Unicorns, bunnies and fishes: a reality check

I’ve not had a rant for a while.  My last few rants were more than a year ago.  I railed against aspects of the restrictions associated with the lockdown.  Truth be told, I was probably railing at the virus itself.  As if it gives a damn.  I might come back to that but I suspect we’re done with it. In more ways than one.

That said, it’s been a rough couple of years.  My work all but disappeared and my side hustles, bar one (blogging), hustled themselves into oblivion; one for three months, another for at least 18.  A third may never sidle back.  We shall see.  Those that have returned form, in combination, how we’re beginning to get back on track.  Sort of.  Very. Slowly.

With hindsight, the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) we all felt in the early days of the pandemic, paralysed everyone.  I look back and other than those relatively regular rants, there is nothing.  I remember planting myself in front of my desk.  Every. Day.  Except Saturday and Sunday.  Then it was the couch.  With the laptop in front of me.  Having anticipated shifts in the economy and my working life (I wrote a little about it here), I brushed up my teaching knowledge and skills with a course on teaching English as a foreign language.  I passed with flying colours and was happily introduced to a slew of new and exciting online resources and tools.  The UK-based entity helped “graduates” to find jobs.  Or so they said.

Rabbit holes and dead ends

It was not help as I understood had expected it to be.  Rather, it was a jobs board and, I suspect that they benefitted from each placement;  there was no real effort to match a successful student with a suitable job.  During and after the course, I painstakingly set up a website, a wikki and profile after profile on so many sites I lost count.  Talk about a digital footprint…  I found myself down rabbit hole after rabbit hole.  I applied for online roles and did the mandatory (unpaid for) tests; sent the certificates, CV and blurb.


Well, that’s not entirely true:  the feedback suggested that I was one of a few things:  too old;  too diffident; over-qualified and to add insult to injury, South African.  The last suggested I was not a first language English speaker – even with a degree in English Literature (from a reputable university and which regularly “sends” proportionately more Rhodes scholars to Oxford and Cambridge than any other South African university), born in the UK and of British parentage.  It was all rather insulting, but I sucked it up. If there was feedback at all.

Many of the platforms expect one to upload share rather intimate information and then wait.  One even required a criminal check and when our local police station issued it, didn’t accept it.  Because it didn’t come from a “recognised private provider” which, incidentally, required a 200km drive to another city and an exorbitant fee.  (Which, in turn, begs more questions…)

The writing was on the wall

As the virus spread across the world, not only did everybody go home, but everybody went online.  What had been a very large pond, suddenly shrunk and was teeming with little fishies that were willing to work for next to nothing.  I’ll return to this.

Plan B

I did have a plan B – or so I thought:  I’d focus on online writing tutoring.  People still need to write and hone their skills.  I’d offer an asynchronous service that wasn’t time zone sensitive.  That didn’t work, either.  People don’t have to learn to write:  they make use of online tools, job platforms and writing mills.

If you can’t beat them, join them

If there is one thing I know I can do, and do well, it’s write:  for a range of audiences.  I returned to a couple of online gig platforms that I’d joined a million years ago before they had become ubiquitous, and, truth be told, still in the days of dial-up internet. I got a job:  in a writing mill.


It took me a while to work out two things:  rates are usually per word – completed.  No consideration is given to time involved in research, let alone revisions.  Rates don’t correlate for the country in which I live, but rather for countries where folk can survive on US $ 10 a day.  I kid you not.  They say so when they bid for work.  I need six- to seven times that.  Secondly, looking at the briefs:  coherent, quality writing is not the priority.  One erstwhile “client” had me write articles that never saw the light of day and had a modus operandi that is, at best, described as questionable.

Looking for local work was impossible:  the country had shut down and people were being laid off.  It didn’t matter that I live in a remote little village.

Remote jobs

When gigs didn’t materialise, I started applying for part time, remote jobs.  Part time because what I make from my stall at the village market, once it resumed in July 2020, paid the grocery bill.  One doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  For a patch, I did have a job – locally – and for which I was hand-picked.  I loved it.  The company ironically, was a victim of the intra-pandemic, between lockdown-euphoria.  More lockdowns happened and the small, already vulnerable company had to downsize.

What I learned

I learned something very important:  I could potentially get a job and move away from gigs.  That, locally, my contribution was valued;  I am not too old.  However, this was not the space in which I had played for thirty years and although I have a prodigious portfolio of work, it is specialist writing, and I didn’t have a network in the creative sector.

I am a creative

Learning and embracing that I am a creative has been quite a thing.  I’d never been encouraged to think thought of myself as creative.  That was the preserve of artists, novelists and published writers.  Not play cooks and researchers who cook for a village market and write for other people. A fellow creative and photographer started connecting me with online groups.

Guess what?

I started finding work.  Not in spades and not at rates comparable with my old day job, but at rates recommended for the sector in South Africa. Equally important:  the work was valued.

I also discovered that the low level, casual design (as I’ve now learned to think of it) might earn me a couple of bucks.  No, I’m not trained, but my leaflets and flyers are good enough for an internationally acclaimed stylist and a former international photo journalist, so they’re good enough to start another portfolio.

Then, like with writing, the more I fiddle about – with real projects – the “betterer” I get.  That said, I am by no means an expert; I defer to the experts for real, professional graphic work.

Playing to one’s strengths

Having blown my own trumpet, about what I can do, I also prefer to play to my strengths.  There is a lot of truth in the expression, Jack (or Jill) of all trades and master (or mistress) of none. Similarly, the cautionary spreading one’s self too thin also applies. Related to that is the wonderful Afrikaans expression, goedkoop is duurkoop.  The literal translation:  that if one buys something that’s cheap, it ends up being a very expensive experience.  This last, by working for writing mills, I’ve learned, also works in the reverse.

What, on earth is she on about?

I am increasingly seeing advertisements for unicorns. The job specs are shopping lists:  employers and contractors will only consider candidates unicorns (their word). They must have expert skills and be qualified in everything from writing, newsletter creation, design and management, to virtual bottle-washing.  Literally and figuratively.  For a pittance. Applicants need need only two years’ experience.  To have honed those skills and acquired that knowledge, I’d hazard a guess, applicants need to have several qualifications and worked – without a break – 24/7, 365 days a year for the years they’ve studied and for those two years.  And, in (my perhaps not so) humble opinion, will still not have reached a level to be considered expert in all, let alone one of those specialities.

I know that because –

It’s only since I’ve been blogging – now into my ninth year – that my other writing skills have really developed.   And I’ve been writing – if I include my university years – for forty years.  Why only now?  Because I have been writing different things, experimenting and stretching myself.  Again, blowing my own trumpet, I can write.  Well.  Now.  Better than I could when I started my blogging journey.

Unicorns do not exist

Do these employers know that a unicorn is a mythical creature?

Anyone who is stupid enough applies for that type if position, I’d suggest, sets themselves up for failure the moment the honeymoon is over.  If one gets that far.

Having said that I’ve dabbled in design, I also manage my own and others’ social media presences.  Again, it’s low level and, to be honest, I’m not sure I want to reach expert level.

Why don’t I want to be an expert?

Because I like writing and I’m good at it.  I am already an expert.  Suddenly taking on jobs that get me out of my comfort zone is one thing – there’s plenty about writing jobs that do that – but diluting my focus, will neither earn me more, nor make me, from a client’s perspective, more productive.

Sunday supper preparation. Photo: Selma

Also, good writing takes time.  It’s an iterative process and, with some clients, can also be discursive.  Just like preparing a good meal or a training session, the 80:20 principle applies.  The time it takes to read a good piece, enjoy a delicious meal, or run a training session, is probably 20% of time it actually takes to write or

More Sunday supper prep. Photo: Selma

prepare any of those things.  If that.

That’s often the bit that readers, clients and diners (who don’t write, cook and host dinner parties), just cannot will not comprehend.


Accepting my fishy, rabbit status

Unlike mythical unicorns, there are certain fish and bunnies that are considered kind of real – Pisceans and Chinese rabbits.  Millions of people around the world follow their precepts.  I admit that when I read this, I do see elements of myself. I acknowledge that I’m an often flappy Pisces, chasing my tail.  Similarly, I see bits of myself in among Chinese rabbits.

Over the decades, along with writing, I have developed other skills:  like strategic and lateral thinking, planning and management.  I’ll not labour them except to make the point that along with writing, I can (and evidently do) add value to projects, which enriches my writing work.

I’ll stay my course, but don’t confine me to a single, narrow lane. As a more mature, experienced gig-working writer I plan to continue adding value, based on my qualifications, life and work experience where I am able.

I am no unicorn and nor am I super woman.  I’m happy with that.

That is my reality.  Check.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script
If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

  • Join Hive using this link and then join us in the Silver Bloggers’ community by clicking on the logo.
Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.


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