It's work, but not as we know it


Comment: Lessons from the post-'job for life' economy

23rd October 2015
By Rowland Manthorpe

Last week, at the age of thirty-two and eleven-twelfths, I started full-time work for only the second time in my life. The last time I was employed so gainfully, Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. According to my calculations, I have spent more time watching television than I have in full-time employment. (To be honest, it's not even close.) 'Portfolio careers' are all the rage these days, with self-employment accounting for 90 per cent of new jobs added since 2008, but I was siphoning wifi from cafés way before it became fashionable.

It's hard to claim the last six years of self-employment have taught me anything very concrete. Unless you're a software engineer, freelancing in your twenties is too fugitive and incoherent to produce anything as definitive as 'lessons'. If, like me, you're working in this way to buy time for poorly paid creative projects, you tend to end up doing lots of different types of work, with the only link between them your increasingly troubled sense of self. Nevertheless, in order to mark my belated transition into adult life, here are some fragments of advice.

People using laptops in a coffee shop

Get into coffee,

because you'll need something to buy when you need a café to work in. Also, so that when you send breezy, begging emails, you can end them by saying, "I'd love to buy you a coffee." Then you can have meetings in coffee shops where nothing is decided and afterwards you're not sure if it was even a meeting anyway.

As well as from coffee shops, you'll work at home, so your home will be an office. Your bed will be an office. Everywhere is an office, except your office, which is done out to look like a home.

Don't get too attached to your colleagues,

because you will be leaving soon. Even if you don't leave, they will. Stay in touch once they leave, because they are part of your network. You have a network now. It contains everyone you've ever known, except your closest friends and your family. These people can give you nothing, so keep time with them to a minimum.

If you're working from home,

you will need to venture out in search of human contact. Go to 'drinks', which is what will take the place of parties, when parties mysteriously peter out some time in your late twenties. Some of these drinks will be work events masquerading as social events, some will be social events masquerading as work events. Expect to lose track, but not to the extent that you're ever totally fooled.

Most of your jobs will come through people you know, so your presence at these drinks is also networking. Although networking is creepy and old-fashioned, so don't do that; or do it, but call it 'staying in touch'.

Having worked hard at play,

play hard at work, because all the best work is done by people playing. Creativity is the new productivity, in the same way that passion is the new commitment. Strangely, despite this constant creativity, you will find yourself needing a creative outlet. That's what your side-projects are for. Expect to have three side-projects, one of which is your real job. Don't expect to know which one that is.

Prepare to be your own boss,

even when you have a boss, and for that boss to ask you to manage yourself. Tell your boss that you're looking forward to taking ownership of your project. This is known as 'managing upwards'. The project is yourself. However, ownership is an illusion, so you own this self-project only in the sense you own your flat, your debt and the photos you posted on Facebook.

Coherent narratives are another illusion, so although you will have a CV, you will not recognise the person on it. Most of this CV will be on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Keep your profiles updated, but don't expect to know why. Say, "I don't know where I'm going to be in six months, much less five years." Nevertheless, have a five-year plan prepared in case somebody asks you about it an interview. This interview  – which will never be referred to as an interview, only as 'a quick chat' – will also be over a coffee.

 Be prepared to sell yourself – it can't be 'selling out',

because that doesn't exist. Believe your own hype, then be demoralised by the reality. Don't expect to know where any of this is leading, yet at the same time be constantly waiting for the moment when it all becomes clear.

Complain about this state of affairs, but don't imagine you'll want to go back. If someone offered you a 'job for life' tomorrow, you'd only have to turn it down.

This article originally appeared on Medium. It is not available for republishing through Creative Commons licence

Image by Alper Çuğun via Creative Commons 2.0


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