My work situation is better than it's ever been.
You'll need some history to rejoice with me on this. I accidentally became a self-employed social researcher in January 1999 (a different story for another blog post). At the time I was employed one day a week running the local volunteer bureau, and self-employed as a freelance copy-editor and proof-reader. At first I thought the research project I'd landed would be a one-off - but it went well, and was publicised, and other people started asking me to do research for them.
So I thought I'd better brush up on my skills. My first degree was research-based, but it was also back in the early 1980s, so I enrolled in an MSc in Social Research Methods in autumn 1999. By 2001 I had a masters' degree and a love of studying I'd never developed in school or during my first degree (too busy having fun, ahem). Also, I'd learned how to work from 7 am to 10 pm, 7 days a week. I wanted to go on and do a PhD, but had some difficulty finding the right topic, university and supervisor, so didn't manage to enrol until July 2003.
I was awarded the PhD in December 2006. It's certainly helped me professionally; people take me more seriously. When I announce it in meetings, there's an almost tangible sense of relief - 'oh so she does know what she's doing, then.' (And I do - sometimes!!) Also, it's meant I mostly don't have to work such long hours, which has been a great relief.
Nevertheless, throughout the last ten years, work has been patchy. Sometimes there's been lots; I have had 'fat' years with good profits to show at the end. Other times I've gone for months with no work and no income, and barely broken even. Luckily I'm fairly prudent with my cash, and keep a hefty cushion in the bank agin the lean times. Even so, I nearly went under once, when a big project that was supposed to take nine months ended up taking 18 months (entirely due to the client's vacillations) so I didn't get paid for ages.
I don't mind having months with no work, because that provides me with writing time. I've learned to ride the ebbs and flows of an unpredictable workload, and to use my time constructively when I'm not earning. But now, for the first time, I have some job security.
At the end of April, I landed a two-year contract for a really interesting piece of research. The longest contract I'd ever worked on before was one year. The two-year contract, in itself, is only bread-and-butter money - but it means that, both this year and next, I'm not starting from a baseline of zero work and zero money.
Since then, I've landed five other contracts for work in this financial year: one for May (now finished), one for the summer (starting next month), and three for September-March, with some preparatory work to be done over the summer. I still have some capacity, but I don't actually need any more work until April 2010 - and I already have my bread-and-butter money for 2010-2011.
I have never been in such a strong position. The three Sep-Mar contracts were confirmed on Tuesday afternoon, and since then I've been feeling very strange. Peaceful, contented... I think it's called 'secure'. Of course I can't rest on my laurels; every project still has to be absolutely as good as I can make it. But I've never had it so good. And in the middle of a recession, too!