10 September 2012

On being a Micropreneur

Leah Busque nails it in this Huffington Post article about the transformation of work today. She talks about our realizations, after the 2008 economic decline and loss of jobs, that job-hunting and employment would never be the same again. And how, in those challenging moments of disappointment and self-reflection, after we had sent out 20 cover letters, applications, resumes per week with no response, we had to reconsider what it was we really wanted. We could no longer define ourselves by our jobs because we didn't have one, and all we were left with was our values. Which sums up my journey pretty well.

I went from "being a teacher" for almost ten years, to "being a project manager", to "being an education and non-profit consultant", to not finding a full-time job as a project manager, to piecing together contract work and then starting my own artisanal food company based on my core values of sustainability, sharing resources, and community building. My transferable skills and ability to learn and adapt were what kept me challenged and earning money, and starting a small business was a wonderful culmination of those strengths. That experience shaped me powerfully, as has the privilege of living in San Francisco, a bastion of tech innovation and hopefulness, of open-mindedness and experimentation. 

Leah Busque's creation of TaskRabbit was a great example of this evolution on a large, business-scale. I see it as a modern version of temp agencies, harnessing the speed of tech communication and networking to provide services immediately, and the variety of providers' skills to offer almost anything. Leah calls it a "new model of work", and she's right.  Other companies recognized this pivot and are doing similar things, evolving their models as they learn (eg. Zaarly, Exec, Gigwalk).

"Some use our marketplace as a primary means of income, some use it to fill in the gaps between freelance work, some use it to add a layer of financial security to a traditional job, and others use it to pay the bills while they start a business. The thing all these people share is that they are no longer waiting for someone to create a job or a career for them; they're doing it themselves. The TaskRabbit community has swiftly and organically discovered something pretty monumental: The solution to the jobs crisis won't be found in figuring out how to bring the old jobs back. No, our collective task is much larger than that. We'll navigate the jobs crisis by embracing new models of work entirely. Simply put, we're all our own job creators now."

And that's where Caterina Rindi, Collaborative Micropreneur, is now. Except it's not quite enough. It's not quite enough income, not quite enough benefits, not quite enough retirement savings. Yes, I am living a life grounded in what's important to me, righteous in the work I do, but I am also getting priced out of my neighborhood and access to my community and resources. The dilemma has me vacillating from optimism to panic, scanning employment job boards at the same time as I sign up for gigs and jobs and tasks and teaching classes, looking for a new apartment in neighborhoods with long commutes and no local grocery stores. The hopeful part of me says that this is a new opportunity to bring sharing and collaborative consumption to neighbors who haven't heard of it. The frustrated side worries I'll be isolated and limited in what I can do and who I can access.

Busque ends her article calling for more people to take risks and live their lives with intention. "Revel in what it feels like to be the one who decides to take action, then ride that momentum to the kind of life you want. It's yours to create. The world will catch up with you." I'm definitely ready for the world to catch up, to appreciate what I can provide, and join me in spreading the word - sharing is caring!

Visiting with Leah and Kobi, the original motivator behind TaskRabbit