Why Self Employment Is Part of My Destiny

Three weeks ago I attended a workshop where our charge was to wrestle with a question: “What breaks your heart?” It was led by Dr. Tererai Trent, who shares a central message: “What breaks your heart is part of your destiny.” (Yes, she is amazing, and yes, the weekend was intense.) Though I hadn’t used these exact words till meeting Dr. Trent, I’d been asking myself some version of this question for the past two and a half years. It was then that I’d made one of the boldest steps of my life by walking away from a job I’d loved for nearly 15 years.

What breaks your heart is part of your destiny.  –Dr. Tererai Trent

I was a curriculum designer at a well-respected history museum, and it had become my identity. For more than a decade I got to tell people how much I adored my job. I was surrounded by curious collaborators, dear friends, groundbreaking technologies, and projects that cultivated critical thinkers. Walking away was so painful that it still backs up on me sometimes. But my leaving a single job isn’t what breaks my heart. Instead, I’ll tell you what does: Not the fact that I left, but the reason why I chose to do it.

Last Day MNHS

My last day as an employee at the Minnesota History Center. December 16, 2016.

What Breaks My Heart

Our economy is changing. Organizational loyalty is harder and harder to find. Increasingly, jobs are unable to provide the security many of us grew up conditioned to expect. For those unprepared for this change, a spectrum of distressing results awaits, including layoffs and fear of job loss. Even at well-meaning organizations, employees find themselves on a treadmill of productivity so relentless that words like fulfillment, creativity, or–god forbid–self-care, are essentially nonexistent.

As Arjan Van Den Born posits in his book, The Fuzzy Firm, we are experiencing “the imminent transformation of our firms from stable hierarchies to fluid networks.” As this occurs, employees and employers are becoming less interdependent. In The Gig Economy, Diane Mulcahy puts it this way: “In just one generation, the corporate gravy train full of plentiful, progressive, benefit-rich, and secure full-time jobs has left the station.”

A series of coffee dates with my friends provides plenty evidence to confirm these shifts. Over the past two years these conversations have revealed commonality across corporate, nonprofit, and academic sectors. And guess what? Each and every story is accompanied by some level of pain. Perhaps you have your own story to tell.

Why I’m Optimistic

So, what can be done? If you and I were to sit down for a coffee date of our own, you’d quickly learn I stand on the side of optimism. My goal is to become part of the solution. Yes, the gig economy brings uncertainty. But as with all widespread societal shifts, this one also brings opportunity. It brings innovation. It brings new ways to collaborate. According to Mulcahy, “The gig economy offers more possibilities to arc our own journey and create our own path.”

Photo of a laptop on a patio table, with a sunny green scene in the background

One benefit of self employment is the ability to structure days according to natural rhythms. Here I am enjoying songbirds on a sunny day.

Owing Our Journey

The idea of arcing my own journey has captivated me for the past few years. Though this concept never entered my mind a decade ago, I now draw energy from the 21st century changemakers who have embraced the options and challenges of this new economy. Here’s what excites me: Each of us has a unique set of skills and experiences that we can channel toward empowering others. And the gig economy provides the right combination of technology, networking, and information to allow us to find those who need us.

As Stephen Warley points out on his blog and podcast Life Skills that Matter, “The mass-market economy valued conformity. It promoted an ethos to consume more and more stuff, so each of us felt like we fit in and felt accepted. The market of infinite niches does not value sameness. The new status is having the courage to be yourself and to be unapologetic about it.”

The new status is having the courage to be yourself and to be unapologetic about it.  –Stephen Warley

Whoa. To many of us–trapped in an endless habit of meetings, commutes, and tasks–being ourselves is last on the list. I lived this way for years. In my thirties I believed it would pay off. I thought sacrificing my time, talent, and health would be worth it. After all, how many of us routinely give too much ourselves to an organization, thinking we’ll get noticed eventually? Now, as woman whose career took a major turn in midlife, I’ve come to believe I can make a greater impact outside of a hierarchy than within one.

What Can Be Done

So here I am, a self employed instructional designer who wants to change the world. My mission is to combine my longtime skills as educator with my newfound love of entrepreneurship. Teach Your Thing was born after months of reading books, listening to podcasts, journaling my thoughts, surrounding myself with people who inspired me, and–finally a four-month intensive branding course called ArtMark, led by Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder. (I highly recommend this collaborative experience, which guides participants to live its message that “Do It Together” outshines “Do It Yourself.”)

Two Ways We can Work Together For Change

Education has always been my best tool for sparking empowerment, which is why I’ve dedicated my career to it. Now, I’m leveraging that same tool in two new ways:

  1. To serve as an ally to the 21st century changemakers who have already embraced the gig economy, and
  2. To act as a beacon to those who are adapting to it

Let’s Have a Dialogue about Today’s Economy

If you are an author, podcaster, or business owner who wants to empower your people through teaching them what you know, I’d love to talk about how we can create learning experiences that will engage them and meet them where we are.

If you’re experiencing the negative side of modern economic shifts, I’d like to hear how my work as a course creator can help. If you were to take a class to hold your hand as you adapt to a new way to live and work, what would it look like?

How is the new economy affecting your life and work? Contact me directly or submit a comment. Together, let’s find a positive way forward!