Interview

“Balance Entrepreneurship and Anti-Consumerism” (A Conversation with Melanie Orndorff)

Melanie OrndorffOver a couple of mails and months, I was lucky to have an interesting (and totally tempo giusto) conversation with WordPress hero and long-term freelancer, Melanie Orndorff. We talked about new ways to approach a career, location-independence, the relationship between freelancing and micro-entrepreneurship, and how hard it is to avoid getting employed.

This is the first part of our conversation, the second part can be found on Melanie’s blog, Rock Unemployment!

Fabian: Hey Melanie, great to have this conversation with you! You help people to find a job and/or build a side gig while being unemployed – I am deliberately unemployed, but of course making (some) money is an issue for me, too.

My personal problem is that I’m just not much of a business person. I was wondering about how to get more into an entrepreneur’s mindset as a person that is somewhat critical on consumerist lifestyles. As you dropped a career to get into freelancing, can you relate to this, or did you just have an entrepreneur’s mindset right from the start?

Melanie: Your question’s been on my mind a lot this week! I’m intrigued by the balance between entrepreneurship and anti-consumerism.

I’ve been a freelancer for most of the past 12 or so years, so I actually felt very confined in the full-time, salaried positions I held recently. I remember being shown a chart of my potential career progression within a company I worked for, and feeling an immediate need to run screaming from the building. I think being a freelancer requires a bit of an entrepreneur’s mindset, since I’m in charge of my own ship, but at the same time, there’s a lot of stability in knowing that – if I needed to – I could probably dig up a job next week doing something (even if it’s not particularly glamorous).

Maybe that’s where the balance lies: There’s a need to be professional enough to manage your own career without a company telling you where the “career ladder” is, and yet, there’s got to be a willingness to try anything and everything. One of my life goals is to work as a US mail carrier. I love sorting things and relish the idea of walking around, greeting people all afternoon. Would that be possible if I had a corporate career? Probably not. Do my friends think I’m crazy for it? Absolutely.

Fabian: At least in Germany, part-time mail carriers in smaller villages are really well-paid. Surely sounds like a fun job for some time, preferably in summer, though. :)

Melanie: Related to this, how do you balance your professional and anarchist sides?

Fabian: Until now, I found it to be surprisingly easy to get a job, and surprisingly hard to avoid it! In this sense, I really admire your decision to go freelance and never look back. As for me, I am mixing freelance jobs with temporary employment and casual jobs, and I’m getting more and more interested in micro-entrepreneurship. Consequently, I’m also making some money from my internet endeavors.

In practice, it looks like this: Before leaving Germany at the end of 2008, I worked as a tutor, web and print designer with a professor for political science in Cologne. After that, I took some time to write my thesis, travel through South America, and think about my life. When money became an issue again, I did a few translation jobs while being on the road, programmed some websites, and eventually engaged in a short career as a tour guide for cruiseship tourists in Cartagena. (I even was co-owner of a small pig farm in Colombia, which was kind of fun and admittedly delicious, though not too profitable.)

This enumeration probably reveals already my anarchist approach to work. My idea is to replace the typical career advice with an approach of common sense: It’s logical that we have to make money, it’s logical that we have to work on some unpleasant things – but we are also free to make the best of it and adjust work to our personal priorities!

In the democratic states we live in, we often just cast our vote and then enter into a state of apathy in almost all areas of our existence. Friendly anarchism is a call to get active and involved – in work and politics, but also in life in general. We have one life only, and we should live it on our own terms, making the best of it.

I see you are traveling a lot – What do you think about location independence, would that be an option for you or are you already living location-independently?

Melanie: I don’t have the travel bug like so many of the bloggers I read, so my “lifestyle design” is more about creating a work flow that allows me to spend time with my friends and family, take time for myself whenever I choose, and avoid a long commute.

Read the second part of the conversation here.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan Ziemba November 1, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Nice reading flow, moving between your site and Melanie Orndorff’s was unlike anything I have seen before.

Anti-Consumerism vs Entrepreneurship, I think we can combine them and make the whole greater than its parts (which is why I read the friendlyanarchist.com). Both are an idea, personal happiness mixed with innovation achieving perhaps friendly anarchy. This proposed anarchy is within everyones grasp yet as both of you stated finding a balance can be difficult. I have found the difficulty lies only in myself, in my misunderstanding of being a lit individual.

As I see it we cannot change the exterior world, reality is, so we must save ourselves. The beauty of this is by doing so the world changes, contradictions are wonderful.

Fabian and Melanie keep the good fight: lead by example and watch the world change.

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Fabian November 2, 2010 at 9:14 am

Thanks, Jonathan, I like your notion of mixing personal happiness with innovation. As you say, a personal approach always will feed back to the world at large, and it’s interesting to observe where we will go from there!

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Greg November 3, 2010 at 7:23 pm

I echo Jonathan’s sentiment that this linked interview format was a nice change from the guest interview. It’s a nice way of introducing your readers to another writer who might interest them.

Your statement that “nobody thinks about the possibility of creating” his or her own dream job reflects how many people do not look beyond traditional notions of careers and jobs. We cannot sustain the growth-based consumerism of the past few decades. It already feels like the end stages of a massive pyramid scheme. We have to create new types of work that can be sustained and lead to different types of growth, not just the economic. The idea of community, not just in the pre-industrial sense, but something that reflects on our present circumstances and builds toward the 22nd and later centuries has to be considered. Perhaps it will be some combination of physical and virtual communities.

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Fabian November 5, 2010 at 9:56 am

Thank you Greg! I agree with you that a combination of physical and virtual communties may be the future. In the political sphere, this will probably mean that nation states will continue to lose importance, while both supranational and local organizations become more powerful. At least, this is what seems logical to me: People will care about what happens in their neighborhood, and they will care about both similar-minded people all over the planet and global solutions to global problems, i.e. work and environmental issues.

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janet November 5, 2010 at 3:46 am

your first question is a great one! we are similar in this regard.. I have a hard time asserting myself as an entrepreneur/businesswoman because I don’t like consumerism and entrepreneurship can be another type of social ladder just as well… still just getting started. Because on a practical sense, I need to start making money again!!

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Fabian November 5, 2010 at 9:59 am

I feel you, Janet… same thing happening over here. Hope your design business is starting well! I think that entrepreneurs have the opportunity to give something back to society, and we can avoid falling into the consumerist trap. But the whole surroundings of business men and business women can be tough for people like us – “just another type of social ladder”, as you say correctly.

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