Fabian Kruse on tempo giusto freelancing

I met Fabian Kruse, The Friendly Anarchist, online in February 2010, and I was initially drawn to his website because of the terrific name. I stuck around, though, for his well-thought-out posts on subjects like becoming a “productive night owl” and tempo giusto freelancing (sort of a “slow food” movement for work).

Fabian and I began what became nearly an 8-month email conversation about freelancing, choosing good work, and living the location-independent dream.

Check out the first half of our chat on his site, then return here for part two:

Melanie: What about you? It seems like every email I get from you is from a different country! I love that you’re able to take on different gigs and try new things, and I’m surprised that a lot of the jobs you’ve listed can’t be done “virtually”… It’s hard to be a tour guide over the phone or computer! What advice would you have for someone trying to decide which jobs to take, to allow for location independence?

Fabian: There are different approaches to this, of course. The web 2.0 version is working online and playing the whole “wi-fi addict sitting in a Starbucks” game… admittedly, I enjoy doing that from time to time, although I wouldn’t want to do it for 30 or 40 hours a week. It would just be swapping a cubicle for a coffee shop.

The much older, “classic” version, though, is to travel and take temporary jobs, without getting caught up in them. The downside is that these jobs often aren’t well paid and don’t look beautiful in a CV – but on the other hand, they leave you with a lot of freedom and the opportunity to experiment.

My advice would be for everybody to decide upon how mobile he or she really wants to be. For me, it’s more important to be able to move anywhere within a week or so, than to really do it all the time. That means that you don’t have to live permanently in hostels or hotels to be location-independent. I personally have been changing places every couple of months during the last two years, but I enjoy the freedom of moving more or less often, whatever currently feels best.

Once you’ve reached a pace you feel comfortable with, you may freely combine different sources of income, i.e. from online ventures and local work alike. You may also start to work for free, if you can, for example helping out in NGOs or schools you visit on your way.

What do you think about creating multiple income streams? For me, it seems central for freelancers, but how do you decide about what projects to pursue, and how do you avoid to be or under capacity or totally stressed out because of high demand?

Melanie: I love the flexibility you describe… being able to combine work from online and “real-world” ventures. People always talk about the need to find work-life balance, but I wonder if some of that is also a need to find online-offline balance or some sort of mixture of work types.

As a freelancer, I think I’m always fighting that feeling that I’m either working too much or too little. I haven’t found any way to make that disappear entirely, but I try to get past that by going after projects that support my long-term happiness. Even if I’m working crazy deadlines or long hours, if I believe in the project or I’m fired up about some part of it, then it seems worth it.

When I take projects out of guilt, or just for the money… that’s when I get into trouble.

Here in the US, it definitely seems as though the schools don’t prepare us to take control of our own lives and make conscious decisions about how to spend our time, where to live, what to do. Did you find the same thing growing up?

Fabian: I think I was lucky in some ways, because I attended relatively small schools in a tiny town in Germany, and also had many good teachers. Some of them were really worried about getting us pupils to think on our own, questioning politics and society in general, and this certainly left an impression on me.

What I perceive as more problematic is the “decision making” part you mention. Sure, the internet wasn’t a big issue when I was at school (graduated in 2000), but at least it was perceivable that the old model of employment – growing in one company, making a career, having a lifetime contract and all imaginable benefits – was broken and wouldn’t be fixed easily. Instead of motivating us to become more entrepreneurial thinkers, we were taught to just strive to be “perfect” in as many areas as possible, in order to get a job: Flawless marks, no leisure time, doing unpaid internships, speaking several languages, etc.

While the skills I gained through this certainly are worth a lot to me, I had a hard time finding out that I’m actually able to decide upon how I want to organize life and career myself. I had to struggle for quite some time to start constructing my own way in this new world of labor. For the generations following me, it seems to have become even harder, and most of them – at least in Germany – are just fighting against each other to grab one of the cool jobs out there – but almost nobody thinks about the possibility of creating a dream job on your own!

You have been writing about these matters for quite some time now on Rock Unemployment, what is your perspective on this? Will we see a rise of micro entrepreneurs, or is this just a small online niche, or even a bubble that might burst soon?

Melanie: I feel like the workforce is shifting. My guess is that we won’t see much of a rise in the number of people who take the leap to become entrepreneurs, but of the people who do start their own businesses, more will be choosing to go solo, rather than start large companies or location-dependent businesses. Technology is allowing for some great shifts in how we choose to work!

Fabian: Also, you recently decided to experiment a little more on your site. How has the feedback been until now, and can you already tell us more about the direction where you are heading with Rock Unemployment?

Melanie: The experiment has been great! I was amazed to see that email list sign-ups and comments went up. I thought I’d lose half my followers by changing direction.

I’m still trying to sort out where Rock Unemployment is heading, but I’m choosing to write about things that interest me (how we work and live), instead of things that I’m no longer as passionate about (résumés and job applications). As with anything creative, it’s a process of testing and trying new things.

Fabian: I’m really looking forward to it! Thanks Melanie, for taking the time to answer my questions!

Melanie: Thanks for this conversation, Fabian! I love your site and look forward to reading more.

7 thoughts on “Fabian Kruse on tempo giusto freelancing”

  1. Love the new venture! Resume and Job app. advice can be found anywhere – I want to know how we work and live so I can learn from others and start thinking in a new way. Thanks – your new venture creates the possibility of a new venture for me that is more authentic for me. Also…thanks for introducing us to Fabien – I look forward to what I can learn from him, too. Bravo!!!

  2. Great flow to the conversation guys, I dig the approach very much. The thing that resonates with me is the idea that Fabian discussed about how even kids graduating today don’t seem to think in terms of charting their own course. My own boys are only 9 and 11 but even in their group of friends I hear the murmuring of college and jobs. As though this is so ingrained in our upbringing that we can’t imagine an alternative.

    Maybe it takes living through it to fully get it. I’ve been on the good and bad sides of the ‘go to college, get good grades, get a good job’ dictum and because of my experiences, I tell my boys every day that there’s more than one way. That college isn’t mandatory and that learning to follow their passions and instincts now can be far more rewarding, and certainly more flexible, than towing the line and doing what everyone else does.

    Uncertain times, for sure. Thanks for a fine place to stop and think.


    1. Jeb, that’s an interesting question. I’m not sure what I plan to advise my kids to do (when I have kids)… Should people be expected to at least try a full-time job before deciding whether it’s right for them?

      I recently read Chris Guillebeau’s new book, The Art of Non-Conformity, which really stresses the alternate approach: do what you feel you’re meant to do. I don’t think he’s ever had a “normal” job, and he’s pretty happy with the results!

  3. Thanks for the interesting discussion on schooling and learning. Besides “decision making,” what other skills should the school experience provide to learners? I had an experience similar to Fabian’s. I was a “perfect” student in that I did what I was assigned very well, but I discovered that being a good student did not mean that I was good in my career or in other endeavors. I remember, in particular, during my early MA program days waiting for the professor to tell me what to do for a research assignment. I eventually learned that I have to generate my own questions, select the appropriate methodology, and analyze the findings. In that case, I learned through the school of bitter experience. I wish that I had more experiences in seeing how professionals worked prior to going to college. The scope of my understanding and experiences were, in hindsight, very limited.

    1. Greg, this is a great question! Our schools seem so focused on teaching students only what they need to learn, rather than teaching them how to think for themselves or to take on self-directed projects. With so many students per classroom, it’s probably a necessity, but it makes me sad. I’d love to see classes on life skills like budgeting, planning/goal setting, and family communication, as well professional skills like researching, management, and team communication. For the majority of us, the way we live, work, and interact is far more important than whether we can do calculus!

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