The potentially lucrative business of being unemployed

According to a handful of psychics who made practical predictions for 2013 (not the ones who speak of asteroids the size of Texas, President Obama revealing his “real” agenda and what famous celebrities ought to guard their health) along with a slew of articles about the job-less recovery and some personal observations, I think it’s safe to agree that in the future, there will be far fewer jobs.

But a whole lot of work. Someone’s got to do it.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been told this. Back in the late nineties, the term free agent was first applied to those other than professional athletes. Having been in an industry that was powered by freelancers, I didn’t see anything unusual about it. But then free agency was viewed as something performed by talented professionals with scads of work-life balance, who commanded huge fees from their chic modern home offices. I know. I was one of them. What wasn’t mentioned was that greedy corporations would take advantage of the situation, making freelance positions in areas of employment where they had never been before, mainly as a means of screwing people out of benefits and job security.

If there’s a will, there’s always a way for some businesses to turn a good thing into something exploitative.

But it’s true. The jobs are going away. And the reports that speak otherwise don’t mention that most of those added jobs are baristas or sweater folders at Old Navy.

In corporations and government departments across the country (and I presume in others) mature, experienced and skilled employees are disappearing as if it were the rapture. Despite the fact that the rationale is economic, they’re being fast replaced by a generation of newly minted grads who majored in Kool-Aid drinking and minored in hollow enthusiasm – which makes them perfect employees for these times. They’re cheap, too inexperienced to spot a bad idea and too gutless to point it out if they did.

The risk of such a fate befalling me was part of the motivation behind opening seed. It’s my hedge against surprise unemployment (That and I like to keep busy; some people knit and some people ski, I write). And in my case I’m grateful to have a good reputation, wonderful contacts and very little eyebrow raising at my hourly rate. My reach right now is limited, but in the last month, I’ve had a taste of how things would go if I fling the doors wide open.

More importantly, having that kind of employment insurance means one need not feel bitter or bring emotions into the current employment landscape. One can be a cool-headed observer. It is what it is and it’s widespread. It could happen to anyone. It’s numbers. In the end though, I truly believe it’s the corporations that lose—in continuity, in knowledge, in skill. Things in short supply that can’t be manufactured in a hurry. Corporations used to think in 5-year plans, but ever since the tech boom, everyone wants to be fast and lean. But short-term decisions tend to have long-term consequences. And apparently no one noticed that very few of these fast lean tech companies traditional businesses want to emulate managed to stay in business for five years.

Besides, once they get over their shock, these ghosts of cubicles past realize happily that they are now free to sell their well-honed skills on the open market—and many are. Wholly or in part. On their terms. Their ex-employers are weaker for the loss.

I’m not so naïve to believe that self-employment is all roses and chocolates. I did it for years and I was one of the lucky ones; I closed up when I realized that one my larger agency clients was the source of nearly 80% of my workload. They offered me a sweet retainer to keep it that way and then a staff position. I had no regrets; I worked with great people and I’m still benefiting from the experience I gained and the contacts I made while I was there.

But I remember the downside. Banks viewed you as unemployed. I was in business almost a year and a half on my own bootstrapping before I was offered a small line of credit. Things are probably easier on that front now. The lean times keep you up nights wondering if you’ll make enough to pay the bills. And then you lose sleep when the tsunami of work arrives, seeing no humanly possible way to get done on time. But you do it. And you invoice. And you have no one else to thank but yourself. And your clients.

Today there’s no need be hampered by a job in order to do interesting, valuable work. One admirable young woman I know decided she didn’t want to go back to the digital agency she had pretty much run prior to her maternity leave. She saw an opportunity, a problem that needed fixing and knew how to provide a solution. She now offers a range of virtual business services to other unemployed successful business people—and gets to raise her child at home.

So think. Think long and hard about your skills—what do you know, what can you do to make yourself viable in the unemployed economy. What’s your fall back, just in case? Whether it’s dog walking or cake decorating, tutoring or advising the nuclear industry, everyone is good and valuable at something. And you CAN take your destiny (and your paycheck) into your own hands.

And don’t ever let some corporation tell you that isn’t so.


One Comment on “The potentially lucrative business of being unemployed”

  1. Joy Parks says:

    Reblogged this on From the SEEDlines and commented:

    A post from my personal blog that seemed fitting for this audience…

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