Freelancer: You are the cutting edge of modern work design.
Designer work is here. Your “job” can now be tailored to fit you like fine custom clothing, and you are the tailor. To benefit, you need an independent spirit and the self-awareness to define just what it is that you really want to do with your life. That can be harder for some than they expect since neither school nor work may have asked us, “What would you love to do?” Neither bosses nor employees normally get to do just what they feel like doing; just ask them.
Freelance work is a way to discover your work in the world and thereby discover yourself. Acknowledging the difficulty and the importance of finding proper work, or right livelihood, the Buddha advised: “Your work is to discover your work and, then, with all your heart, to give yourself to it.” The freelancer is challenged to discover work they can do with whole-hearted devotion. Half-hearted jobs are worse than second-rate; they diminish our lives.
Online resources, like Fiverr, allow any person to create, from scratch, their preferred-or even their ideal-services and test them out with no risk. The crafting of work has never been this adaptable to the desires of the individual worker. In online micro-service marketplaces like Fiverr, each individual completely designs their own work: their services, their policies, and their style. Freelancers are free to create their heart’s desire, so long as it builds a following.
Traditionally, the work shapes the worker.
The employee-sculpting process used to begin with selecting pliable prospects. It continued by instruction and “job training.” And finally, the work itself reshaped the worker with help from discipline when rules were enforced. If a job required you to be present at the same time your child’s proper care and nurture also “required” your presence, either the job came first or the employer got more careful when selecting and training your replacement.
In the allegedly “good old days,” your preferences were your problem. If the boss even listened to what you might prefer, or how you thought things should be done, it counted as a “favor,” even if unaccompanied by action. After all, you had been listened to, hadn’t you? If you didn’t want the job, you could just leave. The fact that worker concerns were generally ignored was, generally, ignored.
Must the work reconfigure the worker?
Throughout history, the laborer’s bent back has illustrated how the work has shaped the worker. Often, the work has misshaped the worker. The “freedom” in “freelance” means you do not have to reshape, repress, or camouflage your authentic self to fit the expectations of strangers. With growing automation and robots doing the boring work, the individual’s deepest interests and intrinsic motivations will only grow in their importance.
As an independent operator, the freelancer is free to shape the work that shapes their life. This process requires self-discovery which is followed by study and work that appropriately engage, enchant, and empower that specific individual. The social systems we create, later recreate us in their image as we live within them. New models for work that is nourishing, in and of itself, will lead to more fulfilling lives for many.
One of the wisest teachers I ever met, Joseph Campbell, urged everyone to discover their natural enthusiasm and “follow their bliss.” Finding what you love to do is the key, according to Campbell. He underscored the need for meaningful work with a warning: “I think the person who takes a job in order to live-that is to say, for the money-has turned himself into a slave.” Working a job you dislike may keep you fed, but that’s closer to surviving than to thriving. Ill-suited work will not satisfy your hopes and dreams. It will not challenge you, discover your talents, or realize your potential.
Modern Freelancing is the workshop of employment innovation.
Entrepreneurs and freelancers are re-imagining the shapes that work can take. Observe the growth of diversified and personalized services (at sites like Fiverr) that address the needs of both parties to the transaction. Freed from the power hierarchy of the boss-over-worker model, the freelancer can relate on an equal footing. They are no longer enslaved by survival employment.
There is an accumulating tide of individualized experiments in new and better ways to work. This experimentation contributes to newly emerging attitudes toward work and a diversity of personalized service models. We improve everyone’s lives when we design work that inspires workers and provides work they can do with care, because it’s work they care about.
Anyone can join this movement toward new ways to work. Concepts like purpose and hope and joy and even love-long kept alive in freelance work-can eventually spread to more of how the world does its work. By upgrading the quality of work itself, a society improves every citizen’s quality of life.
Consciously chosen freelance work can accelerate personal growth and increase life satisfaction. Surprisingly, people often derive more satisfaction from doing meaningful work than from seeking “escape” or pleasure. When you’re doing the right kind of work, I agree with playwright Noel Coward: “Work is much more fun than fun.”
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