Hurrah! I survived another year. Thursday was my birthday and I celebrated by working a day that was fuller than most. The fact that I was glad to be working surprised many people. I’m not surprised. For people in the 1099 Economy, conventions like days off belong to another era and another world. Thanks to someone else’s temporary reassignment, I was given the opportunity to spend four days doing their job, too; and making more than I needed. That’s something that only happens about once a week. If that sounds a little sad, then consider that the majority of Americans make less and own less than I do, and that the idea of taking any day off for a celebration. Our world, society, and conventions are being redefined by necessity. So are our celebrations, and they are celebrations.
I thank my editor at Curbed Seattle, the founder of the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum, and a variety of my clients. Thanks to you, I had a good day. It was hectic and involved so many hats that I’ve considered installing a rack beside my desk so I can switch from one to another to remind myself of whether I am a Guest Editor, Contributing Writer, Project Manager, Strategic Consultant, Social Media Manager, prognosticator, or creative sounding board. If I rented an office, I’d probably do that.
Conventions change slowly. At the same time, we know that all types of changes are accelerating. Why would our conventions stay the same? Work and benefits have changed enough to be included in the 2016 State of the Union address to the US Congress.
“It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.” – President Barack Obama
Outside institutions like the Senate and House of Representatives, most people know their jobs are increasingly unstable. The upper income jobs were more reliable, but even they are prone to layoffs, now. I know at least three international experts who have lost their jobs when they were in their 50s or 60s. Suddenly, the price of health care, more correctly, health insurance became less abstract and very real. Retirement and benefits exist for some, but the number is shrinking.
Welcome to the 1099 Economy, where the freedom to work is welcome and a marvelous development – as long as you can pay your bills. If you can pay your bills, and save money, congratulate yourself; and get to it because you are your retirement plan. As one talented consultant put it;
“I paid for my seventies by working in my sixties, and now I’m working in my seventies to pay for my eighties.”
Health insurance costs can be a shock. Realizing that a day off is a day without pay, work that was only postponed (unless it was lost), and that any celebration incurred additional costs – all of that combined can make time off something precious and something to cherish far more than when it was delivered as a use-it-or-lose-it policy. It can also become something too expensive to afford, a luxury.
A few years ago, I was talking to a shop owner during a break from staring at my computer and while they didn’t have a customer in their shop. I joked about their customers that tended to show up on Saturdays and Sundays, their days off and the shop owner’s most profitable days. I asked my friend if they could imagine getting two days off every week, and on top of that getting a dozen or more days throughout the year where they’d get paid to not show up. My friend tossed their head back and laughed at the concept, and a few seconds later realized that they couldn’t experience that, but relied on people who took it for granted. It was a sobering realization.
Our economy is changing. Whether it is income and wealth inequality, or increased automation, or a bifurcation where some live in a deflationary economy while others witness inflation, or if globalization means even local retail loses revenue and jobs to overnight shipping from the other side of the planet – jobs, careers, and sustenance are changing, and our lives and celebrations are changing, too.
My life is much better than it was two or three years ago. When I make a statement like that, many listeners are relieved. People are tired of hearing bad news. I can’t blame them. I’m tired of living with bad news. I continue to work almost every day according to my Rule of 7, and because some of my jobs involve daily news feeds that can miss a lot by missing a day. To do good work for my clients it makes sense to do good work every day.
Despite the improvement in my situation, I can’t pay all of my bills. The problem with my truck was alleviated by a friend who rode in like the cavalry. Serendipity happens, and I know dozens of people who rely upon it. I’ve watched an interesting reaction when I honestly answer, “So, how are you doing?”. If I start out with, “I can pay almost all of my bills.” the reaction is as if they edited the line down to, “I can pay all of my bills.” That “almost” is the difference between getting ahead and falling behind. The conversation continues as if everything is fine; yet, I spend almost everyday on the wrong side of “almost”. That’s why it was such a treat to be making more than enough on my birthday. For a few days I was getting ahead. That’s a good feeling that I get about once a week on average thanks to my clients.
I don’t write about such episodes as calls for sympathy, but as examples of what many people are going through. As strange as it is, I am middle class. There are millions of Americans who are less fortunate (and billions outside America who recognize our necessities as luxuries.) The old economy models of days off, casually seeing the doctor, and planning for retirement continue to exist for enough that most political commentary and institutions assume that’s the norm for everyone. Days off, healthcare, and retirement are marvelous concepts; but they are based on a thin slice of history. When I think about working every day, not visiting the doctor, and working until who knows when, I also think about pioneers encountering (someone else’s ) wilderness, dairy farmers from before automation, and independent agents who never had benefits: accountants, realtors, lawyers, and sales staff. The conventions that existed then, and that have persisted outside the corporate culture are the conventions that are returning to prominence.
It won’t take much of an improvement in my business or portfolio to move me from falling behind to getting ahead. I am an optimist and have good reason to believe it will happen. That’s an attitude shared by many entrepreneurs and workers in the 1099 Economy. Without that optimism, it is difficult to continue. Until that optimism is proven correct, I’ll probably keep celebrating the unconventional birthday that helped me get ahead.