Gone are the good old days when a worker was hired by a big corporation and retired 40 years later with a gold watch and a fat pension.
In contrast, many new graduates find jobs with startups, pursue their own businesses, piece together odd jobs and freelance gigs, and otherwise cobble together a living. Surprisingly, they are discovering that independent work suits them – and their bank accounts.
What Does Success Look Like in the Gig Economy?
What motivates those who are successful in this new economy shift is different than the financial security and predictability our parents sought. Instead, a recent Harvard Business Review story notes that “people in the gig economy must pursue a different kind of success – one that comes from finding a balance between predictability and possibility, between viability (the promise of continued work) and vitality (feeling present, authentic, and alive in one’s work).”
Some of us were thrust into entrepreneurism against our will as cutbacks and layoffs dissolved our jobs. But many are thriving, which allows us to build our own environments, discover the routines that work best for us and our families, and do work that provides us with a sense of higher purpose.
A 2018 Gallup poll shows that 29 percent of U.S. workers are already gig entrepreneurs. Intuit expects those involved full-time in the gig economy to rise to 43 percent by next year.
Born This Way?
Does one need to be a ‘born entrepreneur’ in order to thrive in this volatile, changing economy? The answer is no. If you aren’t born with the necessary qualities and habits, some can cultivate them in order to be successful as a freelancer.
Keeping a Schedule
According to the HRB story, “a growing body of research has shown that elite athletes, scientific geniuses, popular artists, and even everyday workers use routines to enhance focus and performance. The professionals we spoke with tend to rely on them in the same way.”
Dress for Success
Most freelancers and small-business owners I know say that dressing for the office – even if your office is like mine in the middle of the living room – is an important psychological step toward success. I own the fact that I sometimes meet writing deadlines wearing my robe and slippers, but those mornings are thankfully few.
Incorporating ‘Life’ into Work
I take breaks every half-hour or so to do a load of laundry, mop up the kitchen floor, or make a personal phone call. By paying attention to household details in the middle of the workday I am able to feel accomplished on two fronts. And, it breaks up the constant sitting that goes with working at a computer.
Routines involving sleep, meditation, nutrition, or exercise “often have a ritual element that enhances people’s sense of order and control in uncertain circumstances,” HRB notes.
Purpose Begets Success
The Harvard story cites finding the purpose in one’s work as the most important thing that keeps gig economy entrepreneurs steady, focused, and inspired.
“A big distinction between successful independents and the ones who aren’t or go back [to corporate jobs] is getting to that place of knowing what you’re meant to do,” an executive coach told the publication. “That gives me resilience for the ups and downs. It gives me the strength to decline work that isn’t in alignment. It gives me a quality of authenticity and confidence that clients are drawn to. It’s helpful to building or maintaining the business and serving the people I am here to serve.”
Become a People Person
Whether it’s a role model, mentor, or colleague, we need to reach out to other people during our otherwise-lonely days of toiling in the gig economy. In fact, researchers warn of a “loneliness epidemic” hitting workplaces – something independent workers risk every day.
In my case, I try to ensure that I get to a networking event, attend a professional development course, or even meet a friend for lunch every week. Setting outside dates keeps me faithful to my deadlines so that I can carve out the time for socializing, and these appointments give me something to look forward to.
Significantly, it helps to have a spouse or partner as dedicated to your gig economy success as you are. I’m fortunate that my husband is my biggest cheerleader.
Benefits of the Gig Economy
Creativity, personal growth, and even productivity are some of the benefits flexible, unpredictable “gigs” can offer; confidence that we can set our own career course and achieve a level of financial freedom is another.
As HBR notes, “Many we spoke to believe they wouldn’t be able to find the same mental space or strength in a traditional workplace. Martha, the consultant who compared herself to a trapeze artist, recalled that she became ‘much more successful professionally’ and ‘much more comfortable in my identity personally’ when a trusted counselor helped her reframe — and own — her struggle, rather than seek ways to evade it. “’She helped me understand that I could think of myself, which I now do, as a pioneer,’ Martha told the publication. ‘I don’t fit in any categories that exist in organizations, and it’s more effective for me to be independent.’ “Seen this way, discomfort and uncertainty were not just tolerable but affirming — signs that she was just where she needed to be.”
Is the Entrepreneurial Life for you?
HRB said that the people they interviewed built their gig economy success by creating environments built “around place, routines, purpose, and people, which help them sustain productivity, endure their anxieties, and even turn those feelings into sources of creativity and growth.’
One consultant told the publication, “There’s a sense of confidence that comes from a career as a self-employed person. You can feel that no matter how bad it gets, I can overcome this. I can change it. I can operate more from a place of choice as opposed to a place of need.”