Work is Paid Skills and Knowledge Training (the Gig economy is nothing new for some of us)
Shifting your perspectives about the personal value of a job helps you chart an interesting career path (and life!)
Work, especially when we first enter the full time workforce, is often seen as a means to various ends: money, benefits, a car, a partner, a home. You put in your time and are compensated. If you do a good job, you get promoted and get compensated more. And that basically is the pattern for the rest of your life, barring any catastrophes or major successes. Or at least that used to be the case.
Gigs: Constant reinvention, constant new skills development, stacking of experiences
The Gig Economy Meme says we’re moving into an economy where worker and job flexibility take on an entirely different model, one where we move from role to role based on our skills and experience and we are not penalized for moving. Unfortunately our education system does a dismal job of preparing us for this kind of work life. They still train for conventional jobs and that is starting to cause problems across society. Those who can adapt quickly move to the heights and those seeking security are losing it and are unable to understand why. The solution is to teach people to view work as a continuation of one’s education, a continuation that you get paid for. If you can make this perspective shift work for you, it opens up an entirely new way to view your life and careers as a continuum, one you can design and adapt to rapidly changing opportunities.
If you have worked in tech, you’ve probably heard of a ‘full stack’ developer. This refers to a software or hardware designer who can do it all from initial concept to delivered product. They are, as you might guess, rare birds. However, this model can be applied to the way you stack experiences, skills, and knowledge over time. To do this you look at your current knowledge and evaluate areas where you need to know more, then you determine where you can learn these new skills and get paid in the process. This can mean giving up the illusion of security and trying something new and intimidating. That determination was something I consciously made many years ago and it has led me down a pretty interesting rabbit hole.
A conscious decision to not be bored
I turned 64 last week, an age that is well above the average here on Medium, judging by the pictures of other writers. Unlike many in my age group, I never embraced the idea of a lifelong career or job in one field with one principle skill set. In fact, I have had multiple careers and developed the required skill sets for each:
- Retail Manager. Skills: Scheduling, Inventory, P&L, managing people, dealing with customers
- Musician. Skills: bass playing, song writing, performance, promotion, recording, dealing with record companies, touring, production
- Painting business. Skills: painting, finding customers, learning to work physically hard, problem-solving
- Real Estate Broker. Skills: sales, prospecting, tracking data, renovation
- Title Examiner. Skills: real estate law, research
- Car salesman. Skills: high volume selling, sales management, developing rapport
- Author. Skills: writer, self-promoter, proposal development, public speaking, self-motivation
- Recording studio owner and producer. Skills: acoustic design, audio technology, artist management, audio production
- Marketing writer and strategist. Skills: evaluating business goals, developing creative and branding concepts, scriptwriting, copywriting, client management, business travel, conference planning, event planning
- Founder, web development and marketing company. Skills: web architecture, web writing, SEO, CMS, digital marketing, managing difficult partner situation
- Co-founder and Board Member, not-for-profit. Skills: member development, planning, event management, politics, not for profit finance, board management
- General manager, growth software company. Skills: business management, CEO management, equity investments, large scale sales management, training
- Director marketing, software startup: Skills: scaling business, hiring, content development, website management, search engine marketing, mergers and acquisitions
- Marketing consultant. Skills: drug trials process, CEO planning, FDA, strategic marketing, tactical marketing
- Content strategist and writer. Skills: Content management, content marketing, advanced SEO, advanced WordPress
- Novelist. Skills: long form fiction writing, storytelling
And I’m not done. I understand this looks pretty random, but having watched my life unfold, I can see the patterns. This is over forty years of time and my experience and perspective changed radically. In my twenties music was the consuming passion and much of the work I chose was chosen because I could work around my performance and practice schedule. Being in a popular original band required developing promotional and organizations skills not unlike those used in business (for all intents and purposes the band was a business). We became so good at promotion that all four band members eventually went into advertising and marketing, eventually owning agencies.
The unifying factor was communication
I am a professional communicator. This thread weaves its way through all these roles, even the painting business. I got into that business by accident but I learned a physical skill, one that helped me make a living in between other gigs. More important, it taught me to respect all work well done, and to disrespect laziness and sloppy work. There is only one level to aspire to in a job like that.
Music is communication. Sales is communication. Writing is communication. Marketing is communication, and fiction writing is communication. The skills interlock. And I got paid for all of them.
What about education?
I have an English degree but to be honest, I do not think it had anything to do with any of this. I had more use for the accounting courses I took as a sideline. My real education was reading widely, meeting people from all walks of life, being curious, and pursuing things I found interesting, even if they led me down different paths.
We have a myth here in the West that a costly education is a requirement for survival, a myth that is rapidly unraveling and that has done serious damage to our culture. That damage comes in the form of unrealistic expectations, crazy student debt, realizations that a path you chose when you were still a kid is not what you want to do now, and a serious lack of hands-on skills. We have MBAs who have no practical business experience expecting to advise CEOS who built businesses, and PhDs who have spent the majority of their lives totally divorced from the non-academic world and unable to survive in that world. The disconnect between skilled workers and so-called knowledge workers is a serious problem. But you don’t have to participate in that system.
The point of this piece is that taking chances and trying different things should not be frightening. Evaluate your primary skills and look for ways to leverage them. Never stop learning. When someone asks you about a skill or knowledge you don’t have, tell them ‘I don’t know it but I’ll find out’. Then get a job or gig where you can learn it. And get paid in the process.