You Don’t Need a Job. You Need a Gig and a Network

by Holland-Mark | February 22, 2012

When I was a fresh-faced young man, I went out into the world to find a job. Over the course of a couple years trying to break into advertising, I was a door-to-door salesman, then a bouncer, and eventually a bartender. Each of these was a job to pay the bills, en route to a career, which I hoped would sustain me financially and spiritually over time.

Fast forward to 2012, and something’s changed in the fresh-faced young men and women I see today.  The smart ones don’t think in terms of “jobs” in the way I used that term, and they could give a crap about “career” in the same sense.

They’re focused on something different. Many of them are hustling to get paid for solving a problem they’re passionate about, rather than flipping burgers or shaking cocktails as they pine away for something better. Call it a “gig,” maybe, at the risk of sounding all swing-a-ding-ding. But it’s a new perspective on work that I think is good for people and the economy at large, in encouraging us all to take risks and find new ways to create distinct value.

Writer and futurist Charles Handy frames this idea with a great story:

The other day, I was having lunch with an advertising executive. He was bemoaning the fact that he had lost his job while still at the height of his powers, as he saw it. Just at that moment, the electrician who was working in his house put his head around the door. “I won’t be back for a couple of days,” he said. “I’ve got another job to fit in.” In his world, a job meant a client; in my friend’s world, it meant an employer.

There’s no obvious limit to the number of electrician-type jobs that can exist. Or plumbers. Or accountants. The world is full of potential clients — for something. The problem is that you have to create the something yourself, and most of us are not born entrepreneurs….

…I [say] to my kids, “When you leave college don’t get a job at first. Find someone who will pay you money for something you make or do for them. It will be good practice for life later on.”

Handy’s point is that a client is sometimes better than an employer, especially early in your career where you may not have the obligations you’ll have later, and later in your career when you may have the resources you once lacked.

I can name 5 really good people off the top of my head who are out there covering their monthly nut doing something they love, in the full knowledge they may or may not be doing the same thing in 12 months. And these people are happy – to a man – in a way only a minority of my more permanently employed friends are. These people control their own destiny. They know they can eat what they kill, and that’s a useful skill in an economy where disruptive change is the only constant.

The other thing these people have is a network of relationships. Networks help you spot the opportunities that so often come disguised as other people’s problems. They help you assemble the resources to solve complex problems, quickly build a team that can execute effectively, and maintain the enduring personal connections that give work meaning.

There are two signs in the foyer of Holland-Mark World HQ:

Love that is not love is work.
Work that us not work is love.

If you find yourself working at something you don’t love, don’t just think about looking for a new job. Reflect on what you love to do, and then on a problem doing that might solve for somebody else.

If you can find someone to pay you for solving that problem, you may never have to work again.


This post originally appeared on on February 21st, 2012.