More On Gen Y, the Workforce, and Freelancing
July 23, 2007
Last week, I wrote a post referencing this essay on Web Worker Daily by Ryan Healy of Employee Evolution, and in the past few days, there’s been quite a conversation going on in the comments (that’s one sign of an interesting article – the comment section is lively and long).
There seems to be two mindsets towards my generation’s demands for the workplace – one that says we’re a bunch of entitled brats who ask for way too much without having proved themselves, and one that is very “right on, man, you totally get it. I want to escape the cube farm and work for a company that gets it too.”
Of course, I don’t think either group is 100% right. I’ve read plenty of pessimistic posts and articles about how Gen Y is going to screw everything up because we don’t understand the value of hard work, we can’t focus on anything, and we’re a bunch of celebrity-obsessed dimwits who only care about owning the latest status symbols. These are usually the same people who think that the web is somehow evil (do they realize how amusing it is that they are using the internet to bitch and moan about how it’s destroying our culture?). However, I also think that some of the Gen Yers have to realize that if we want to make these kind of demands of our employers, we had better prove ourselves first.
I’m not talking about all that paying-your-dues stuff. The kind of jobs that require people to toil in obscurity for years, sometimes suffering the wrath of an obnoxious boss, for the small possibility of someday getting recognized for their hard work hold little appeal. I think that’s one thing that truly is different about my generation – we’re confident in our abilities, we’re used to quick gratification and we want to see our contributions make an impact right out of the gate. We’re special, damn it, and employers should recognize that*.
Of course, I have a bit of a skewed view on all this because I’ve actually never had a typical full-time job – I’ve been freelancing since I graduated (by choice – I doubt there’s a single job out there that combines my different interests and abilities, and allows me to work on such a wide variety of projects, and lets me do everything on my own schedule, working from anywhere I want as long as I make my deadlines).
Therefore, I had my own “right on, dude!” moment when I read this comment: “So, let me get this straight. You want a position where you don’t have to show up for work, doesn’t have any set title, and pays you while you save your best stuff for your start up company. That’s called freelancing. And you know what, you are more then welcome to do it. Just don’t expect a steady check, insurance, or benefits and you’ll get along just great.”
Yes, there is a tradeoff between freedom and stability (this is probably easier to do when you’re young and have no dependents), but I tend to think it’s worth it. Besides, I can work with the people I genuinely like, and I get to pursue all sorts of interesting avenues and opportunities. Yes, there’s that whole regular paycheck thing, but if you’re any good at what you do (and decent at marketing yourself), finding regular, quality clients is not impossible. Also, I tend to enjoy the hustle and the challenge of finding creative, interesting solutions to problems.
In fact, I’m beginning to think there is bigger evolution going on in the workplace. It’s not just about Gen Y, but an overall shift to allowing employees more freedom and autonomy. People are not defining themselves by their jobs to the extent that they used to – blame Gen Y, blame the web, blame whatever. Regardless where the fault lies, the times, they are a-changin. Just look at the huge popularity enjoyed by the 4 Hour Work Week, for instance. A entire community is growing around lifestyle design and the basic concept that work doesn’t have to be the sole focus of your life.
*Actually, considering the changes that are going to take place in the workforce as the Boomers retire, companies are going to have to look to Gen Y for manpower, whether they like it or not.