One of the hardest questions for me, and I suspect other members of the Gig Economy to answer is, “So, what do you really do?” Even the simple version of the correct answer takes too long. The polite answer is much shorter, but can also be so generalized to seem evasive. One of the advantages of having a blog, however, is having a place to answer deep questions, or at least finally have one place to show how much the work world has changed for me, and undoubtedly for others, in the last twenty years.
Even with an unlimited word limit, I will make a few generalizations to keep from boring you and to let me finish early enough to eat while it is light out, maybe even with the Sun above the horizon. So, I’ll skip the email minutia. If you want details on specific tasks, ask. You might find something useful in the answer. And, I’m not going to chastise myself for not including everything. The real contrast is between current reality for nomadic workers and the old reality of the corporate cubicle environment. Believe it or not, what follows is my following my passion for people and ideas. Helping people get things done and spread their message is immensely gratifying; and evidently, I’m reasonably good at enabling uncommon, inventive, creative, and entrepreneurial ideas. If no one has ever done it before, great!
I’ll understand if you skip ahead to the Conclusion.
Before launching into anything else, check the emails, phone messages, texts, and social media notifications to see if anything is going to change my day. Emergencies and opportunities arise at any time, and someone may have asked for help while my computers, phone, and eyelids were closed.
Pretending Not To Panic
“News for people who are eager and anxious about the future” This is one of my initiatives. That’s another way of saying I don’t get paid for it until it becomes established. It’s a news feed I started where I publish about a post a day about news that is either optimistic or pessimistic or insightful about issues that affect tens of millions at least, and frequently will affect the planet or our civilization. Climate, economy, technology, society, justice all are changing. Not politics! As one person put it, “How do you keep all of that in your head?” I read a lot; and evidently have broad enough interests that connections become evident. I have some ideas on how to build a business from my research, which for now is simply merchandise branded with “Pretending Not To Panic”. T-shirts, coffee mugs, and hip flasks are all I’ve developed so far. The benefit of my reading is a greater understanding of how my work and my clients’ work may be affected. The old world has gone away, though most folks continue to exercise old habits.
History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum
Finally, billable hours. I’m helping one of my clients, Liza Loop, develop a virtual museum devoted to the study of how computers and computing changed learning and education. The simplest scenario is the study of how teachers pioneered the use of computers and software, frequently unofficially. That was a fundamental shift in one of the foundations of civilization, learning. Now, learning has changed so much that we expect to teach ourselves new operating systems without any help because our phones upgraded overnight without warning. Acting as the Project Manager is my biggest gig, and one where I get to use most of my managerial skills: strategic planning, program planning, fundraising, communications, negotiations, etc. Like many of my gigs, it could become full time – if we find the right funding. Working on that.
Writing personable real estate news is my second most regular gig, and probably uses the least of my managerial skills; but it is fun. Once or so a day, I write a few hundred words about interesting houses for sale in Western Washington. Tiny houses and off-the-grid are my faves, but I also get to write about mega-mansions, houseboats, and what-in-the-world-were-they-thinking. It’s fun because we can write from the perspective of someone who isn’t a buyer, a seller, or an agent. We get to say what others can’t. I also get to dive into data, which is where my essential geekiness gets to play. Market analyses can be dull, until you realize what it means for individuals instead of statistics. Besides, we also get to write about Bertha, the big boring machine creating a tunnel under Seattle. Bizarre.
Now that we’re past lunch, things get a bit more fluid. Yes, that was before lunch.
Without a doubt my least regular, but also most enjoyable gig is a series of small gigs helping lots of individuals pursue their passions. Need a development plan for an invention? Ok. How about a communications strategy for an advocacy group? Sure. Have too many options and no idea which to pursue? You talk, I’ll listen, and we’ll work out which works best for you. This also means sometimes simply helping someone set up a web site, edit their catch phrase, revise their social media presence, or pass along referrals to folks who can take them to the next step. Some days, there’s nothing to do, and I move on to other tasks. Other days, my mental transmission has to shift from international issues to local business concerns to discreet private matters. I’d like to do more of that because it is closest to my passion, and also the most difficult to describe. Usually when it happens, consulting happens in the afternoon, and gets a higher priority than almost anything.
Networking (@tetrimbath on Twitter)
In today’s world, the most powerful tool is available to the greatest number of people: social media. Networking has never been so easy, unless you were only interested in your neighbors in your hamlet. Almost every day I spend about a half hour checking my clients’ social media messages. Sharing is a good thing. I don’t mechanically share everything because that would look soulless, but I do try to amplify their messages as appropriate. It is something simple and easy that any of us can do for each other. If you really want to make social media work for you, be social and make sure it works for someone else, first.
Prospects and Projects
Here’s where it gets messy, but in a good way. Every day I work on at least one, and frequently several prospects and projects. Some are entrepreneurial. Some are for advocacy groups.
Today’s entrepreneurial endeavor was confirming the details of an event I’ve organized for November, a Whidbey Writers Workshop, a one day series of classes taught by Whidbey writers for writers on Whidbey. Three of us did something similar several years ago. It seemed like the time to do it again. The absence of the Whidbey Island Writers Conference was another inspiration. If we can’t have a grand conference, at least a few of us can offer a workshop.
One bit of advocacy was based on a sad event. A local bicyclist was killed in an accident with a car. A few of use from the completely unofficial Occupy Your Bike “organization” decided to create a ghost bike memorial. I drafted an article about it, and fact checked with local authorities. Others will take on the tougher tasks of preparing the installation.
A more pleasant bit of advocacy is in support of the local Senior Center. They’ve asked me to host a meeting, to which I finally said yes thanks to schedules synching, and about which I’ll know more about when I find out what I volunteered to do. I enjoy public speaking and meeting facilitation; so, sure. What am I supposed to do, again?
While I’m writing this post, I’m waiting to hear about another connection that may be entrepreneurial, may be for advocacy, could be both, and definitely sounds interesting. The local phone company is already installing 10 Gig Internet service on the island. That beats out most of, if not all of, Washington State. Evidently, I am now part of a technology forum that will help guide how the community leverages this unique resource to improve the sustainability of the local community and economy. Cool. That part isn’t paid. The entrepreneurial part may not be paid either, but one of the other forum attendees has an amazing 3-D printing business that I’d like to learn more about. It would be fun to write about it. It would be fun to (be paid) to help it out, too.
If you actually read all of this, I’m amazed. If not, simply realize how many lines of text you just scrolled by. Compare that to the list I would’ve produced when I was at Boeing in one of those “we’ll have to walk and talk between meetings because there’s no other time open on my schedule” kinds of jobs. There, the tasks were varied as well, but they lived within a narrow environment. There was a common core of goals, culture, and constraints. There was also a common core of compensation, even with the disparities between employees and managers. Everyone had a paycheck. Everyone had benefits. Now, my meetings range from 1%-ers to people trying to work out of poverty, from facts to feelings, from solving the world’s problems to figuring out how to get bills paid on time.
The Gig Economy works, sort of. The Gig Economy provides great opportunities but within great uncertainties. Every day contains far more unknowns than an 8-5 with 1 hour for lunch 5 days a week with 2-4 weeks off every year job. That fundamental shift in our economy and our society may be as significant as the fundamental shift I help steward when I work on the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum. An increasing number of us are working in it, defining it, revising it, and hoping it will become sustainable. Predicting the future has never been highly successful; but it looks to me that days like this which weren’t typical before are becoming more typical now. What will be typical in another twenty years?
Hey, I finished in time to see the Sun meet the horizon! Looks like dinner at dusk – after I publish and share this post. Work, then food, then play – or at least sit still and stare at the horizon for a while.
Read it. Loved it.
I’m looking forward to the Writing Workshop. Still up in the air if I can make it, but we can always hope.
I should invest some money into talking to you about my ideas that I refer to as “Slytherin ambition with Ravenclaw tendencies”. Ten points if you completely understand that. I seem to be addicted to biting off more than I can chew, and I get super distracted with all my ideas swirling around at once. It would be nice to talk to someone on an official level to help me organize my mind a little and provide a little focus.
Slytherin and Ravenclaw understood. I’ll take those ten points!