The challenge facing independent workers

The Challenge Facing Independent Workers. Independence or…?
By Andy Paice

Over the past couple of years I’ve been in contact with a number of fellow independent workers; freelancing consultants, coaches and creatives and each time I generally feel impressed by the breadth and depth of their knowledge and how competent that person is, and I think to myself how well this person must be doing professionally. However I’ve also been fortunate to be able to continue building relationships of trust over time with such people and I am struck by how often it turns out these very same people are in fact struggling financially in the current economic climate. This has happened so many times that it seems to be an undeniable pattern. In spite of incredibly innovative ideas and projects that such people are bringing into the world, middle class, independent knowledge workers are truly facing challenging times.

The added difficulty of this situation seems to be compounded by other factors. There is a complex aura of shame surrounding the facts of these hardships.

As independent freelancers, whether we like it or not, we are forced to work within the constraints of a system based on maximising competition in an individualistic framework. We may work from home, isolated, yet having to deal with the multiple pressures of running the home, cooking, doing school runs as well as tending to all of the never-ending facets of running a business.

On the business side of things itself we also have to maintain an image of competency and professionalism and in-built into this scenario is the necessity of appearing to be highly successful. It feels like an important element in garnering potential clients trust and interest.

However the shadow side of this is the fact that it is extremely hard to admit to oneself and others when things are not going well. In the capitalist system where competition is king there is a whole feeling of stigma and shame surrounding financial hardship. This makes it hard to ask for help, we’re afraid of losing our reputations, social status and social acceptance.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the widespread phenomena of under-employment is hardly mentioned compared to the traditional focus on unemployment statistics. Without the safety net of state benefits or the regularity of employed work being an independent means battling it out on one’s own and this can often be a lonely place. We may be feeling the pinch but we’re unsure if it’s not just we alone who are underperforming since such things are rarely openly discussed. For independents today this may well be one of the elephants in the room that is not being sufficiently addressed.

This is why whether things are going well or going pear-shaped it is important to swallow the pride which has been induced into us as a survival instinct of the capitalist economy. We need first to overcome our sense of denial in trying to conquer adversity alone and then the next natural step is to create networks of mutual support. Sara Horowitz of the US based Freelancers Union has called this the ‘New Mutualism’

Shifting from ‘I’ to ‘We’ – Egosystem to Ecosystem economies

The paradox of our age is that as increasing numbers of us go it alone and become independents, on so many levels the need for interdependence and collaboration makes itself acutely more and more of a vital necessity.

Since our society is now reaching the culmination of its individualistic momentum the majority of existing social structures do not support collaborative endeavours and we have few models to replicate. So we find ourselves in a situation in which we have to create new models and this of course requires effort, commitment and the ability to hold a certain amount of tension that working with others requires.

What could such cells of mutual support offer us?

  • Through creating networked structures of support, emotional hubs and physical places we can turn to we will build our sense of self-trust, community and dignity.
  • They could provide an opportunity to set up partnerships whereby we exchange mutual coaching and consulting, allowing us to tap deeper into our creativity and resourcefulness rather than mulling over our problems in an isolated manner.
  • Opportunities to create collaborative intentional communities of like-minded people
  • The real prospect of shifting from scarcity consciousness to abundance consciousness. This happens as we realise that through creating networks of trust we start to look out for each other and find opportunities that fit the requirements of our associates talents and needs. Whereas before we attempted this on our own the networked capacity of meeting our needs grows exponentially. This is the reality of webs of mutuality that ‘pay it forward.’
  • Possibilities to pool our talents to create strong new market opportunities that couldn’t exist in an individualistic approach.
  • Possibilities to pool resources, machinery, hardware etc thus reducing economic and environmental burdens.
  • Potentially finding investors and organisations that can support our efforts

How do we build such collaboration?

Given that we may feel unaccustomed to collaboration given our individualistic upbringing and the challenges of building entirely new social models we should not expect things to be overly easy.

However it would seem that our current global economic, environmental and social situation coupled with the ease of communication via internet now makes collaboration something highly desirable and likely. There are also elements that we are starting to observe as necessary in successfully navigating towards ‘we’ collaboration.

  • Acknowledging the difficulties of the individualistic approach
  • Being honest about one’s financial realities and future prospects
  • Making a personal inventory of skills and talents
  • Building trust with a network through regular communication online (skype) or in person
  • Moving from thinking from the head to acting from the heart (the heart understands how to build relationships better than logical thinking which tends towards individual preservation.)
  • Having meetings in which we speak authentically and listen deeply to others. (This can be facilitated i.e Open Space, Dynamic Facilitation.)

Footnotes:

  1. “Underpinning the philosophy of new mutualism is the belief that political and economic life flourishes in social networks, and that social change requires individuals to shift their thinking from ‘I’ to ‘we.’ At the core of this new movement is a culture of interdependence, mutual support, and affinity, with building sustainability, rather than maximizing short-term profit, as a goal. The goal is to build a new social support system that makes sense now and two generations from now.”
  2. For example the collaborative community project currently being formed.

Does this post resonate with you? If so, you might be interested in exploring the increasingly numerous possibilities for sharing and collaboration. Here are a few communities which I can personally vouch for as doing great work:

The Civil Society Forum (UK) provides a forum for supporting people ‘come together to pursue their collective interests and make a positive and sustainable difference to their own lives and the lives of others’ so as ‘to build a world where all can flourish’; modelling processes for doing this and is currently experimenting in mutual support through online and offline meetups.

The now global The Hub provides physical spaces for co-working and collaboration. And online initiatives such as StrongTi.es and Cahootify.com are social networks where consultants, independents and creatives meet and build projects together.

Andy Paice is a London based Coach and Facilitator, an ex-Buddhist monk passionate about helping individuals and groups to self-organise. Having received training in Dynamic Facilitation from its originator Jim Rough, he is now using it as a tool for group alignment and creating solutions that build ‘a world that works for everyone.’ www.naturalinsightcoaching.com