The New Millennial Tradition of Non-Traditional Jobs
When I was growing up, ‘the workforce’ seemed like a great machine, an infinite collection of gears, springs and balance-wheels, working in sync to keep the pace of the world. It was a nice image, and still is, if you think about it, but it’s a picture where the whole is beautiful, but the roles of the small, individual parts aren’t glamorous or exciting, merely procedural. When I was a kid, entering the workforce meant becoming a cog, an important functionary of a larger machine, but not as an individual – a cog can always be replaced, manufactured and engineered. But human beings aren’t like that, I know I’m not, and I don’t believe anyone is, and as much as I believe that a person’s occupation doesn’t define them, the fact of that matter is that how we spend our time does reflect a great deal about who we are, and the average American spends well over 50% of their waking hours – close to 9 hours a weekday – at work. So our jobs may not define us, but they color us, and change the lens through which we view the world, and the marketplace.
This is a piece about working for a company, versus working in a marketplace, and maybe it’s millennial entitlement, but the only person I want to work for is myself, and the best way to do that is to work with companies to help them grow and be the best they can be.
I’ve worked many different jobs, and the feeling of being a young person working what I would’ve considered a normal ‘workforce’ job – 9-5 (but really 8-6:30), necktie, and a cubicle, was always that of a cog. I felt easily replaceable, unimportant to the work at large, and of minimal consequence to the company. Don’t get me wrong, these jobs and roles are important, but my point is that they are more important for the people working them than they are for the company. Young people learn work ethic, professionalism, and all of the other important things one needs to know in order to operate successfully in the marketplace, but variety is the spice of life, and the economy, and it’s important to note that this isn’t the only way.
As an employee of a small marketing startup, I feel a level of pressure and responsibility I never felt before in another job. I’ve had to learn new skills on the go, and put them to use almost instantly, things can be fast-paced and stressful at times, but the most important difference is that I feel like my work, my time, and my actions are impactful. This is the nature of startups and small businesses, and part of why they are attractive to so many people. I’ve realized that the difference is that I don’t feel as though I am working for a company. Sure, I am working for Artmap Inc., but I’m playing a role in the larger marketplace – be it content marketing, or the many different industries our clients represent, I don’t feel like a cog, I feel like a crank, and I’m in the marketplace. That’s empowering, and I think employees that feel empowered, relevant, and important will always be willing to work a little harder, and be a little more passionate about what they do, because they understand the consequences of their work, the grander scheme of things, and where what they do fits in.
This doesn’t apply only to startups, and it shouldn’t, but I think it’s important to acknowledge this aspect of what’s attractive about startup culture, so that other kinds of companies might use some of the knowledge to their advantage. When people think of startup culture, and why it’s appealing to young workers, they think of things like flexible hours, relaxed dress codes, ping-pong tables in the office – cool people sitting at cool desks wearing cool headphones listening to cool music doing cool things on cool computers, but all that is is icing. The cake is not feeling like a cog. The sugar, butter, and flour of the thing is feeling like you’re not working for a company, but in the marketplace, that the work you’re doing is appreciated and that it matters. Everyone says millennials love that kind of thing, right?