Job Losses, Like Coronavirus, Could Be Nearing a Second Wave

Of course the first wave never really ended, but let’s move past that.

This is what the official unemployment rate looks like, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (PDF), as mapped out over the last two years.

The problem has been exacerbated by the continued resistance of Congressional Republicans to pass another round of economic assistance, meaning smaller businesses in particular aren’t able to rehire or recall workers that may have been furloughed or laid off in the past several months.

Being unwilling to entertain the possibility of including aid to state and local governments, along with continued health-driven school closures is also having a massive impact on public education. Sector employment is already dramatically down and not likely to get better anytime soon given parents are keeping kids out of public schools while those who are wealthier opt for private education. That’s just one way the pandemic has exposed or heightened economic inequality and mobility, and the impact of those disparate educational systems is something we’ll feel as a society for decades.

While the current unemployment rate as of September 2020 stood at 7.9 percent, a fall from its recent high of almost 15 percent, it’s still double what it was at the beginning of the year and what it has been for much of the last four years. And that is not even a real number given people who have either opted out of the job market or who have come to the end of their unemployment benefits and therefore fall off the official roles.

When you add those individuals back into the calculations *and* include those who don’t even make $20,000/year, the total unemployment/underemployment rate becomes 54 percent for White Americans and 60 percent for Black Americans. That’s just one example of how the recession has hit non-white demographics more harshly and a recovery (such as it is) that has also been disproportionally bad for those same groups, widening the already substantial racial wealth gap.

Those who belong to a union, less than 12 percent of the U.S. workforce, are more likely to receive unemployment benefits, in large part because those unions have not only made sure such benefits are part of worker contracts but are also resources helping those filing for aid navigate what can often be a tricky and difficult system. Meanwhile, those who fall into the “long term unemployed” category – meaning they’ve been out of work for over six months – is growing rapidly and, because of their precarious financial status, are feeling more of the economic hurt than others.

As of now nearly 13 million Americans are unemployed. And, just as there’s a new wave of Covid-19 infections across the country that’s threatening school and business reopenings, there’s about to be a massive wave of additional layoffs that’s going to be felt throughout the economy. There are at least a few reasons why that seems likely:

First: As stated earlier, small businesses who have been counting on another Federal relief package are going to be disappointed as those talks remain, for lack of a better word, stalled. Without that assistance, they just can’t keep going. Unlike the biggest companies, which have only gotten bigger as they take advantage of opportunities afforded by everyone’s lifestyle and work life shift, small businesses are 1) stuck in an endless cycle of hope and disappointment when it comes to recovery, and 2) additionally hurt by cuts to Post Office services they rely on.

Meanwhile, those who work on Wall Street would like the recession to be over now, thank you very much, banks record record profits and the most wealthy citizens – those more likely to own individual stocks – have become even wealthier over the course of the pandemic.

If “trickle down economics” were really a thing, which it’s not, that accumulated wealth might be helping some of those in more dire need. Instead the working poor are pushed even closer to the brink of failure because of reduced hours, insufficient support and other problems and an eviction crisis across the country is hitting those most vulnerable harder than others.

Second: The rate of corporate failure is going to get worse. An increasing number of companies are only alive because they’ve gone heavily in debt to continue operating, becoming so-called “zombie companies.” If (or more likely when) government assistance to those companies ends, they’ll at least likely engage in even more significant layoffs or go out of business entirely. The Federal Reserve has slowed its rate of corporate debt purchasing, which may be a bad sign we’re moving in that direction.

Companies that have cut staff over the last several months aren’t adding or refilling positions as quickly as they were eliminated. Over 50% of those who have been laid off because of related closures are still out of work. Even high-wage jobs have stalled out recently as companies seek to do more with the people they have and those people aren’t in any rush to change their situation.

There’s little reason to think that will change if things continue in the current direction, especially if the number of companies that near or experience failure increases.

When the first coronavirus aid bill was being considered by Congress, many lawmakers – even Republicans – came out saying people needed help because they’d lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

The same logic holds true. Putting all of the above together, many of those individuals are still out of work through no fault of their own. They are subject to a system that isn’t hiring, or is only hiring so specifically the requirements are a veritable needle’s eye few will fit through.

What we’ve seen to date is largely a K-shaped recovery, one where the financial health of those at the high end of the economy improves while those at the bottom half see things continue to get worse.

This Isn’t Workers’ Fault

The number of jobs available is already nowhere near the number of people looking for work. If things keep getting worse, that ratio will only become even more disproportionate.

A recent article – one likely intended to be helpful – offered some tips to those seeking work on how to adjust their resume and explain an extended amount of time off, including because of layoffs resulting from pandemic-related business closures. There’s some helpful information there, and in a similar piece on rethinking resumes, around being clear and upfront about why someone was laid off and so on, but the question remains why an individual has to offer this kind of explanation in the first place.

Putting the pressure on the individual to explain why they’ve been out of work for an extended period of time in the current coronavirus-influenced environment seems laughable when you consider how closely the job market resembles the streets of Paris during the French Revolution.

Any gap in employment should be viewed by the company viewing a work history as “Oh…that was during 2020” and gauge accordingly. The individual may have been diligently looking for work and finding none was available.

Despite the “personal responsibility” mindset conservative leaders have imbued society with for the last 50 years, and unlike the public health crisis being faced, the work/jobs situation is one where the individual should have little to no blame. They are not the ones who have put companies in tenuous financial positions. Indeed, companies have justified paying workers so little for decades now in part by saying they needed to build up their savings for a rainy day. Now it’s pouring and we find that capitalism only kept things afloat for about a month and a half.

Workers of all kinds are about to once more feel that pain once more, just as they did 12 years ago as the Great Recession hit, only moreso and with the added worry that comes with living through a global pandemic.

Three Years

The end of June 2019 marked three years since I was let go from Voce Communications and embarked on a path with no clear direction other than to make it all somehow work.

That anniversary was one I intended to let pass without mention until I read this post, most of which I could have written myself. In it the author shares the journey she’s been on since her own period of unemployment began, including applying to over 200 jobs without success.

Her experience is familiar to me since between June 2016 and August 2017 I maintained a spreadsheet of all the jobs I applied for. That number topped 300 before I stopped keeping track.

There’s been lots of talk about how applicants need to behave when it comes to the applications and interviews they send and receive. They’re told to follow up, send thank you notes etc as if their actions have a significant impact on their chances of landing a job.

In some cases that’s all a good idea. In my application-tracking spreadsheet, though, I also kept tabs on what, if any, response came from my outreach. Here’s what that shows:

  • <1 percent landed me a job: 2 contract gigs and my ongoing position at Starbucks
  • 3 percent resulted in an interview
  • 10 percent sent me an outright “no” or other rejection, usually phrased as “while you have great skills, we’ve decided to go with a candidate more suited for the role”

In every other case – 87% of the time I submitted an application – there was simply no response beyond the auto-generated email saying they had received my resume or form.

So please tell me more about how it’s my adherence to the principles of basic societal polite behavior that’s the essential missing element in my finding a job. More likely it’s that application-reading algorithms are filtering my resume in ways that use “experience” as a way to keep people older than 25 from serious consideration or some other reality I have zero influence over.

As I embraced the reality that freelancing was going to be a big part of my future I joined a number of gig job boards and services. This, according to so many of the business and technology publications and news sites, was how companies were finding contingent help for project work and other positions.

While some work did result from my exposure on those platforms, none of it turned out to be sustainable beyond a couple months of infrequent assignments.

What I experienced in large part was the same sort of reception I was getting in other parts of my job search. That’s due at least in part because of the kind of situation detailed at Quartz by Alison Griswold, where legitimate freelancers who set rates commensurate with their skills and experience are underbid by questionable figures who claim to be able to do the same job for a fraction of what I would charge.

The low quality of work delivered, of course, is the very definition of “you get what you pay for” and, I would imagine, is more likely to turn a company off of using such platforms at all instead of encouraging them to seek out quality vendors. The legitimate market is harmed by those scamming the system and creating mistrust and other problems.

My decision to stop using those platforms was also informed by my changing perceptions of how the much-touted gig economy was leaving significant chunks of the workforce – including myself – behind. Much of my evolved thinking is similar to what’s documented by Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri in their book “Ghost Work.”

In that book they talk at length about how contingent work platforms like Fiverr, Upwork and others have built in design elements that make it necessary for freelancers and others to be constantly on the site, accepting whatever work they’re offered and engaging in activity there in order for their accounts to remain in good standing. Upwork, for instance, has emailed me repeatedly if I let my account lie untended for as little as a week at a time, telling me my profile would be suspended if I didn’t log back in soon. You can’t move up the rankings on the site without accepting a certain number of jobs, regardless of whether or not the jobs being offered are well-paying or by any definition decent.

Suri and Gray also point out a major problem for those trying to get by with contingent work: They never get credit or job stability for their efforts. Here’s an example:

An ad agency’s account executive needs help writing the copy for a client presentation. The rest of his team is already over-extended on other work, so he pulls up a gig platform and posts the opportunity. He eventually accepts a bid on the project, and the remote – usually faceless – worker gets the job done on time. The account executive is praised for his work and enjoys continued employment, complete with steady pay and healthcare benefits.

On the other end of that transaction, the ghost worker now finds his emails saying “let me know if you need help with future projects” are falling on deaf ears. He’s now in the same position he was before, wondering where his next income is coming from and unsure of the future, enjoying none of the benefits of the full-timer whose work he just did.

Ironically, that lopsided dynamic is exactly the kind of position Fiverr has positioned as an advantage offered by its platform in a recent outdoor ad campaign. Companies and full time workers are shown Fiverr is a great place to outsource their work, promising a freelancer will hop to it when a new assignment is offered.

It’s a great deal for the employee, far less so for the freelancer. The latter category enjoys almost none of the other opportunities for advancement or mobility of the former. Once they finish a job they’re back on the same playing field competing against countless individuals promising fast turnaround times at low rates because they’ve found success in copying Wikipedia sections and passing it off as their own work. Meanwhile, legitimate freelancers are expected to continue advancing their skills and knowledge at their own expense and at the expense of time that would otherwise be spent doing actual work.

I’m beginning to believe the discrepancies in measuring the size of the contingent workforce – including freelancers, contractors and others – are part of the reason the economic “recovery” that’s been touted over the last decade has yet to result in substantial wage increases.

Even discounting the overt scammers, there are so many people out there willing to underbid their freelance competitors to get whatever work is offered that companies have little incentive to raise the pay of full time employees. Why pay Full Time Carol more when she knows the alternative to working here is scrounging for gigs offering $25 to write a 1,750 word blog post. (Note: That’s a real scenario I’ve encountered.)

There’s some evidence this is close to reality. Economists have been puzzled why wages haven’t been going up as unemployment continues going down or staying at remarkably low levels. Turns out, as some have long suspected, the number of people working gig, contract or part-time jobs who want full-time positions is still high, but because companies aren’t hiring or haven’t raised the base pay they haven’t been able to do so.

At the moment, the combination of freelancing and working at Starbucks is working for me. If I schedule my days effectively I can get most of what I need to done in a reasonable time and fulfill all my client project requirements.

Getting to that level has taken the better part of the last three years, though, and still presents a regular struggle as I and my family deal with the instability that’s a feature – not a bug – of the freelance life. Good periods are followed by slow ones, busy times followed by extended silences.

Finding personal projects to work on has been an important way of filling those fallow periods. While I no longer feel the intense pressure I once did to remain productive at all times, staying busy is still a good idea.

More than anything (aside from the support of my wife and family), my sanity has been maintained by the realization that the onus to evince good manners and polite interactions is at least as great as the responsibility of others to do likewise. So too, it’s important to come at situations from the position of valuing my own work and contributions because no one else is going to do so on my behalf.

“Soft Skills” are Just Skills

LinkedIn recently shared its list of the job titles it says will be the most promising for those seeking new work or advancement in 2019. Some of those are more…substantial than others as there are a few “consultant” type titles on the list, while others are very tech-focused and detailed.

Also offered by LinkedIn are lists of the top five soft and hard skills employers are looking for in new recruits. The difference between the two seems to be that “soft” skills are fuzzier and are about conversation and relationships, while “hard” skills are more quantitative, the kind of thing you can show off and demonstrate to someone you’re trying to impress.

Soft skills are often derided by many, particularly in this day and age of AI and data visualization. They are the second-class citizen of capabilities someone is seen to be in possession of, representative less of what you can do and more about who you are, which isn’t as important. But let’s look at the kinds of skills LinkedIn includes on its list:

Creativity

Let’s start out by not giving short shrift to creativity. It’s not everyone who can think about the problems and situations they face in the workplace – whatever kind of environment that is – and offer unusual or innovative thoughts and potential solutions. Business leaders see it as incredibly valuable and something that can greatly benefit their operations.

Creativity requires curiosity, though, and that’s not something many companies encourage in their employees. Someone who’s going to offer a new way of thinking has to first test that thinking against what’s come before, so they’re going to do some probing and exploring. It also requires bravery since they’re going to be going out on a significant limb, sticking their heads up over the parapet, which in the corporate world is a good way to get it shot off.

Persuasion

Once that creative and innovative solution has been developed and offered it takes persuasion to actually make it happen and push for implementation. That requires someone to be able to effectively communicate the value proposition they’ve developed and achieve the kind of buy-in needed to have it adopted. Even if it’s a relatively simple thing, you still have to convince other stakeholders and coworkers that they should go out on their own limb.

Even if it’s not something all that new and original – if it’s just “the data says this and we should do that” – the art of persuasion is unique and something not everyone is capable of. A persuasive individual is capable of tailoring the pitch to each audience, presenting the best message that’s most likely to achieve results.

Collaboration

Because most professional environments are so competitive and cutthroat, working together isn’t always the best way to advance one’s own career or maintain their status within the company. When it comes time for a performance review or if positions are being eliminated, individual productivity is more often a determining factor than the ability to play well with others.

But collaboration is how society functions. We all work together to move toward a common good. Everyone for themselves is anarchy, but business requires groups all doing their part to achieve goals that are bigger than themselves and their individual responsibilities. Someone skilled in the practice of collaboration has to be able to put their ego to the side and trust that the group’s success is their own. The problem is in getting managers to recognize that and assign value to that.

Adaptability

Closely tied to creativity, this one is focused on being able to roll with the punches and think on your feet. Most all employees are asked to adopt processes and tools that may not be ideal for them as individuals because it’s what someone else has decided is best for the whole group. Not only that but those are likely to change without much notice as acquisition managers come and go, CEOs sign new vendor agreements and so on.

Particularly for those in the middle of a job search, adaptability is important. If someone has used X technology for the last 10 years in their previous position but a potential employer uses Y, they have to show they can use it without a problem. It’s not just tech, either, it’s also different office environments, management structures and more. They have to be able to prove they’re comfortable in most any situation and setting and can pivot on demand.

Time Management

This one can’t be overstated. Time management is an essential aspect of the employer-driven push for employee productivity. Everyone has their own system, but they have to show they can deliver on (or ahead) of schedule, prioritize what’s important, make time for what’s not and keep moving forward at all times.

That’s no easy task when the modern workplace is ill-designed to actually produce results. Time management has to account for a good chunk of the workday being taken up not by actually working on a project but by an endless string of calls, emails, Slack messages and more asking for updates on the project, making adjustments to its scope and so on. They have to manage around all the distractions of modern life plus the distractions that are are part of the work environment itself to do what they need to do.

We need to stop talking about “soft” skills as if they matter less than coding, accounting, analytics and other abilities. The latter are the kinds of skills someone usually goes to school for or can otherwise learn. The former, though, are those that often comes from either innate ability or hard-earned experience. When you see someone with excellent persuasion skills, it means they’ve earned that, likely through trial and error. Same for the other skills on LinkedIn’s list.

Unfortunately they’re not the kinds of skills that can be demonstrated in a portfolio or on a resume. They come through best either when interviewing a potential candidate or by seeing them work up close. So as much as executives may say they want more people with those abilities and talents, screening for them is difficult. The solution, then, would seem to be to change the hiring process to better find individuals capable of filling those needs.

Hot But Inexperienced

The gist of this story is that labels are so interested in signing and promoting bands and artists that have begun to gain some popularity on SoundCloud or other streaming services they don’t take into account that those artists have almost no experience actually performing on stage. The labels want to tap into that buzz but find themselves trying to manage someone who can’t reliably be sent out on tour.

I’d be hard pressed to find a more perfect illustration of the current job market, at least as it’s seemed from my perspective.

One of the most common frustrations I’ve encountered is the gap between the kind of role someone is looking for, the experience and skill set they require and the salary they are willing to pay. Many job listings have read something like this:

Seeking content marketing professional to write, publish to and manage five brand profiles six days a week. Must have 10 years experience with client management, social media, direct advertising and budgeting as well as a background in journalism with extensive industry contacts. Salary: $25,000/year.

Sure. OK. Let me know how that works out for you.

I’m sure there are people out there who fit that bill, but you’ve excluded a good portion of the available applicants. That salary is going to exclude most anyone who’s more than a couple years out of school, without a family to support or mortgage to pay off. So you won’t get the experience, which comes with both “hard” skills – those directly related to the work required – and “soft” skills – the ability to adapt to a work environment, relate to colleagues and so on.

Even if salary and experience are in relative alignment, the kinds of skills listed often aren’t. They want someone who’s managed ongoing social content programs but also run large programmatic ad campaigns and run five major sponsorship-based live events.

It’s possible the problem is that job listings are still focused around roles or skills and not outcomes or goals.

Flip the script and imagine a job description written like this:

Seeking content marketing professional who can help us grow revenue via a publishing program.

That’s vastly different and opens the position up to any number of people with varying degrees of experience and who find themselves looking for work at different stages in their lives and careers. Specifically, it means two different people who have achieved that goal with two different sets of tactics and strategies are just as qualified, even if their experience isn’t exactly what the company has done before or thinks it should be doing. Someone can come in, offer their own perspective, and then be judged and reviewed according to that goal.

Instead those goals are usually offered after someone has already been hired, often as part of the annual review process. But by then the company has invested in onboarding and more. It’s a system that doesn’t adequately set expectations at the outset of the relationship, something that can be harmful for all parties.

By not focusing on looking for someone who can help you long-term, companies – like the record labels mentioned in the story above – are creating problems that have to be dealt with instead of seeking to find partners or employees who can solve those and other problems for them.

I Have These Skills..So Where Are the Jobs?

There’s a lot of interesting information in LinkedIn’s most recent hiring report for the Chicago area, including how the city primarily draws talent from only the surrounding states but that people are leaving for the coasts.

Part of the report covers the kinds of skills that are too common in the area, meaning there are more people who can do that than there are companies looking for people with those skills. That’s unfortunate and likely one of the reasons people leave, so they can find work that matches their abilities elsewhere.

On the other side, there’s a list of the kinds of skills employers are looking for but which are in short supply. The top five skills on that list are these:

  1. Oral Communication
  2. People Management
  3. Business Management
  4. Social Media
  5. Time Management

So, I have to ask, why am I in year three of lacking full-time work? Because I check off most of those boxes. Let me elaborate.

#1 Oral Communication

If I weren’t able to express myself verbally in multiple contexts I don’t think I would have survive in my career for as long as I did and have. Over the 20+ years I’ve been working since leaving college I’ve:

  • Presented in front of PRSA and other industry groups
  • Engaged in new business pitches for the agencies I’ve worked at
  • Been part of and lead countless client presentations, from new idea pitches to program check-ins
  • Taken part in countless phone calls both with coworkers and clients to talk about new happenings, what’s coming up soon and more.

While speaking my not be as natural to me as writing, it’s something I’ve had plenty of experience with and am completely capable of.

#2 People Management

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never managed big teams. The largest group I’ve ever been in charge of is three people on any one project or assignment.

But that group of four people, including myself, was the powerhouse behind DC Entertainment’s social media publishing program for four-and-a-half years, managing 20+ social profiles, curating news from dozens of sources, handling endless inbound requests, publishing up to 25 updates every day and then reporting on a program that had, at the end, over 33 million fans.

It’s not about the size of the team under your management, in my experience, it’s about marshalling resources and putting everyone in the right spot. So this person is handling X, another is doing Y and so on.

While all of that management was done virtually – I was in or outside Chicago while the team was spread between San Francisco and Orlando – the key was to always position myself as one or more of the following at any given time:

  • The first line of defense. It was never their fault if something went wrong, it was mine.
  • The first to push the spotlight. It was never me that did something right, it was them.
  • The first person to step up and fill a gap if someone was sick or had to prioritize another project.
  • The first person anyone turned to with a problem, whether it was something they needed fixed or just needed to vent.
  • The one who set the agenda and made sure we knew what next steps were necessary.

While I’m not in an actual management position at Starbucks right now, I quickly became a sort of NCO on the store floor. Shift managers and store managers trust me to make changes to how partners are deployed or may need to be shifted if they’re unavailable and know if I make a call it’s going to be one that feels right in the moment. “I’m going on break, Chris is in charge” became a common phrase not long after I started because I had shown sound judgement and took charge because of my experience not only in a work environment but because, well, I’m a dad and we will not have a breakdown while I’m around.

#3 Business Management

Unlike some friends and colleagues, I didn’t go back to school for an MBA or anything like that later one. But over the years I’ve managed programs that have significant budgets and are on behalf of major consumer and other brands and companies. I know how to fill out a budget, report on profit/loss, speak to HR and otherwise handle the logistics of operating in the business world.

This is one of those “soft” skills that companies always say they’re looking for in new recruits and hires but which you can’t really teach. It just comes with experience. Yes, there are formal programs for becoming certified in many of these practices, but they also accumulate over time and become part of how you think.

In this regard I’ve been lucky to work with some truly outstanding individuals. Watching people like Mike Manuel, Tom Biro, Josh Hallett and others do their thing has been an invaluable education for me over the years. Their steady approach, passion and stupid levels of talent taught me more than I ever thought possible and that’s just a small subset of the kind of real-world expertise I’ve been privileged enough to be privy to.

#4 Social Media

Yeah, I’m not going to expand on this too much. You can view my portfolio or read any of the numerous posts and articles I’ve written over the years to find out how this is an area I have a massive amount of experience in.

#5 Time Management

You can’t run the kinds of programs I’ve run or do the kind of work I’ve done and not have excellent time management skills. While my approach to how I schedule my day has changed a few times over the years, the idea has always been the same: To accomplish everything that needs to be done in a given period of time.

There are different systems people use to effectively manage their time, but what I find works best (at least right now) is to have two running lists:

  1. Immediate action items: These have definitive due dates or are specific tasks that need to be accomplished. This is what I’m actively working on.
  2. Bigger tasks and projects: Along with that list of immediate items I have running lists of the online courses and classes I’m interested in taking, the longer fiction and non-fiction I’m writing, the organization projects I’ve undertaken and more. These are the things that may get a set amount of time each day to keep the ball moving forward or just things that I can chip away at if I have an evening where I don’t feel like writing but want to get something done.

So…Where Are the Job Offers?

I’ve been looking for full-time work since I was let go by Voce Communications in the summer of 2016, but so far have only found freelance work, a couple contract gigs and my retail job at Starbucks. If companies are really looking for people with these skills, why isn’t my email blowing up and why have the hundreds of jobs I’ve applied to only resulted in a couple dozen interviews?

Great question. Maybe it’s that I’m a bit older and my salary requirements are greater than someone who’s 24. Maybe it’s that I haven’t worked in the right industries for the jobs that are available. Maybe it’s that some algorithm just hasn’t liked how my resume or LinkedIn profile are formatted so I can’t make it through that filter.

Whatever the case, it seems I’m a decent match for the kind of person Chicago-based employers are looking for.

Accepting The Permanent Instability of Freelance Life

Reading this story from a couple weeks ago kind of has me thinking I will never find full-time work again. What’s odd to me is the fact that idea is both energizing and slightly depressing. Energized because of the potential for success it offers and depressing because full-time work is still kind of what I expect.

The story summarizes a study from the Oxford Internet Institute that shows companies are increasingly relying on freelance and contractors. That’s not to replace in-house staff but to add unique skills and capabilities for specific projects. And to find those people, the companies are turning to platforms such as Upwork and Hired, doing the searching themselves instead of relying on costly recruitment services. A similar study from Hired itself shows demand for technical contract workers has hit an all-time high in 2017.

Over the last few months I’ve been steadily increasing my presence on the kind of platforms mentioned in the Oxford study. I’m now on Fiverr, Upwork, Hired, Linkedin Profinder and ClearVoice, with more coming soon. In my own experience, those have proven more consistently useful than many of the recruiting services I’ve worked with, up there with referrals from friends and colleagues.

Recently I asked someone if I could add the ghostwriting work I’d done for that company to my Contently portfolio. I made it clear I wanted to be sensitive to not putting my own needs above that of the company. As a ghostwriter it’s my job to stay in the background. But this was good work I’d been doing and it showed what I’d been up to recently. He responded, after clearing it with the boss, that it was completely fine for me to do so. Here’s exactly what he said:

We all gotta eat, therefore we all gotta hustle.

That’s the reality of the freelancer, I’m finding. It’s a hustle. If I’m not working on a client project, I’m working on my own stuff in the hopes that it will burnish my reputation and therefore lead to more work. Or I’m fleshing out my profiles on the platforms mentioned above. Or I’m trolling job boards looking for new projects. Or I’m working on either the novel I’m trying to finish or outlining one of the other books spinning around in my mind. Or I’m at my retail job. I might take an hour or so here and there, but intentionally enjoying downtime is still hard for me.

If you asked me today whether or not I’d prefer to keep freelancing or start a full-time job, I’d say that nope, I’m placing my bets on me and continuing with this life. I’m working for myself and not for someone else. Ask me tomorrow and you might get a different answer.

There’s a lot of instability that’s inherent in this approach. The full-time job is attractive mostly for the steady paycheck it offers. I’m not looking to get rich or become the most powerful guy in the room. That doesn’t interest me. But the twice-monthly direct depositing of a known, consistent amount of money sure would alleviate a lot or stress.

The freelance life I’ve been living is attractive as well for the variety it offers. No two days are exactly the same and I get to work on a variety of different projects, stretching different muscles as I do so. That’s actually the direction I wanted to go in while I was still in the agency world, the pinch-hitter who could be called into any project on short notice to deliver one or two particular things but who didn’t have permanent ties that put me on call at all hours of the night.

The shift away from full-time work being the norm for most everyone who wants a job is also concerning because we haven’t made societal changes to accommodate that reality, at least not yet. The Affordable Care Act was a step in that direction, but the recent efforts by Republicans to repeal it and make health care once more dependent on employment status (and even then filled with problems) display a mindset more in-line with the post-WWII situation than a society that’s been through at least two recessions in the last 20 years.

Whatever my desires and preferences, the pragmatic reality is that this is the reality. If the studies mentioned above are accurate – and there’s no reason to think they’re not – this isn’t changing anytime soon. Best, then, to make peace with it and do as much hustling as I need to in order to thrive in the new marketplace.

 

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.