When we started building AND CO to solve our own problems of having to manage our admin work, I was realizing that I did not really identify myself with the term “freelancer.” Yes, technically I was earning my money mostly through 1099 jobs, but that was pretty much it. So when I wasn’t “freelance” and I didn’t have a traditional full-time job, what was I? Where did this identity crisis come from?
Freelance work is on the rise, no doubt about it. But I believe it’s not just freelance work, rather a completely new type of worker driven by millennial values, economic challenges and technological advancements.
People are changing
Millennials surpassed Gen X as the most prominent generation in the U.S. workforce.
This is a huge shift. Millennials have a vastly different mindset when it comes to their work and how they want to apply their skills. They are less driven by money and more by wanting to have impact on the world. In fact, more than 50 percent of millennials say they would take a pay cut to do the work that matches their values, and 90 percent want to use their skills for good.
Companies are changing
Richard Foster, a lecturer at the Yale School of Management, discovered that the average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today. He also found that on average an S&P company is now being replaced every two weeks, and estimates that 75 percent of the S&P 500 companies will be replaced by new ones by 2027.
Innovation is disrupting companies faster today and likely that disruption will only continue to accelerate. One indicator for that could be to look at the number of patents granted in the United States each year. Faster disruption means shorter life spans of companies, which in turn has an effect on the average time of employment. (As has the millennial mindset.)
So, statistically speaking, it will be impossible for millennials to have the type of careers their parents had.
The Evolution of Careers
Our parents, or the Baby Boomers, stuck with one job for 20 to 30 years and then they retired (are will soon retire). During those times, the companies they worked for also supported their workers with things like company-funded pensions. As for today: Well, pensions are extremely rare, unless if you are a big-time CEO at Fortune 500 company.
The Traditional Career
Generation X stuck with a job for 3 to 5 years before moving on to the next. During this time, a new type of employment became greatly popular: at-will employment. This new structure made it easy to leave a job at any point (or perhaps lose that job against your will) without cause, reason or the legal need of severance.
The Modern Career
In a modern career, we start to layer gigs. This does not mean that everyone is only going to be on 1099 arrangements, but no matter what form you filed you will always work on multiple things. In Dad’s career, stability came from sticking with a company until retirement, while for a millennial, stability comes from diversity.
In a world of at-will employment, it can be more secure and sustainable to be independent than to have a full-time job. If you lose your full-time job, you’re “out of a job.” But if you lose a client, well, you lost a client.
This makes the modern career structure a more sustainable one. And its stability comes from its diversification.
The stability of this diversification is heavily reliant on the strength of your relationships. Scooter Braun, most notable for discovering Justin Bieber, said it well in a “60 Minutes” interview: “The quality of your relationships is your true success … Money starts showing up because people bring you in.”
Yes, the guy responsible for Justin Bieber just schooled us. Feels weird, I know. But I’m a Belieber.
It’s also interesting to note that UpWork, a major marketplace for freelance gigs, just changed their billing model in the hopes of incentivizing longer-term relationships.
It’s not just about job security, either. A millennial worker wants to make a dent in the world and is actively seeking to do so. Catherine Baab-Muguira, a freelance writer for Quartz, said it well: “The side hustle offers something worth much more than money: A hedge against feeling stuck and dull and cheated by life.”
With more layers comes more complexity
The problem with the modern career is that it’s more complex to handle than your typical full-time job. As the diversity of jobs goes up, so does the admin work you need to take care of. Suddenly it’s not just about the work you’re doing but also about how you structure yourself as a business. From your base setup to managing your day-to-day. Everyone will have to run their career like a business. So everyone will have to think of themselves as ME AND CO.
I believe we are just in the middle of a major transition in the evolution of careers. So ,when people refer to a person as a “freelancer,” it’s mainly just because the term that describes them in this era of the modern career has not been coined yet.