This post is courtesy of guest blogger: Danielle Fuller.
The gig economy – a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs – is undoubtedly on the rise. In 2016, the percentage of Americans working in the gig economy was estimated between 34-36%. And studies predict this will continue to rise, hitting nearly 45% by the year 2020. This is a dramatic change in the structure of our workforce.
Such a change demands that we adjust our understanding of the value of this fluid talent pool and get comfortable with leveraging it. And, as importantly for many of us, we need to get comfortable being part of the pool.
Many people I know have jumped from traditional roles within organizations of all sizes into positions of independence. And once they’ve made this decision, most go through an identity crisis at one time or another.
Entrepreneur. Independent contractor. Consultant. Freelancer. There are so many terms to describe people who work outside of a company structure – but each word seems both vacuous and loaded at the same time.
We struggle with the seemingly unanswerable question – “Now that I am not part of a company org chart, what in the world am I?”
We have grown accustomed to highfalutin titles like C(insert word of choice)O, Executive blah blah blah, Senior Partner of Something or Other, Runner of the World. We all know these titles are meaningless, but we still cling to them as part of our identities.
And so what happens when we voluntarily step away from these roles and start our own thing?
We don’t know what to call ourselves. Which means we struggle with how to market ourselves. Which means we can’t build our businesses. The solution is quite simple – select a “title” for yourself that describes what you do. Don’t fret so much about the perfection of this identifier – or if it encompasses anything and everything you could do. Make it appropriate and accurate for what you do do, and reflective of how you want to grow your business. And stick to it.
We feel the need to justify why we’re independent and (no longer) part of the corporate world. Don’t. Simply put, don’t. Being independent doesn’t require rationalization or explanation any more than choosing to be part of a more traditional company structure. So own your independence. Embrace it. And don’t apologize for it.
We need to rebuild our peer group. Being independent means you no longer have a built-in team or group of peers with which to collaborate. This can be lonely and isolating. But there is freedom in this. No longer are you tethered to a preselected group of peers because you work in the same company (let’s be honest, some of which you don’t even respect or want to spend time with). You have the opportunity to build your own “team” – a team of people whose opinions you value, present perspectives different than yours and understand how to build their own businesses (and the upsides and downsides of this).
We lose pre-defined success metrics. We are no longer striving for our next promotion, our x% salary increase year-on-year, our sizable bonus. Our “climbing the ladder” success signals are all gone. So create new metrics. Personal metrics and goals for which to strive. You don’t need “The Man” to define your success for you. Do it for yourself.
There is a cloud…and a silver lining.
Of course, all of the above is easier said than done. I still struggle. I was successful in a corporate environment. I like complex, matrix organizations (and figuring out how to navigate these to get work done). I like predictability and security. I have friends – and a husband – who still in this world. Friends getting bigger titles, taking in steady income, working with sizable clients and enjoying the stability of the mothership (whatever stability means, nowadays). Personal pangs of jealousy aren’t unheard of, I admit.
Then again, I remind myself that there are good reasons why I choose to be independent. Or, more aptly, in a partnership. I have flexibility in my schedule that I could never have if I worked in a traditional environment. I am able to choose the work that I want to do (and avoid that which I don’t) and I pick the people I want to work with. And I get to roll-up my sleeves to just get the work done and not be overrun with the operational management kerfuffle that so often consumes one’s time in an office environment.
Don’t get me wrong, the pendulum regularly shifts between freedom and fear. I think this is commonplace for those of us responsible for driving our own business – and income! We appreciate the freedom that we have everyday, and fear that the work will somehow dry-up. And while I’d love to think that this pendulum will slow at some point and freedom will prevail, I don’t think this will ever be the case. It’s simply a facet of being independent.
But I take heart in a perspective that a friend recently shared with me. That is, “vulnerability is the new self-confidence.” Now that’s a bit of a head-scratcher, isn’t it? But I think it’s right. As business moves toward a less traditional model, structures and rules need to be redefined. And we all need to be more open to seeking advice and support of those around us, not pretending we know it all. I feel confident that together we have the opportunity to craft a new economic model that works for our lives. Not the other way around.
Bio: Danielle Fuller is a founding member of The Strategy Guild – a collective of tenured brand, marketing and consumer-behavior experts. thestrategyguild.work