion to them. If art exists for them at all, it’s just pretty stuff that doesn’t require analysis, self-reflection, critical thought or feeling. It’s as if the now-grown child thinks, if my parents, school, or church didn’t make something a priority, it’s not important at all. It may be the devil leading me astray so I can’t be bothered with it, whatever it is. What a missed opportunity. What a waste.

Matthew Weiner was on the Tavis Smiley show the other night (May 23) talking about how easy it’s become for the affluent to function in a very closed off little privileged bubble, anything that might pepper their bubble’s surface, disrupt their American brahmin worldview, has never been easier to avoid. It’s another example of an avenue for empathy are being closed off.

Trigger warning–that’s both a sad and dangerous phenomenon. Revolution inevitable. If people don’t know each other, don’t understand each other, or care to understand each other, it’s easier to demonize the other party. The results aren’t pretty.


Excerpt from Real Life, Time of the Season

Excerpt from Real Life: The 20 Year High School Reunion

The first week of June, twenty years ago, I graduated from high school. And spoiler alert, I am not going to a reunion this year.

I attended the same school system in the same town from kindergarten through 12th grade. I think that was long enough.

I was a long-haired brunette and the younger sister of another long-haired brunette. [Why the long hair? Our dad is a total Hispanophile, having fallen in love with Rota, Spain during his Navy years.]

If I was well-known, it was by default. I never felt “popular.”

For someone who lived in the same house and the same town all that time, I felt alien in a lot of ways. We were a Navy family, not a storied last name in these parts. Our last name (my maiden name) was German, but not pronounced ethnically; we had to spell it on a daily basis. We were Catholic. We all had dark hair. In the South, blonde and blue-eyed has been the beauty ideal for a long time.

My circle of friends was the ‘nerd herd’, a circle of mostly girls and one guy who would graduate in the top ten. Most of them were in gifted programs (the ones that let you skip class for another activity several days a week), but I was not. All in all, they were a good circle to be in, even if sometimes I wondered if I belonged in their company. This circle was my date to prom for two years in a row. Somehow, even with my lackluster math scores, I managed to graduate at #9.

I am in touch with a couple of these friends on Facebook. One, my best friend, I’ve been in touch with the most. In the last twenty years, it has become apparent friends like that don’t come along very often. I was fortunate they came along twice: once with her, once with my husband.

This year, the reunion is being planned by former cheerleaders and their ensemble. Predictably, they’re choosing the activity, they’re setting a date, and they’re lobbying their circle to hunt down the outer limits of the class of 1994 on Facebook. It’s $65 a head to hang out with people I had no choice about hanging out with for the bulk of my young life. People who think they know me, people who probably think they knew me.

I think I’ve seen this movie and the ending is predictable. I will regret going, and regret feeling upbeat in anticipation. No thanks. And thanks to social media, there isn’t too much about my life people couldn’t figure out from a Google search.

I won’t say it was all bad, but school was a lot of other people telling me what to do and what I was capable of. Some of my strengths, but mostly my weaknesses. Early on, I scored high on reading tests, but because I thought through my answers before speaking, I was labeled slow. It took parental intervention to put me in an appropriate class. The word “introvert” was unheard of.

I was a daydreamer prone to petite mal seizures. I was bad at math. I was not athletic. I would take walks and listen to my headphones. I spent most evenings in my room drawing, reading, or listening to the radio. I was avoiding a grumpy parent who I was nothing like personality-wise or interests-wise, and that wasn’t okay. I lived with a lot of daily anxiety because I thought every stranger saw me as this parent did and it had me shaking in my boots. I didn’t have my own car. If I had, I might have left for good.

School is full of judgement. The clothes you wear tell everyone about how much your parents make. As your teen years arrive, you can add your acne to how you are being judged. Some teachers played favorites while being pretty cold to other students. If you were a younger sibling, you learned your teacher’s relationship with your older sibling mattered a whole lot in how you were treated (you know, because you weren’t being compared enough at home.) Some Christian teachers were nicer to the souls they felt were”saved” versus those who are not. Some students or teachers with a unique religion encountered repeated scandal and controversy from parents and faculty even though they were perfectly fine people. And probably needless to say, gay kids couldn’t comfortably ‘come out’ in a small Southern town. Even if it’s something didn’t happen to me directly, seeing it happen to other kids didn’t feel good. These were all unfortunate life lessons about the petty, shallow side of human behavior. Are any of these things worth reliving, or celebrating? In my mind, they are not.

When you run into people from your past, you get reacquainted with who you used to be, whether you want to or not. It’s not always a bad thing. But I think the question is, do you want to feel like that person again, yes or no?

‘No? Then don’t look back.

PS: Have a good life, class of 1994.

If you liked this post, you might like” Graduation, or Findings.”

Easily Confused Words

Easily Confused Words: Break vs. Brake

The Derby is this weekend, so it seems appropriate to focus on the easily confused words “breaking” and “braking.”

Breaking and braking are homophones, meaning they possess an identical sound, but not an identical spelling.

If you typed the word that sounded right, but wasn’t spelled correctly, spell-check in word processing software would not catch it. Spell-check looks for words that are missing letters, and words outside its scope of knowledge. If it’s a word and it’s spelled correctly, spell-check moves on.

Break is a verb, “breaking” is its gerund form. Typically, it means to flaw or even destroy something, as when a burglar breaks in a house, or a person drops and breaks a vase.

There are other meanings:

Shoes: When an owner breaks in a pair of new shoes, it means he or she is wearing them for a trial period so the shoes conform to the contours of his or her feet. This makes them more comfortable to generally wear and walk in.

More than other shoes, formal heels and dress shoes need to be broken in before the big day the owner wants to wear them. This is so when the big day arrives, the owner isn’t wincing in pain with each step, looking silly or uncomfortable on a formal occasion.

Training horses or other animals: To break a horse means to train and domesticate it for riding, pulling a wagon, or performing other work. Attempting to ride an untrained horse guarantees bodily injury. The horse would pull away and buck to prevent the rider from climbing on. Should the rider succeed in mounting, the horse would leap about to throw the rider off and run away. If the rider’s fall doesn’t cause injury, the horse stepping on the rider surely would.

Time use: When a person stops working on a task and relaxes their mind for a short period, he/she is “taking a break.”

Habits: When a person “breaks a habit” they have trained his/herself to stop participating in a repetitive, troublesome behavior.

Fortunate occurrences: When the odds fall in a person’s favor, he/she experienced “a lucky break.”

Brake is also a verb, and “braking” is its gerund form. Braking means bringing a vehicle to a stop. Unlike break, it doesn’t have as many meanings or catchphrases. “Put on the brakes” is an analogy phrase meaning slow things down or terminate and activity as if applying the brake pedal of a car.

In closing,  here’s an example sentence using both words correctly:

With practice, new drivers can break the habit of braking too hard in their vehicles.