The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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Two strangers meet at an event. What’s the first thing they talk about (after the weather)? What they do for a living.

That’s because occupations, and how successful or affluent we are as a result of them, have become a measure of social standing. If you have a big house you spend very little time in because you’re too busy working to pay it off, then according to most people you’re a success (as long as you have an important-sounding job title like ‘Senior Lead for Intra-Departmental Knowledge Acquisition’).

At the root of this issue is the convention for most people to have only a single vocation which inevitably comes to define who they are. I say inevitable because it’s what people spend 40 hours a week, 230-odd days a year doing – leaving them very little time to develop other hobbies and interests that make for worldly individuals. It’s also a situation perpetuated by well-intentioned but misguided career advisors like the ones at my old secondary school.

I once knew a guy from South Africa (granted: not a region synonymous with social justice so his nationality probably isn’t relevant) who’d been a soldier, a violinist, an IT consultant and a fruit importer – jobs that had made him memorably worldly and perceptive. Having many vocations throughout your life seemed perfectly natural to him: “Why would anyone want to do the same thing for the rest of your life?” he said. “I think ten years is about right for anyone, then you’re ready for a change.” I took his career to be a mixture of talent and opportunity, guided by an underlying set of principles about what he wanted from life. What more could anyone wish for?

This is why labelling ourselves with job titles is total dog shit

Next time you’re at a party and you spot those two clueless dorks introducing themselves, after they’ve run out of things to talk about ask them if they do things that, strictly speaking, go beyond what they’re supposed to do at work (I’m not referring to monkey’s tea-breaks). I bet they admit to it. Then gob in their drinkies because they’ve just proved that human endeavour rarely fits into neat little silos. In fact ‘silo-based working’ is the bane of many corporate giants: people not cooperating because they’re trying, and failing, to live up to the blinkered, inherently selfish job titles they’ve been labelled with.

So it’s pointless trying to pigeon-hole people with neat little tag lines. I think it’s a natural human thing to have many skills, talents and interests which contribute to your identity, so why define your life by just a single occupation?

For example, I see myself as capable of many things: freelancer, writer, baker, brewer, cyclist and handyman. Now let’s compare that with my favourite nebulous job title: ‘Early adopter and national strategic resource lead’. What the fuck does that even mean? I don’t even know and I was paid to do it for a year. Worse still, I worked with people who actually aspired to convoluted job titles with important sounding affixes like ‘senior lead’ and ‘officer’ and expect you to look admiringly at them when they cough them up.

Permit me to go Marxist on your ass for a moment because job titles are actually a symptom of something more sinister. They alienate us from producing anything useful and render us useless information conduits in a needlessly protracted process of work for works sake. Therein lies dissatisfaction and unhappiness old Karl suggested.

It’s time to turn this rant into something constructive

So my point is that job titles are a swindle and I’d like to alter the narrative when we establish identity. So that when two dorks meet at a party they make their passions the first thing they talk about, instead of an apologetic sequence of corporate gob farts. Secondly, I believe we should measure our success not in transient terms like how poisonous your car is, but in factors that affect your well-being. Better measures might be the positive effects on your locality, how creatively challenged you are and whether or not you go home every night wanting to kill yourself.

That way perhaps more people will remember that there’s more to life than work.

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