Job security might be dead. Now what?

“See, the thing is, I don’t believe job security exists. And when you don’t believe in job security, that changes everything.

This was my explanation for why I quit my job. The reason I became a full-time freelancer – or at least, the reason that seemed less wishy-washy than “I just want flexibility, man.

While everyone at least pretended to see the validity of my statement, there was a pattern I noticed. If the person I was talking to was either a) under 30 years old; b) an educator (managers counted, usually), or; c) worked in an HR Department, they would aggressively they nod as I said those words. Seriously. It was like their heads were about to roll off.

Yes. Yes. You’re about as safe in your cosy office job as you would be cold emailing for freelance gigs. How does that change how you look at the world?

I’m not saying it’s a good thing. Sure, industries being disrupted was exciting when I was a student. Now that I’m in the position of starting my big-kid life, the vulnerability is less thrilling. And even if a company is kicking ass and taking names, outsourcing and automation often make full-time hiring far from the most business-savvy option. Think about it – a full-time office employee is essentially a person on retainer who is protected by a TON of government regulations. Who’s surprised that companies are moving away from this? 

If you’re security-driven, this situation really blows. Or if you would like to qualify for a mortgage. Or if health insurance is something you need.

At the same time, switching to a “task not time” way of looking at work – rather than those aforementioned retainers – seems a bit more human. As a freelancer, I promise you it certainly feels that way.

But, whatever. You probably know the pros and cons. Hell, you’re probably living them right now. You can love it or hate it, but either way the question is: what do we do now?

As someone who’s gone full-time freelance, here’s my take.

Despite having taken an unorthodox career path, I’m a rule-follower like you’ve never seen. Yes, a creative rule-follower. Sounds horrifying, right? I didn’t know what the deal was until Grade 11,  when a creative writing teacher presented the class with a whack-ton of rules for writing. The whole thing made my brain spin, until he added “You need to learn these rules and follow them before you can break them, so you can break them right.”

This. This. We all should be taking exactly this advice as we navigate this crazy new world. We need to learn the rules so we can break them.

Here are the steps I took, steps that could perhaps help you – whether you have a super-secure jobs or not – to navigate these changing times.

Step one: Learn how things “work.” I put this in quotations, because the modern workplace keeps changing and traditional lessons won’t always apply. But they’re worth learning, because even if your client or employer doesn’t ascribe to traditional “rules,” they come from them in some way. We can learn the “rules” through school, or from gainfully employed people around us (parents, relatives, friends, etc), or from society as a whole. We should of course learn about employer-employee relationships, but we should also learn about outsourcing. If you are working, find out who is being paid by your company for what and why. At home, find out how the contractor painting your bathroom structures his business. Learn how waitstaff manage tipping out and income fluctuation. Talk to bored employees. Talk to stimulated employees. Talk to anyone who has ever hired someone else for anything. Do 4 completely different types of jobs and compare how their payment systems work. And of course, all the while, measure how each of these scenarios make you feel so you can seek out the right fit in your own career.

Bottom line: If your understanding about how careers “work” is limited to the employer-employee relationship, you’re missing out on how most of the real buying and selling goes down in this world and you will not be able to complete steps 2 and 3.

Step two: Learn which rules you should follow and which ones you should deter from. The more you learn about the “rules,” the more you’ll realize that there are rules you are rewarded for following and rules you are punished for following.

For example, one of the “rules” of employment dictates that you should give 100% of your energy and loyalty to one company or mission. That’s a bit silly, unless it’s your absolute life-fulfilling passion. People with a bunch of money very rarely invest all of it in one business. They diversify their investments. The investment of your time could be seen the same way, as long as you are lucky to find enough worthy pursuits.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t take a stable job in order to focus on their families or their non-monetized side-projects. That’s still another means of diversifying. But as fewer and fewer so-called stable jobs become available, it’s worth looking at other ways to navigate traditional wisdom or “rules” like being loyal to one job.

Step three: Delicately, kindly, break those damn rules. We’ve been socialized to succeed in an economy that is, in many ways, going away. For many of us, it feels as though we’ve been given a bathing suit and shipped off to Alaska in December.

We’ve been asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” instead of “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

We’ve been taught about jobs instead of careers.

We were in our twenties (or thirties, or forties) before anyone even mentioned maternity leave, or pension plans, or child care costs, or unpaid internships, or invoicing, or needing therapy, or most of the hundreds of things that paint our current career paths.

And guess what? No one was trying to hurt us when they neglected to teach us those things. They were simply showing us the rules as they currently stood. Go to school, make a resume, get a job, retire.

But here’s the thing – if companies are allowed to change the rules (and they are), then we must be willing do the same. I’m not urging everyone reading this to become self-employed, or even to take multiple jobs. But consider the rules that you are following, and question them. Question whether you’re following them because that’s what you want and/or that’s how the system really works…or because that’s just what you’ve been told.

Ethics are important, integrity is important, and kindness is important (I gave multiple months’ notice at my last full-time job for a reason). But don’t mistaken any of those virtues for the need to follow outdated rules that the people above you couldn’t care less about.

I don’t believe job security exists. That’s a frightening notion for a person like me. A person who would like to raise a family, have a home, and build a life. But it’s not something I have the power to change. All I can do is react to it.

That’s all any of us can do – learn the rules, yes, but try not to be swallowed whole by them. Be a good person, but protect yourself from exploitation. And get damn, damn good at what you do so people will be happy to pay you for it.

(Oh, and fight for policy changes that make sense too. Always do that.)

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