Most people on this big, round planet can tell you exactly what most of their days will look like for the next year. And for most of them that’s fine. That’s what they want. So good for them. We’re not here to talk about them. We are here to take a look at those who aren’t. For a constantly growing number of people, that kind of life is no longer sexy. It’s actually a mood killer. Because we’ve become more sensitive to our own unhappiness and lack of meaning in life. It’s sources are not many. It usually comes down to the work we do, our personal lives and the balance between the two. When you don’t like your job, you start to calculate how much of our time and energy it takes away from the things you feel passionate about. In this context many professionals today lean towards independent work. Some become freelancers, some start their own business, some turn to digital nomadism. But these are not the only options. Surprisingly enough independent work can be done as an employee too, if you have a cool employer that empowers and supports you.
Our relationship with work and jobs
We’ve discovered that if we do something we like for a living, it doesn’t feel like work at all. And overtime isn’t really overtime in independent work. It becomes time spent doing something cool. Sure, we haven’t discovered fire here. Let’s be real. Almost all freelancers, solopreneurs and digital nomads discover this early into the process. But it’s something you have to experience for yourself to be sure it’s for you.
As far as our work education goes, for most it stops at getting a job. Growing up we’re taught that “job” is something we absolutely have to do. There’s no choice. And the truth is, if you want to have a constant income without a lot of hassle, becoming someone’s employee is the way to go. However, after getting hired and doing your job for some time, you start figuring out that you don’t have freedom. That decisions belong to those who are the bosses, the managers, the majority holders. And your only choices are whether you do the work on time or not, whether you give it your best or just enough and whether you stay there or change employers. That’s the system and it’s been like this for some time now.
And speaking of work related education, have you noticed how coo-coo are future entrepreneurs perceived? I’ll bet you anything, anything on this green Earth that when a dude announced he’s going to be an entrepreneur and turn his idea into a business, at least 2 people explained to him the many ways in which he’s going to fail gloriously. Same goes for freelancers and even more so for digital nomads. Hey, hater, how about some support for the dude with balls? No, no. Forget support. How about some respect?
Today’s work is actually labour
A bit of history & context
Lately I keep insisting on this split between labour (job) and work because really, I don’t think we understand the concept of work in this century properly. What we refer to as work is actually the job we do for a paycheck.
Labour is the type of work adopted during the industrial revolution. And thought that time is long gone, the idea of fixed schedule has remained mandatory for the vast majority. You’d think in capitalism things have the freedom of functioning however we deem them more efficient. So fixed hours aren’t really justified for all professions, are they? In plain English: as long as you deliver results, it shouldn’t really matter from where or how many hours per day you’ve worked to make them happen. Sadly, only few believe this. And those few have chosen to do independent work as most of today’s employers need you present at your desk at the office.
By the way, one of capitalism’s most famous myths is that it has reduced barbaric working patterns of the past. The argument is, in short, a comparison between the modern capitalist forty-hour week and the seventy-or eighty-hour week in the nineteenth century. This is how the assumption that the eighty-hour work week standard has been the status quo for centuries was born. You can read more about that in a great piece here.
Today’s labour environment
With today’s labour, you go to the office, punch in, do your daily 8 hours, go home. It doesn’t matter if your 8 hours are full or not, you have to stay at the office. So it’s not a matter of efficiency. It’s a matter of justifying your paycheck by staying at your desk. No matter what anyone tells you, taking a short day because you literally have nothing to do is severely frowned upon, especially in corporations. Indeed, some creative industries are more relaxed about this. You can get away with some short days per year and some work from home days. As well as some sick days that won’t come out of your vacation days. Same goes for some IT companies. But these are exceptions in a world of thousands of professions and millions of employers. It doesn’t sound like an environment in which independent work could happen, does it? But it can. There are some companies who offer flexible hours, work from home or remote work and they are not all big, rich corporations. It’s pretty much a management decision.
What if your employee life is more work and less labour
Let’s assume that you’re one of the lucky ones who is passionate about the job they do. It’s what you wished for. You’re fine with being an employee and your values match those of the company and management. It’s a match made in heaven. You basically do work at your job. Still, you’d like a bit more time off. So you try to become more efficient by doing things faster or better. If you do finish your tasks and prove yourself efficient your reward won’t be a short day or a day off at some point. It will, in fact, be more work. You will be asked to do extra tasks or be given extra responsibilities because you’ve shown that you can. You are a resource that can be used more and better.
Don’t get me wrong. Employers are not the devil. They don’t hate you, they don’t dislike you, they don’t think about new and creative ways of screwing you. I can promise you that. But they are businesses. They follow procedures, processes and make decisions that bring them profit. Giving you extra days off doesn’t bring in profit. That’s why you won’t get them. In the end, a business is a business and its objective is to be profitable. No hard feelings, nothing personal. Once you understand this, you might be a little less unhappy with your employer.
Work is work when it doesn’t feel like a chore
With work, especially independent work, you can plan your days and workflow as you wish. And you can steer towards projects you like. Something that brings you the tiniest bit of satisfaction or meaning. Work is what you do when you have choices. It’s projects and tasks you do because you like them and want them, not because they are an obligation. Eventually you’ll notice that you have a type of project or task you enjoy working on. So you’ll specialize in that.
As things seem to be evolving, specializing in something is the thing to do. So go for it. Choose what you like and become the best at it. But keep in mind that independent work comes with downsides: your income might not be stable and entirely predictable, you’ll have to do client service and be a gent about it, you’ll have to do project management and not screw up often, coordinate with different independent entities on the same project and you’ll be the only one responsible for not delivering on time or on quality. You are the business and you are the worker. So you’ll need to develop a business state of mind if you want to do successful independent work. Business state of mind + pro level skill of choice = successful independent work
Work as an employee – can it be done?
Of course there is work to be done as an employee as well. All you need is the right employer. One that is genuinely interested in helping you grow and develop into the specialist you wish to be not the one your employer needs you to be. Let’s say you’ve found that. Your job gives you the opportunity to do work and you love it. Your employer understands you and your needs and is prepared to meet most of them. Frustration might still appear because of lack of understanding how the actual business of your work functions. Piece of obvious advice: take the time to understand the economics of your job and your employer. This way you will understand the extras that are being asked of you and you can better decide if it’s something you want to be a part of or not, as opposed to ending up unhappy and frustrated at your employer.
Today’s terminology for doing work
The terminology of work is insanely vast. It seems like every few years someone discovers and defines a new system in which to do work and a new term appears. So far we have: employee, freelancer, solopreneur, remote worker, digital nomad. Yes, I know, I skipped the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is a subject way better covered by others and it’s definitely not something to aim for if you dream of freedom or a high level of independence.
– this is the Joe who gets a job at a company founded by someone else (usually an entrepreneur). The employee could do independent work if he finds the right employer.
– this is the Jane who figured out 9 to 5 isn’t an option because of many reasons. She is self-employed and figured out that financially she could be better off if she worked project based with fee per project and client based with monthly fee. In pop culture the freelancer is a sort of independent or project based employee. I don’t necessarily agree. I think a freelancer should think more like a solopreneur, but work less. The freelancer does independent work.
– this is the John who sets up and runs a business on his own. As opposed to the entrepreneurs who are managers (one of their goals being to grow the business and hire people), the solopreneur is more of a worker (he doesn’t hire, he outsources and collaborated with others when there is too much work to be done). The solopreneur does independent work.
The remote worker
– this is the Johanna who is employed at a company, but her employers allows her to do her work remotely. So she sometimes travels the world and punches in as many hours as she needs to finish her tasks. Sometimes she works from home, other times she just moves to a different country. Location is not an issue. The remote worker does independent work to a certain degree.
The digital nomad
– this is the Jeff who can be a remote worker, a solopreneur, a freelancer or even a small entrepreneur. His way of doing work isn’t what defines him. What defines him is his love for travel and independence. Digital nomad Jeff doesn’t have a place he calls home. He doesn’t have a nest. Instead he makes a home of each place he travels to. The digital nomad does independent work.
Fixing your job unhappiness
Our biggest enemy is comfort
A great man once said “the only thing standing between you and greatness is a comfortable paycheck”. Damn, he was right. If you think about it, most of us go out into the world from college planning security for our lives. We go looking for a safe job. And all our life is scheduled around that paycheck. “Let’s meet next Monday. That’s when I get my salary.” or “Let’s go on vacation on the 1st, the paycheck’s coming in and we’ll have money to lounge like kings” or “I’ll buy that TV on the 15th when I cash my paycheck” etc.
Guys, they key to you feeling satisfied with your life is in your own hands. So sit down and have a chat with yourself. Take a piece of paper and write down things on two columns: Column A – things I like to do, Column B – things I am good at. See which ones are in both columns and think about how you could use those to start doing some work. Then think about the format in which you’d like to do that work: employee, freelancer, solopreneur, digital nomad or entrepreneur. And then do it. Find that agency or corporation, find a legal form in which to work as a freelancer, create your company or whatever. Come on, you can do it. You have Google, Social Media friends and flesh and blood friends. Use them and fix what’s bothering your rather than complaining all day every day.