How to Break Out of the 9-to-5 Rut

Kristin Cardinale works for herself, balancing at least seven or more titles at any given time: career coach, consultant, technology instructor, adjunct college professor, seminar speaker, columnist and owner of a technical support business. She says she’s happier and better paid now than when she held her previous 9-to-5 “dream job.”

She doesn’t like the reputation that’s hung on freelancing, and she hates the idea that people are stuck in jobs based on fear. So, she wrote a book about her experience (add that to her list of job titles) and offers a guide for people who might want to strike out on their own.

“The 9-to-5 Cure: Work on Your Own Terms and Reinvent Your Life” makes a compelling argument that redefining yourself as what she calls a “patchworker” might be the solution to today’s employment malaise. Reuters contributor Caryn Brooks spoke with Cardinale about her experiences.

Why use the term patchworker instead of freelancer?

Freelancing has been associated with giganomics. Giganomics is defined as a penny ante slug trying to just survive another day and piece it together. Freelancing has been depicted in a very negative light. It’s a focus on desperation, and it’s a myopic view of the landscape.

So by using a new term you’re trying to reignite a new vision for how people see this kind of work?

Yes. “The 9-to-5 Cure” is based on some central components. It’s an opportunity for me to share my career strategy with people who feel there are no alternatives beyond desperate survival mode. “The 9-to-5 Cure” says that you can find enjoyable work in abundance. The book also focuses on two pieces of employment strategy. The first is lifestyle design: deciding what your priorities are and making a commitment to honor those. The second is what I call the patchwork principle, which is a freelancer career strategy.

So many people think that freelancing is an unstable career. You argue the opposite — that clinging to just one company is unstable.

The patchwork principle is really founded on that idea: when you simultaneously workThe 9-to-5 Cure is pictured in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Handout for a number of employers, you’re able to make a connection with multiple companies, multiple decision makers, and,perhaps, in multiple fields or industries. If one of those jobs accounts for 10% of your total workload and that job goes away, then you’ve only lost 10% of your employment rather than if you lost one 9-to-5 job and you’ve lost 100% of your employment.

Last year, a very large project that accounted for almost 40% of my workload (which for me is an unusually high percentage) was ending, and I started to put out feelers. And instantly — and by instantly, I mean within 24 hours — I was able to fill that percentage of time with two different positions. I never feel like there’s any kind of nervousness or desperation.

Is patchworking a way to elongate your career?

It’s very appealing to older workers. I’ve had the most inquiries from people who are right out of college and 50 plus. A lot of older workers are interested in this concept because for one thing they are very aware of how 9-to-5 stifles their life and also a lot of older workers are having trouble being hired back into the workforce at the rate which they need to be paid. As a patchworker, you’re able to ask for a premium for the work that you do because you’re short term, no strings attached. Does it provide you longevity? Absolutely.

Is there age discrimination against older workers in the patchworker field?

It depends on the industry, but I see a bit of reverse discrimination. When you hire someone this way, you want someone who is seasoned at a high skill level and I think that employer is looking for an older worker.

How does a patchworker determine their worth on the open market?

There’s a law of thirds. So you can think about what you’re making right now by the hour and multiply by three. But I don’t like to do that. I’ve found that it’s hard to raise your rate once you get into an industry. When I first got started, I was trying to decide what I should ask. When I went to the first organization, I decided to ask for what I thought I was worth. I did and I was able to get that rate of pay. Thank goodness I asked for it then because that employer went on to refer me to a number of other organizations and had I come in low it would have been very difficult to ask other organizations to pay more.

So many people are feeling beaten by the economy and unemployment. How can people ignite their inner gumption and go for it?

Everyone is passionate about something. Over time that sometimes gets suppressed. But you have it. I had a seminar business — a company I built up over a long period of time — and I got clobbered by a big corporate giant that put me out of business within about six months of coming into the marketplace. I was at a loss. I didn’t want to go back to a 9-to-5, but I knew had better come up with a quick solution or a 9-to-5 was staring me in the face.

When you do hit rock bottom — go through a period of unemployment or go through some kind of financial ruin—it takes you completely out of your comfort zone. That’s when it’s most likely that you’ll be able and willing to do things you might not otherwise do.