My Journey into the World of On-Demand Work

(UPDATE: You can hear me talk for 5 minutes about my work adventure on PRI’s radio show “To The Best of Our Knowledge”:  http://www.ttbook.org/book/what-its-work-demand-economy)

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an overeducated 40-something year old woman who spent years in research and management positions within healthcare and technology; years in many stressful, unsatisfying jobs because I thought they were where I was “supposed” to be.

But all through those years, I was always dreaming of doing other things – things that shocked people when they heard me speak of them. Things that made them chuckle and dissuade me and turn the conversation back to something that seemed more reasonable and rationale. Something SAFE.

See, I wanted to do things that “no one with a PhD does.” I wanted to be a personal assistant, to run around all day and do errands, to waitress, to build things, to organize people’s stuff, to help them on moving day, to…well, to basically trying anything new.

I wasn’t interested in the corporate ladder. I didn’t care about being promoted. I didn’t respond well to the usual incentives. And life, for me, was off kilter.

I wanted adventure. I wanted novelty. I wanted variety. I wanted freedom, and I wanted fun.

So I quit that “supposed to” life and found these things in the world of on-demand work.

I have, and I will, write in more detail about some of the more interesting tasks…but here is a somewhat comprehensive list (in no particular order) of the tasks I have done over the past year and a half…

Life has been busy. And finally on the right track.

  • Purchased and delivered 17 slurpees to company meeting, within a 15-minute time frame
  • Created a rhyming story book about someone’s three little dogs (given information from the person’s daughter) for a birthday gift
  • Handwrote 25 personal business letters
  • Spent a day as a parking lot attendant, directing traffic in a parking lot for a big arts/crafts festival
  • Conducted multiple grocery store audits
  • Helped coordinate discussions among national park leaders, stakeholders, and volunteers, identified key themes from review of these discussions, and wrote up results in final report for a project with the National Park Foundation
  • Developed comprehensive final reports providing synopses of reviews and strategic recommendations
  • Was a mystery shopper at a lighting store
  • Organized two full boxes of receipts
  • Raked a yard of leaves
  • Helped someone wrap dozens of their Xmas gifts
  • Created a surprise rhyming treasure hunt for an 11 year old girl and her friends for her bday party in New York
  • Spent a day chauffeuring around 3 women on a scavenger hunt around the major sites of Seattle, put together by one of the women’s boyfriends, who then ended the hunt by proposing to her
  • Designed the methods, developed and programmed surveys, supervised research assistants, managed and analyzed the data, and helped the final reports for two large studies focusing on assessment of 1) ~220 national/local parks’ volunteer groups and 2) ~600 non-profit organizations in California
  • Was a virtual production assistant for a documentary on childbirth that was being filmed in LA (coordinated locations, people, and all logistics for a number of shoots)
  • Purchased and delivered a tiny Xmas tree to a local business
  • Wrote articles for an entrepreneur in the UK
  • Picked up a key and had a duplicate made
  • Helped write/edit funding proposals for a co-op of local farms
  • Picked up a bag of business cards and entered contact information into Excel
  • Was given job descriptions and asked to find potential applicants via LinkedIn
  • Researched top ADD treatment centers for a graduate student who was newly diagnosed and about to drop out as a result
  • Got price quotes for a long distance taxi ride
  • Created an Excel list from a PDF of names/emails
  • Helped develop a resume for a man in his late 50s who had just been laid off from a bread delivery company – a job he’d held for over 30 years
  • Read novels and provided reviews on various sites
  • Delivered a package with unknown contents from downtown Seattle to near the University
  • Created a contact list of art galleries
  • Was one of the wait staff for a non-profit organization’s event at an art gallery in downtown Seattle
  • Conducted research on the topic of open government/open source
  • Updated a consultant’s contact information on various websites
  • Created a contact list of guitar stores within a particular region
  • Developed a survey with scoring and feedback to assess “entrepreneurial readiness” – to help market a book written by a successful entrepreneur
  • Created a contact list of car dealerships within a particular region
  • Summarized bulletin board complaints across various sites for a particular set of products and organized outreach/support
  • Created a Google calendar of a particular gym’s weekly classes
  • Wrote a series of investment-related blog posts for a marketing consultant
  • Wrote website content about how to become a clinical psychologist for a “how to” career website
  • Identified and formatted references for a series of articles on About.com
  • Researched upcoming, relevant conferences for a startup utilizing drone technology for security purposes in parking lots
  • Wrote wedding photographers’ bios for their website
  • Edited legal documents
  • Researched case studies and helped write up final report to determine strategies/next steps for a major land transition in Northern California
  • Edited and formatted an apartment lease templateDeveloped website content and set-up for NY-based lawyer
  • Acted as a phone-based coach for a marketing manager’s sales pitches
  • Developed product descriptions and entered pricing data for a wine distributor
  • Helped develop educational programming and marketing materials for an outdoor program for students between high school and college
  • Researched and outlined references mentioned in a series of podcasts on childbirth
  • Created a list of wholesale pricing for board games for someone thinking of opening a board-game café
  • Compiled and edited a Tech Consultant/Start-Up Exec’s posts about product management
  • Researched various attributes related to green/sustainability issues as well as costs involved in developing pop-up stores within major U.S. malls for a marketing consulting group
  • Edited proposal for a new online education program for a University
  • Project managed/virtual assisted a group of developers and did QA to ensure the successful launch of an iOS and Android app (using systems like Slack, Trello, and GitHub) for a videogame company
  • Wrote and edited a report on a new assessment process developed for assessment of nonprofits’ organizational health
  • Developed technology-related survey questions for a website that is sort of like a Wikipedia for businesses
  • Organized expense reports
  • Developed social media content for a book about the SAT
  • Edited many LinkedIn profiles
  • Edited many resumes
  • Submitted a client’s documentary film to several film festivals
  • Booked multiple dinner reservations (often with very challenging specs)
  • Planned vacations/created road trip itineraries
  • Typed about 9000 company names from PDF into Excel
  • Was a virtual administrator for a tech startup
  • Proofread an illustrated children’s poetry book and book of fairytales
  • Found correct pronunciations for 80 non-English words and names
  • Transferred highlighted pronouns from screenplays/audiobook scripts into an organized list for a fairly well known actor/director
  • Found example websites of Project Managers who do mobile app development
  • Hired motion graphics staff and a film crew for a documentary on childbirth
  • Developed questions for use in an “advice” podcast
  • Created a scoring spreadsheet for questionnaires used by a mental healthcare non-profit
  • Developed a database of schools in upstate New York
  • Designed and developed many surveys and questionnaires (for graduate students, consultants, businesses, and non-profits)
  • Edited and formatted product descriptions for an online retailer of women’s athletic apparel
  • Formatted and compiled dozens of friends/family personal/congratulatory emails to a couple for their surprise anniversary party
  • Investigated and corrected lists of bounced email addresses for a product development consultant’s monthly newsletter
  • Created a “To Do” list based on Timothy Ferris’ blog on hacking Kickstarter
  • Identified mobile app development companies that were hiring
  • Developed all intake forms for a psychologist’s clinic
  • Identified small publishers for a self-help book
  • Researched a State of Kansas “water for cows” program and negotiated contract terms between all individuals who will receive funds from the program for an individual client who owns a farm in Kansas
  • Wrote/edited a wide variety of documents including books (fiction and non-fiction), proposals, business documents, website content, contracts, screenplays, blog posts, dissertations, etc.
  • Researched high school internships in Witchita, KS
  • Created a Google calendar of all summer outdoor movies times/locations within a particular region
  • Photographed and described a friend’s garden
  • Identified potential locations for office/event/etc space in Los Angeles for a sharing economy website
  • Researched and created a list of racially offensive comments made by prominent Republicans
  • Researched and data entered financial quarterly holdings reports for an investment banker
  • Conducted research and wrote/edited for a social entrepreneurship consulting group on many projects with national parks and non-profit organizations around the country
  • Formatted a 35 page healthcare document that was pasted together from many sources
  • Edited memos and manuscripts for a Transportation Dept staff member
  • Created a list of graduate schools (along with eligibility and application requirements, etc.) for a prospective applicant
  • Was a writing coach for teen girl bloggers
  • Decorated someone’s Xmas tree
  • Identified researchers to collaborate on clinical trials and developed materials to help secure investor funding for a start up pharmaceutical company working on drug compounds for stroke and Alzheimer’s
  • Managed a guy’s online dating account
  • Created a list of issues noted on bulletin boards and other websites regarding a particular type of Vanagon
  • Searched for job postings that aligned with clients’ backgrounds, skills, and desires
  • Conducted technology research to identify disruptive innovations in fields such as materials, chemistries, electronic devices, health care, and consumer goods
  • Researched and identified the best healthcare professionals to meet clients’ needs
  • Set up appointments with healthcare professionals for individual clients
  • Researched local gyms for individual clients
  • Managed, designed, developed, and launched Kickstarter campaigns
  • Edited business proposals/other documents and developed marketing/sales materials for a training consultant
  • Conducted research for a book on freelancing
  • Researched and booked hotel rooms
  • Picked up items and dropped them off at Goodwill
  • Wrote/edited many cover letters
  • Identified grant opportunities and wrote/submitted grant proposals for many organizations – including for a non-profit in the Bay Area that supports new/emerging photographers

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Spent a day chauffeuring around 3 women on a scavenger hunt around the major sites of Seattle, put together by one of the women’s boyfriends, who then ended the hunt by proposing to her

IMG_1860 Raked a yard of leaves

IMG_1864Purchased and delivered a tiny Xmas tree to a local business

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Handwrote 25 personal business letters

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Organized two full boxes of receipts

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Airbnb Adventures

As promised, here are some of the Airbnb accommodations that I stayed in (usually on a monthly basis) during my adventure (over the course of a year, I lived in about 20 different Airbnbs in 19 different towns across the U.S. and Canada, where I spent my time doing freelance work, living like a local, and playing tourist/adventurer). I’m really not surprised that living in new homes on such a frequent basis has been as pleasurable as it has for me. For my whole life, it’s always been a delight for me to explore new lodgings, and I’ve always had a preference for visiting friends and family (vs. hosting). And I’ve always (crazily) really enjoyed the whole process of moving – packing, moving day, unpacking, and settling into new spaces. That transition time has always thrilled me, so the fact that I got to do it at least once a month for the past year was pure joy.

And yes, I realize that all of this makes me slightly insane and likely should be the focus of some analysis at another time, but for now…I digress.

Here is a sampling of my Airbnb lodgings over the course of the last year…

(apologies that this is so messy.  one of the things that I failed to accomplish over the past year is learning HTML.  grrr!!)

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Absolutely breathtaking architectural delight with stunning views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Sooke, British Columbia


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Hermit heaven in this two-story treehouse cabin with moonlight views and comfy charm in Sechelt, British Columbia

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Quaint, comfy cottage nestled in the trees on Whidbey Island, WA

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Ranch like oasis on a beautiful 7 acres in Salem, OR

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Spacious treehouse with daily views of mother deer and baby on Orcas Island, WA

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Absolutely delightful accommodations on an organic veggie farm within a welcoming community of kind hearted folks on Puget Island, WA

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Elegant, comfortable lodging surrounded by velvety mountains and cotton ball clouds in Hailey, ID

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Cozy cabin just steps from the university in Missoula, MT

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Absolute luxury, complete amenities, and total comfort in Coeur d’Alene, ID

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My little dream cabin in the woods in Tofino, British Columbia

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Beautiful studio with amazing clear views and soothing sounds of the waves in Courtenay, British Columbia

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Delightful cob cottage living on Mayne Island, British Columbia

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Super comfy and incredibly well stocked home in Port Angeles, WA

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Multi-bedded and generously pillowed cottage with B&B type charm in Seaview, WA

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Cute cowboy themed home in Redmond, OR

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The Road Less Traveled

Ok, back to summarizing the adventure.

The Adventure map

As some of you know, just over a year ago, I quit my miserable corporate job and decided to veer away from the life/career path that I thought I was “supposed” to be on. Thus began my journey on the road, where I used the sharing economy to live somewhere new every month. Over the course of a year, I lived in about 20 different Airbnbs in 19 different towns across the U.S. and Canada, where I spent my time doing freelance work, living like a local, and playing tourist/adventurer.

A lot of people have asked how I chose the different destinations. And I have to say…my process for this really wasn’t all that sophisticated, and that was actually pretty intentional. I didn’t want to go to places that I had always “dreamed” of going, and I often didn’t choose what anyone might think of as “ideal” locations.

I wanted to be surprised.

I wanted to learn new things.

I wanted to understand why I liked certain places, and why I didn’t like others.

I wanted to go to locations that weren’t popular destinations. Locations that might not be perfect, that might offer some challenges, some things to work around.

And I just don’t think you go through the same kind of process when you’re hopping from Paris to London to Sydney (though that route very well could be my NEXT adventure!!!).

I wanted to go to places not simply based on my preconceived notions of myself.  I wanted to be open to reassessing what sustains me and to discovering new patterns and pleasures.  And what I found by doing this was that it’s never too late to be surprised and to find out completely new things about yourself. For example, all of my life I’ve thought I was a “city girl”. But over my adventure, I learned just how much calmer and how much more I thrive in quiet, natural settings, and how much the noise and chaos of a city can send my heart rate sky rocketing.

So, my main requirements in choosing my adventure destinations all involved the Airbnb lodging.  It had to be:

  • available for the dates I needed
  • within my budget (about $1000 per month)
  • in a fairly safe neighborhood
  • within driving distance (max of about 6 hours) from my current location

In my next post, I’ll share some snippets of each of the places I ended up staying…

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A Year of Stanley – Continued!

Ok, phew. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. The last couple of months have included:

  1. taking a bit of a break from my adventure to support a very dear friend going through some rough health issues
  2. traveling to a tiny town with the expectation that I’d settle there for a few months and become involved in some cool projects (details to come)
  3. realizing that the tiny town was just TOO tiny for a stay of more than 1 month, at this point in my life
  4. moving to a larger city within a reasonable distance from the previously mentioned tiny town, to allow me to continue involvement in those projects from a “home base” with greater access to “things”

I’ll have more to say when I get back into the swing of things and start writing again.  But until then…  somebody wanted to say hello.

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A Year of Stanley – Continued

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Cheering up his new Canadian friend (in Victoria, BC)

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Eager to leave for our day trip to STANLEY, Idaho (in Hailey, ID)

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Partying on New Year’s Eve (in Sechelt, BC)

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Holding a staring contest with the local kitty (in Mayne Island, BC)

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Leading the pack (in Boise, ID)

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I have no idea 

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Romancing the ladies! (in Puget Island, WA)

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Shadow 2

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“The message is unmistakable; our own healing proceeds from that overlap of what we call good and evil, light and dark. It is not that the light element alone does the healing; the place where light and dark begin to touch is where miracles arise. This middle place is a mandorla.”
Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche

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Tears at the Shelter

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I might be spending at least a few months in one place, starting in June. Details on that coming soon (I’m very excited!). But until then…one of the super fun parts that I will tell you now is that I may be able to get a pet (i.e., an alive version of Stanley)! I just found this out yesterday and today I was already at the animal shelter. Even though it’s not possible for me to get one yet, I just wanted to check out the situation and what the process entails. I have never been to an animal shelter before. I was so excited to get there – couldn’t wait to say hello to all the little cuties. I raced to get there and had figured out the maximum time I could stay before I would need to head home for a client meeting.

And then…literally two steps into the first room with the dogs, and I was an emotional wreck. Unable to stop the tears. I had no idea. It was heartbreaking to see all of these beautiful creatures staring at me, painfully, desperately, sweetly, sadly… each attempting, in their own ways, to get out. Trying in the brief seconds they each had, to make me fall in love. Some barked ferociously, some gazed intently in my eyes, some just laid down their heads and glanced sideways. What pressure, to convince within 3 seconds time; and what disappointment to experience on such a regular basis. And I did fall in love with each and every one of them, with each of their sweet and strained faces.

I’m afraid I will never forget the big brown eyes of the 10 year old German Shorthair Pointer, that, after looking into mine for a good 30 seconds, somehow convinced the rest of his aging body to orchestrate a laborious move from the far end of the cage over to where I was standing. And from there, we stared some more. And then I had to walk away. Torture. Heartbreak.

I think of them there now and my heart squiggles and my eyes fill. I wish I could have taken them all home with me. I did almost brought two feline siblings home to Stanley…until I realized that I’m staying in at least two more places that don’t allow pets, plus I don’t have any equipment and am allergic to cats!!! (I know, minor points)

I will only go back when I’m ready to actually make a move. And that minute can’t come soon enough.  😦

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You Reading This, Be Ready

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Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

~William Stafford

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