From the Freelancer’s Union, an interesting piece by Sara Horowitz, titled “THE FREELANCERS PYRAMID OF SELF-ACTUALIZATION”. Horowitz and the Freelancer’s Union are probably one prominent represenation of “the future of work”, so I think this is worth a careful look.
She explicitly refers to Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” (1943), one of the most influential psychological theories of the 20th century.
In this case, she’s unpacking the definition of “success” for today’s freelancers. This is a valuable idea, especially since there is a lot of blither-blather these days about how cool it is to be self-employed–though it looks pretty darn scary and difficult to me.
Her basic approach is to look at a sequence of “levels” in a freelance career, which unfold as the person works and learns, and which provide deeper and better rewards. Importantly, she gives advice for how to move “up” the pyramid.
This is an interesting piece, and has a lot of honesty about it.
The lower levels of the pyramid (“Unfree Freelancer”, “Hustling Freelancer”) are absolutely horrible, with no security, and certainly no pleasure. As she says “This still isn’t a real job….”
Why would anyone want to do this? The only reasonable answers are, “I have no other chioce” or “I want to get to a higher level”.
If you hustle enough, and your luck holds, you may pull together a solid collection of gigs, regular income, and, ta-daa, health insurance. She calls this “Empowered Freelancer”, though it is, of course, what we used to call “the first day of work”, back when there were “jobs”.
At this point you can actually have a family, and participate in the community, and have a certain confidence that you aren’t going to be wiped out at any second.
From here, you may grow more confident in your own skills, develop extensive networks, and gain the esteem of your colleagues and clients. This is “the influential freelancer”, and you are proud to be a successful independent. Things are starting to feel good–finally.
As in Maslow’s hierarchy, at the highest stage we depart the Eartly plane, achieving “360”, essential “New Mutialism”. Changing from “I” to “We”.
Many people, including myself, have experienced the first couple of levels, and a few have achieved the mid-levels.That means that most of the freelancers I’ve met are not really “free”, but mostly just struggling and hustling to eke out a survival. Not cool at all.
I can’t really say anything about the final two levels, because I don’t think I’ve met anyone there. They probably live in California.
I kind of like this piece, because it has a pretty steely-eyed look at what “success” (and pure survival) might mean, and recognizes a lot of different ways you can go. The advice about how to move “up” looks OK to me, but I can’t judge from personal experience.
The final stage is a bit new-agey for me, I’ve always been shooting for a home, family, and community; not personal glory or actualization. My personal identity and worth has never, ever been defined by my work (not that I haven’t had some achievements and colleagues that I”m proud of.)
I think Horowitz and the Freelancer’s Union are talking about one important face of “the future of work”, and I take their advice with respect. I’s like to encourage academics to investigate these concepts, and the social psychology of this way of work.
(Personal note: this whole approach terrifies me–a shy person like me would quickly starve to death at the “unfree” level.)