The Gig Economy and The Creative

Van-By-the-RiverA Perfect Match, Right?

People with power tend to view gigs as hobbies, or sometimes lucrative endeavors in the “sharing economy.”

Everybody knows Uber drivers, indies and consultants make a killing while controlling their own destinies, right? Yeah, as if.

For 26 years I’ve depended on project work, “gigs,” for my employment and income source. I didn’t get to “choose” my “career” canvas. I had to do the best with what was available to me in the moment.

But hey, no problem for me: I’m a project-prone guy, I’m good at sizing up terrain and implementing improvements, a team/project supercharger, and as a creative, I think outside the box by default. I’m also a dad of a kid with High Functioning Autism, what they used to call Asperger’s. It’s a full-time occupation, so work-flexibility is required. But for how gigs are paid and culturally regarded, gigs are a natural fit for a creative, artistic type.

Gig-Workers Are Not Upper-Class Consultants

Gigs often pay very poorly, and they’re fraught with their own complications: no union or regulatory job protection from abusive working conditions, no wage reliability, and required costs and expenses that cut into poor remuneration.

The financial element of projects and gigs kinda sucks. Upper class-dominated “consultants” are paid well, often up front, well enough to afford a home, even send kids to college. Gigs, however, are usually lower-level projects and pay less for the venture. Projects vary in nature. Most pay when only on completion, and entrepreneurials pay on-the-fly or whenever the sponsoring company feels like it.

Oddly, landlords don’t care when you get paid; rent is due on the first. Non-negotiable.

Opportunities Are Wide Open! Kinda

Before the ‘90s dot-com boom and bust, “gigs” were mostly outsourcing and temp agency projects. Post-‘90s, opportunities for a wider variety of gigs seemed to open-up. Sort-of.

In my case, smaller construction outfits needed short-term office managers. I super-charged, organized and optimized a few. Hollywood being just over the hill, I had a lucrative gig writing script coverage, until production companies and agencies discovered they could “hire” an unpaid intern in-house. A non-union event audio guy needed labor for setups and tear-downs. Then events companies began to pay less by the gig and he “retired.” Uber and Lyft seemed great, until my insurance company warned me that my policy would be dropped.

After 2008, gigs within my skill set dried up. I wound up working a new gig as a volunteer running a big-budget community program that needed super-charging. I loved it. I was good at it. Boom: super-gig… well, not so much. With the cost of daily existence continuously storm-surging, I had to have paid-gigs.

At least the next gig grew out of the unpaid community program. It’s low paying and increasingly professionalized job requirements cut into the income. But the work is fulfilling, and I’m necessary.

My skill sets landed me gigs writing for software startups. But then startups fail. A lot.

The way things are going now and where they seem to be headed, the gig economy is what’s left for a guy my age.”

Some fiction writer buddies were killing it with indie publishing—novels and shorts are totally project-specific by nature. The freelancer terrain is crowded as hell, and the marketing curve is every bit as steep as fiction’s indie and traditional publishing universe; lots of long and late nights attending to non-creative details on top of creating content. Terrible feast or famine income, but the work is a perfect match.

Then there’s the cultural component to the gig thing.

“Right Now I Got This Gig and…”

There are social stigmas of the gig-worker: it’s extra-money, a hobby, a way to stay busy, lacking the “legitimacy” of the career-consultant. And there’s the guy-factor.

In the guy-world, there’s this thing: you are what you do. Thirty years I’ve been trying to subvert that, and I gave up. Guys just don’t change on this one. That means every interaction with another guy inevitably hits the “so, what do you do, man?” thing.

The sellable response to “what do you do, man” should be, “well, right now I got this gig doing [insert a clever job title that spins the gig as a big deal].” Only it’s not that sellable among certain class-sets of guys. Middle through upper-class guys reply with anything from “oh” to “is that a responsible thing to do? I mean, you’ve got kids, right?” and “dude, your wife must hate you.” Working and lower class guys mostly reply: “Wow, I wish I could do something like that…”

Well, I wish I could land a legit “day job” that pays actual reliable income instead of working gigs. Unfortunately, companies still view “gigs” as “you can’t cut it.”

For a creative guy, the opportunity landscape is pretty desertified. But I have the gigs I’ve got, and I’m always looking for more. The reality is, I do whatever I can to make ends meet, keep up my responsibilities contributing to our household income mix, and still be a competent dad to an Aspie at home. It ain’t easy.

I’ll likely never own a home and once I can’t find the next gig, it’s game-over, man; I’m in a van down by the river in my “senior” years. How awesome is that?

2 Responses

  1. Ash

    Loved this post! As a fellow involuntary gig-er, I definitely can relate to the uncertainty, the healthcare woes, the lack of a career, and the fear of what happens when the gigs dry up. The only thing I have to add is that “you are what you do” is not a “guy” thing. It’s an everyone thing. I’m not a guy and I experience the exact interaction you’re talking about on the regular.

    Sincerely,

    A genderqueer gig-er who is currently administering a census while trying to figure out what happens next.

    1. Thanks, Ash. I hear ya.

      I’m not sure if it’s “good” to hear that “you are what you do” thing has become detached from a guy thing; maybe it just increases our solidarity quotient, SMH. Here’s to us and all our fellow gig-ers.

      I hope we can figure out and gain the economic/worker rights support we need sooner rather than later.

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