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The Gig Economy and the Pursuit of Personal Achievement

When we enter the gig economy what we do is get away from the structure, the hierarchy and the work schedules of organizations and chart our own destiny of personal achievement.

by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne
writing from Paradise Island, The Bahamas


Be regular and orderly in your life…so that you may be violent and original in your work
Gustave Flaubert

What a man can be, he must be
Abraham Maslow

The gig economy is a term used in relation to independent workers who are self employed. In very broad terms it ranges from workers who are full-time independent contractors such as consultants to people who freelance as teachers; instructors; facilitators and those who work limited hours a week such as Uber or Lyft drivers.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) records: “Approximately 150 million workers in North America and Western Europe have left the relatively stable confines of organizational life – sometimes by choice, sometimes not- to work as independent contractors…a recent report by McKinsey found that knowledge-intensive industries and creative occupations are the largest and fastest-growing segments of the freelance economy”. One of the compelling reasons given for the growth in this industry is the freedom of choice where the independent contractor finds herself liberated to select assignments untrammelled and free from organizational constraints. Another reason is self actualization, the top of the pyramid of layers identified by Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs.

PIERRE KLEINHOUSE Courtesy: HBR
Verywellmind.com explains Maslow’s definition of self-actualization: "It may be loosely described as the full use and exploitation of talents, capabilities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing... They are people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they are capable." HBR gives a different dimension: “A well-published writer told us, “you become your work. If you write a good book…it’s really great, and when you don’t achieve it, you have to accept…that failure might define who you are to yourself…there is no arriving. That’s a myth”.

In the author’s eclectic academic experience, the three universities he attended had a single motto: “publish or perish”. In the professional sphere this could be translated to “create or perish”. A good teacher or author is not one who makes you think, but one who makes you wonder. To the truly creative mind the challenge is not to create but to sustain that creativity and productivity. In other words, the creative mind must not only be active, but it has to be up to date. It must continue to have a sense of purpose and a sense of direction. This can only be achieved with a robust and unbroken routine. HBR goes on to say: “In organizations, routines are often associated with safety or boring bureaucracy. However, a growing body of research has shown that elite athletes, scientific geniuses, popular artists and even everyday workers use routines to enhance focus and performance. The professionals we spoke with tend to rely on them the same way”

Those in the gig economy typically go for the two greatest human emotions – the freedom to achieve and the sense of achievement. Bill Cole, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, in his article The Mental Game of Personal Achievement: Reach Your Goals Like the Superachievers gives some tips for reaching excellence in creativity and achievement: Review your major values and life goals daily; Remember, "Mile by mile it's a trial, but inch by inch, it's a cinch"; Ask yourself, "A month or a year from now, will this matter?"; Set deadlines and make timetables for executing each objective that takes you closer to your goal; Post and consult your priority list multiple times every day; Review your day and ask yourself "What were the top 3 things I accomplished today?"; Clean up the tasks and projects that annoy and frustrate you the most; Celebrate your successes; Review your major values and life goals daily; Plan your work and then work your plan.

When we enter the gig economy what we do is get away from the structure, the hierarchy and the work schedules of organizations and chart our own destiny of personal achievement. It is a very special person who can do this, compared to the millions of paper pushers in organizations or line workers in factories. One has to have something special to offer, and for that one needs a conditioned mind. Louis Pasteur said: “[F]ortune favours the prepared mind.” The first thing one would do to be the beneficiary of this fortune is to be well read in the area of speciality one offers. The second is to deconstruct conventional wisdom so that invention and creativity can seep into one’s mind. As Pablo Picasso said:” [L]earn the rules like a pro so that you can break them like an artist”.

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman who wrote the book Thinking Fast and Slow opines that there are two ways that the human thinks: instinctively and emotionally; and deliberatively and logically. The latter offers a dimension that tears the mind away from a knee jerk reaction to a problem when we think traditionally in the way we usually solve problems. In other words, the typical gig economy worker is a creative critical thinker who looks at problems or situations differently from the traditional way of thinking and infuses a fresh process of reaching judgments through analysis, rationalization (for example by deciphering the occurrence of patterns), and evaluation. Mostly, the technique described above speaks to interpretation of information and analysis thereof.

The success of the gig economy thrives on tenacity and sustenance. As HBR puts it aptly: “Our conclusion is that people in the gig economy must pursue a different kind of success – one that comes from finding a balance between predictability and possibility, between viability (the promise of continued work) and vitality (feeling present, authentic and alive in one’s work)”.

This article is a dedication to all those independent contractors of the gig economy whom I know and whom I have had the pleasure to work with.

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