I wake up every morning at around 6:30. I wait for the shower if I don’t get there first. I get dressed, pop a diet coke, and sit down to my computer. I am now at work. Although I’m not technically employed, right now I’m doing web projects for a select set of clients. The work is flexible, and I’m available to perform any sort of errands a teacher’s husband needs to do. Every day is a series of decisions that could potentially affect the rest of my career. Should I work on this project, or that project? This proposal promises more money, but that personal project without a client could promote my business. Even writing this blog is a business decision. Sometimes I wish I could just go to an office 8 hours a day and pick up a direct deposit pay stub like everyone else.
But then again, what everyone else am I talking about? Most people my age are in the same boat when it comes to employment. They might not be fencing web projects from a basement apartment office like me, but consider the following. I have never held a job since graduating university that had any expectation of permanence. Okay, there was one, but my whole department was outsourced before the end of the year. Saddest Christmas party ever, let me tell you. When a friend gets laid off, it doesn’t quite have the stigma it used to. You just grab a beer and move on. The security that our parents had may not have been the best idea to begin with. General Motors went bankrupt because of the health and retirement benefits it had to pay over the years.
It sounds like we’re working more for diminishing returns, but there is a trade-off here. Sure, there’s no payroll department shoveling money into my account every month, but when I’m done the work I need to do, I move on to some other client or business that needs me. I don’t have an office per se, but I’m also no more than 20 feet from my own fridge and television either. In turn, the people I work for run with less overhead, resulting in savings that they can pass on to the end consumer. Everyone is producing more work with less resources, and over time that’s what a liberal capitalist society is wont to do.
If there any disadvantages to this situation, it is that there are a lot of unwritten rules of the office that no longer apply to the new workaday world. Phrases like “paying your dues” don’t mean much when your contract runs out in six months. Should workplaces have the right to admonish you when you look for new work while on their payroll? How do you even look for that new work when simply sending in a resume is such a crap shoot? How much should you invest in your own computer hardware and software? These are tough questions, but they’re certainly not intractable. The industrialized world didn’t get its start from people who were just looking to follow the rules. There was a time before people decided what a resume looked like or what a bathroom break policy was. Now we have to make those decisions ourselves and stick to what works. When you’re in control of your own destiny, there’s no one looking over your shoulder to see if you put the semicolon in the right place. It’s just you and the real world.