"Temping gives me the freedom to see the world on my own terms," said Meister, whose contract assignments have ranged from one day to six months. "You don't get that kind of freedom with a 'real' job, at least not without repercussions."
Sarah Kimmel from Lehi, Utah, uses the aforementioned freedom for another pursuit: raising her two young children.
"A full time job doesn't currently work into my life," said Kimmel, who telecommutes to her 20-hour-a-week contract position as an IT manager and gets health insurance through her husband's job. "I have to have a part-time job that I do from home."
Another perk of contract work: the ability to bypass staff meetings, annual reviews and the usual office melodrama. Instead you can focus on the work you were hired to do and get the heck out of the office at a reasonable hour.
"I don't have to go to all the company meetings and all the morale junk," my technical editor friend said of her full-time contract job. "They just had this one rah-rah meeting that was three hours long and I thought, 'Thank god I don't have to go.'"
Allison Grace, an HR professional in Charlotte, North Carolina, found leaving her 15 years as an employee for contract and project-based work equally liberating.
"It was like a switch went off in my head and I immediately switched from employee mode to contractor mode," she said. "I wasn't bothered as much by the nonsense going on in the office and the office politics. There is almost a feeling of being able to rise above it all and not get mired down in it, which I really enjoy."
As an added bonus, some contractors claim this limited in engagement in the theatrics of the workplace has done wonders for their stress level.
"I feel a lot less pressure than I used to as a full-time employee," said Cari Goodrich, a Palo Alto, California, publicist on a month-to-month contract with a technology firm. "I can be as successful as I want or I can be as unsuccessful as I want. It's made work so much more enjoyable."
It's well-known that contract workers don't share the same corporate benefits as their employee counterparts. Some who work through employment agencies earn a handful of paid days off a year or have the option to buy into a group health insurance plan. Some even receive modest 401(k) matching. Most, however, get zip in the benefits department.
While a hardship for some contractors (especially those earning a low hourly rate or saddled with health concerns that could shut them out of the individual insurance market), others say their hourly rate more than makes up for the lack of employer-subsidized benefits.
"I have had many employers offer me full-time, on-staff positions, but I prefer to remain a contractor," Brannigan said. "The main reason is the money. Contract engineers make approximately twice the amount of staff engineers. I am single with no dependents, so I really don't need the benefits and prefer the cash."
"Last year, I took six weeks of vacation and still made more money than [a] full-time psychiatrist," said Dawnmarie Risley, a contract psychiatrist who works with inmates at a prison in Fresno, California "Sure, I don't have health care from my employer, but individual insurance is only about $300 per month. With the money I make as a contractor, it more than pays for my benefits."