Guest Contributor, Shana Selwyn

Life of a Freelancer – by Shana Selwyn

Image: Squaredpixels

I never intended to be a freelancer…I’ve never had any entrepreneurial aspirations, I’ve always been content to be a ‘worker bee’ at every company I’ve every worked for.

Radio. It’s what I love the most. This love was cultivated over 13 years at CFOX, 10 of them as the traffic reporter/female presence on the Larry & Willy Show. I literally LEAPED out of bed every day at 4:30 a.m.. (who wouldn’t love to spend the first 4 hours of every workday laughing?) When that relationship ended it came as a complete blindside and I was shattered. 13 years? I was a ‘lifer’. I had loved my job more than anything else (not a smart thing by the way) and I suddenly I could barely function. I got the flu, stayed in bed for a week, and cried as if a boyfriend who I had been devoted to for 13 years had just broken up with me for no reason.

Which is exactly what it felt like.

I had always felt sorry for freelancers; how awful to not know when your next paycheque was coming! I also had a deep fear of unemployment – remember, I thought my job defined me. Without it, who was I? So I focused my job search on full time – preferably radio – employment. Surprise! There were no radio jobs out there. I did get to fill in a few times at other stations, but nothing turned into full time work. Two words became my mantra: Optimism. Perseverance.

The trouble being: Optimism and Perseverance do not pay the mortgage.

Against every instinct I had, I pursued non-radio work, eventually accepting a job with Talking Yellow Pages, because it  involved writing and voicing ads. When Talking Yellow Pages was discontinued, my position evolved into a Marketing Manager, which despite being ridiculously unqualified for, I stuck with for several years (stability!).

When I was laid off from YP in a corporate takeover, this time, I did not shed a tear. Every day away from the industry I loved had been torture. I constantly fantasized about my Radio Return, and now I was able to focus all of my energy on that.

Taking advantage of the free career counseling services that Yellow Pages offered, and Job Search became my new full time job. Except… the only radio job I managed to get was as a sporadic fill-in host at CFUN (remember when it was a talk station for a minute?). I adored co-hosting a talk show, even on a temporary basis, but competition was fierce for those fill-in gigs, and the roller coaster of rejection did a number on my self-esteem. But give up? Never. Optimism. Perseverance.

My first steady freelance job came as a result of networking. I’d heard that one of my former radio colleagues, Diane Johnson, had started a new business, providing audio description for TV for the visually impaired. I contacted her, auditioned, and began narrating for Descriptive Video Works in 2007. Later, I also did temp work in the DVW office, and started writing scripts for them; to this day, the company is thriving and I am proud to be a part of it as a writer and narrator.

As is usually the case, one freelance job wasn’t enough to make a living.

While never abandoning my Radio Return dream, with the 2010 Olympics around the corner, I started applying for media-related Olympics jobs. While I had no luck with VANOC or CTV, I saw online that NBC was hiring locally. I applied in April of 2009, and by September, I had a contract to be a Transportation Dispatcher for NBC, starting January 2010. Interestingly, this was not the job I had applied for, but during the interview, they noted my Traffic Reporter experience, and asked if I would consider being a dispatcher. I had no idea what that was. Of course I said yes.

My Vancouver Olympic experience was…I’m having a hard time coming up with a superlative. The International Broadcast Centre was no local radio station, but it still felt like home. I will cherish the memories forever. The job was intense and the hours were long, but the pay for 6 weeks work was enough for a frugal person like me to live on for 6 months! Amazingly, NBC has invited me back twice more since then, to Sochi and to Rio.*

I never stopped networking with my radio contacts. One of them, Sherri Pierce, gave me a call in May 2011, which resulted in my most recent full time radio gig;  a beautiful nine months as Creative Director at Shore 104.3. Only nine months because, sadly, I was brought on board at the tail end of its short, sweet run. Shore was on the market, and a sale was inevitable. On the bright side, since the end was in sight, this time the layoff did NOT come as a blindside. Almost the whole staff was let go on the same day, and despite my disappointment, I was genuinely happy for (and yes, envious of) the few that were kept on by the new corporation.

Of course I was sad that it was over, but those nine months of joy served to re-energize my passion. Optimism, right? My goal in 2012 was the same as it was in 2000, and 2009 – to get back into a radio station. Any station. Since I choose to stay in Vancouver, that translates to exactly 7 doors to knock on. And knock on them I did (and still do). Then, a couple of years ago, one of those doors opened a crack. I was asked to fill in for a vacationing writer at JRfm/The Peak. It turned out to be a perfect fit, and I am beyond thrilled that they now call me to fill in several weeks a year. I swear I look forward to those weeks as much as the writers that I cover for look forward to their vacations.

A third word entered my mantra: Gratitude.

Due to the need to, y’know… eat, I have maintained two other part time gigs, one with Descriptive Video Works and one with Dynamic Productions, a company that produces on-hold messages, in-store announcements and radio spots. Although neither are radio broadcasters, I call them ‘radio-adjacent‘ because they both allow me to flex my writing and voicing skills. Also, with no full time contracts, I was able to accept the NBC dream job at two more Olympics*…and thanks to wonderful employers, still have work to come home to.

So, my transition to freelance happened despite my best efforts to avoid it. Luckily I possess the self-discipline (and savings/debt knowledge; thanks Dad) required to manage an ever-changing flow of income.

Then, recently, something interesting happened. I heard through my network that one of the ‘7 doors’ had an opening in their creative department. What surprised me was my own reaction. It was NOT to reach for the phone, to get more intel, to book a coffee meeting, to compose an email. I actually HESITATED. After years of yearning for a chance like this, my first thoughts went to what I would have to GIVE UP to accept a full time job.

I didn’t make the call. And I may not. Not because my love of radio has diminished…I’m sure it never will. But because I realized that the people at that company know me – and know that I am available – and they didn’t call me. Which could mean that they are looking to fill this position with a) a less experienced (read cheaper) writer; b) someone with a millennial (read younger) point of view; or c) they just may not value what I bring to the table.

What I do know is that I have 3 steady-ish part time jobs, including one that fills the ‘radio void’,  with employers that do value me, and I don’t feel like giving them (or my unlimited vacation time) up right now.  And I like being available for other opportunities that may come my way.

Gratitude. Optimism. Perseverance.

I guess I’m a freelancer.

*Personal accounts of each of my three Olympic experiences exist on my facebook page, under ‘Notes’.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Doug Murray January 7, 2017 at 11:06 am

    I’ve been freelancing since the early 2000s and while it has had its ups and downs, I’ve learned so much, worked with so many great people and have a lifestyle I never could have imagined. It’s not perfect, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I reckon I should write about it sometime…

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