Jobs, Careers and Vocations


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay


I wrote earlier here about the gig economy and about unretirement and various other work-related topics. I just finished a one-year contract gig and assumed that would be it for me in the world of higher education and maybe in all of the work world.

But in those two weeks before my contract ran out and the one week since I have had 4 offers for new gigs. I had already decided to really stop working. Oh, I still have some clients for web services that I’ll continue working for, and I have my blogs, but no more contracts.

So why have I considered and even researched two of those offers? There must still be something that draws me – and maybe others – to the job-based life. That is a life that centers on having that one full-time job. It is what I spent most of my life doing.

I have been surfing some websites about “finding direction” and came upon a program offering at  1440 is 1440 Multiversity, which has a very new-age vibe and is self-described as “a place to experience time differently—exploring what matters to you, while surrounded by fresh air, delicious food, wellness classes, many ways to unwind, and opportunities to connect with yourself and others.”

I don’t think I’ll have the chance to visit 1440 but in their catalog, I found a course taught by Dr. Martha Beck, Ph.D. She is a writer which a number of books including Finding Your Own North Star, and Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. She is a columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine, and a contributing editor for several popular magazines, including Real Simple and Redbook. She is a Harvard-trained sociologist and research associate at Harvard Business School.

Her course is Navigating the Storm: Finding Peace and Purpose in Uncertain Times. That title might not suggest a path after working a lifetime, but in an interview with Beck she was asked, “People often conflate finding their passion with finding a job. Are they the same thing?”

“The concept of the job does not lend itself to living your passion,” says Beck. “Jobs as we know them are part of a hierarchical society that has a pyramid-shaped economy. This industrialized setup is based on factory labor and is meant to keep people infantilized into thinking there’s somebody (a boss) who is going to come in and give me what I need (money). It assumes if I do my chores I’ll get my allowance and I won’t have to grapple with individual survival in its grittiest forms.

This is why we hate jobs and we hate our bosses—because it’s not supposed to be set up this way. This is a child’s experience. In nature, you would go out and encounter the world and make your way. And as you did, that would shape you.”

She says something about one of my favoritewriters, Henry David Thoreau. She believes that when he wrote that the majority of men “lead lives of quiet desperation,” he was talking about jobs, and not men in general, but men under the Industrial Revolution who were working factory jobs.

Beck has never really had a “job” in the traditional sense, or a job-based life. She has found ways to make money which she sees as “very much like living off the land except you’re dealing with an economic system.”

Is that an earlier version of the Gig Economy?

She says, “You figure out what is needed and you find a way to play in the fields that you like until you can add some value… Jobs are going away—it makes no sense to hold onto a job you hate as it goes down.”

Writing books about this is one way she has earned a living. Doing courses and workshops seems to be another. She also thinks the place to be is online.

“If you think of something that people want and that they can benefit from, you can offer it out there in the virtual space for a reasonable price. I just don’t see why anyone would do anything else, frankly, unless you love your job.”

What about college which was once the best path to a job and career? She thinks that path is not the best path for many young people.

She suggests that things that are “high-touch” (that actual humans have put their time into) will have a high value. Create something high-touch and deliver it or distribute it online.

That is not so easy for all of us to do, though people are selling physical things and also services online and making a living. I’ve sold virtual services and will probably continue to do so for a while.

You might argue that to run your own business online will become your job-based life – just not at a company workplace. I know someone who runs her own business selling handmade products online, but she also supplements that with pop-up sales at craft fairs, etc. She doesn’t work 9-5 in an office but many of her weeks are more than the traditional 40-hour ones. She works home creating her products, fulfills orders, does the shipping and gets out there to make direct sales. It is not an easier life, but she likes the freedom of being her own boss and deciding when to work and what to do.

A job website such as might recommend that you take a personality test to gain guidance on what type of job or career suits you best.

Another suggestion about the working life comes from an interview with author  Elizabeth Gilbert, best known for Eat, Pray, Love. Listen to her interview on the Hello Monday podcast where she talks about when to choose a job over a career and also about having a vocation. There are differences.

I really like what Gilbert says:

“So you have your job that you go to pay the bills. And then you have your life outside of your job, where you do your hobbies and your pursuits and your family. And it might not be the most interesting thing in your life, but whatever. You’ve got to pay the bills. A career is something that you should be passionate about. So a career is a job that you deeply care about. That’s the difference between a career and a job.

… if you think you’re in a career but you hate it and you’re bored and it’s killing you, quit it and just go get a job… It’s okay to just have a job. Not everybody needs to have a capital C career because you can have a whole life outside of that.

And then the other one is vocation, which is like a sacred calling of something that is very holy to you, that is the center of your life that you know can never be taken away from you no matter what.”

Do you have a job or a career? Do you have a vocation? Would you dare to have more than one of those things?

The Gig Economy

work at home pexels

Sometimes people chuckle or look confused when I say I work in the gig economy. They think I made it up. I didn’t.

A gig economy is usually defined as an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.

Twenty years ago, I would have associated “gigs” with musicians. You play a gig at a club tonight, next weekend you play one somewhere else. Maybe you luck into getting a regular gig (almost an oxymoron) playing every other Friday night at the same place for a few months.

It is not “part-time” work.

The trend toward a gig economy has been climbing and a study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors.

What is pushing this trend to short-term jobs? One thing is an increasingly mobile workforce that can increasingly work from anywhere. Job and location are not always linked these days. Freelancers can select  jobs and projects around the world, and employers have a much larger pool of candidates.

Employers often like this arrangement as it means no office space needed and, as with part-timers in general, probably no benefits. Not being responsible for employees’ taxes and benefits allows companies to operate with 20% to 30% less in labor costs than the traditional competition.

People tend to change jobs more often throughout their working lives than in prior generations and the gig economy can be seen as an evolution of that trend.

Employers can contract with experts for specific projects who might be too high-priced to maintain on staff.

My newest gig is doing instructional design of online courses for a college. It is a one-year gig, so it is actually pretty regular work. But it is all virtual work from home and the hours are set by me. I have milestones and deadlines to meet, but the schedule is mine.

For this gig, I am getting an hourly rate, but the college has set a cap on the number of hours I can bill per course (though we have already discussed the possibility that some courses may run over that amount, while others will be under). The Dean in charge of this project would prefer to have an instructional designer full time on staff, but the budget line for that position won’t appear until next fall when their “virtual college” actually launches with student.

Gig workers like the improved work-life balance offered over most traditional jobs. Ideally, the worker is able to select jobs that they’re interested in – though obviously if you’re in need of work, you may have to take a gig that isn’t your first choice.

Despite any benefits, the gig economy is part of  the sharing economy, the gift economy and the barter economy and there are downsides to all of these. You are like freelancers and self-employed workers of the past and have to deal with insurance and other benefits and issues.

Finding hard numbers on the size of this gig economy workforce seems rather inexact right now. Government data sources have difficulty counting how many gig workers there are, but it is being tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Gig workers are seen in some government stats as contingent workers, defined as “those who don’t have an implicit or explicit contract for long-term employment.” Alternative employment titles also include those who identify as independent contractors, freelancers or independent consultants, on-call workers, and workers provided by temporary help agencies or contract firms.

BLS data lumps gig workers in with all the other alternative workers. The Census includes them in nonemployer statistics data – a self-employed individual operating a very small, unincorporated business with no paid employees.

Fast Company magazine warns that lawsuits around the gig economy are an issue of concern. Uber, Lyft and other gig drivers have protested and “gone on strike” and other companies that have built their business model on gig employees have seen some employee resistance.

Homejoy, Handy (both cleaning services) and workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (an online platform that pays independent contractors cents per task) recently orchestrated a letter-writing campaign to Jeff Bezos asking for him “to see that Turkers are not only actual human beings, but people who deserve respect, fair treatment, and open communication.” Legally, Uber and Lyft are also facing charges of misclassifying workers. A case against an online work platform called Crowdflower was also opened.

What might bring down the gig economy? Besides some class-action lawsuits, there might be intervention by regulators (many cities are clamping down on Uber and Lyft at the behest of traditional taxi companies). If companies can ever hybridize traditional jobs and gig ones, you might end up with a new option that offers both the freedom and some of the benefits of traditional work.