The way we work is changing rapidly. The number of us who have opted out of traditional corporate or government employment is growing. According to such sources as Forbes and Public Sector Digest, by the year 2020, 40 to 50 percent of the workforce in the U.S. will be freelancers. By 2030 we will be the majority.
Moving from cubicles to freedom is appealing for many reasons. Perhaps the most significant is the fresh air of possibility and permission to create products, services, and ideas that would never be possible in the often monochromatic, dehydrated, and angular space of traditional business.
Corporations and government organizations are also awakening to the realization that human freedom and a sense of purpose make business sense. Those living in denial of this softer but more powerful aspect of business will be awakened one day soon by the success of their competitors.
But that’s what they have to worry about.
What we have to worry about is the flip side. It only takes a short while to realize that this new creative space comes with a whole new set of limits placed on us. We have to create on demand, produce what can be sold, and deliver what the market wants.
The good news is that this very tension—between being oneself and providing valuable service—is the nursery of creativity.
Being oneself in work—which translates to doing what we love—is the holy grail of vocation, and it usually comes in the later years of our lives. As we move from having a job, to having a career, to having a calling, we become increasingly aware that who we are is far more important than what we do. Young adult zeal to prove ourselves gives way to deeper movements toward understanding ourselves.
As we mature we realize we are not human doings but human beings. Our leadership influence correlates far more with who we are than with what we do. Doing more, at some point, becomes unproductive.
Freedom to attend to who we are becoming, however, is often visited by freedom’s well-meaning brother: fear. Once we walk out of the map of conventional ideas and practices, we are going feral. Wilderness brings freedom but also wipes away our assurances, safeties, and consolations. No one can guarantee your survival anymore.
We’re left to make it work. And this means doing what your difficult entrepreneur boss, your less-than-ideal clients, or the circumstances of life itself are asking of you.
Here is what I have learned in my leadership coaching practice from leaders who have learned to inhabit their own lives while doing what they have to do whether in the cubicle world or outside it:
Give yourself permission to use your work as a tool of becoming the person you were meant to be. Claim this and never let it go again. Commitment to becoming yourself is your freedom, your bliss, and your heaven on earth. It is also your door to success. If you are not doing your work as you, there will be someone who will do it better. By being yourself, you make your competition irrelevant. This is your anchor and your sail.
Embrace limits. Reject the cultural fear of limits. Limits are where art comes to life. Create with the canvas you have, the technique you are limited to, and the experience that is yours. Within these boundaries, set by your project, clients, or circumstances, you have full freedom to be yourself. The narrower the boundaries, the more creative you are called to be. Find a way to turn the commands into choices and you will find a way to freedom.
Embrace money as one of the measures of your creativity. Money is what people work for and where they deposit their sense of safety and their personal aspirations. Like Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” People give their treasure to you because they believe you can contribute to their safety and their aspirations. Respect what they want and need. It is about their heart. If you don’t see it, it is because you are not creative about the way you see. Learn to enchant yourself with their story.
Lose, grieve, and let go. When tempted to complain about circumstances or resent what life is doing to you, remember that half of life is made of losing, grieving, and letting go. We all love the win-celebrate-achieve half of life. Learn to love the other half. If you are chronically stuck, it is probably because you are avoiding states such as anxiety, frustration, and boredom. They are partners on your journey. Let them in. Breathe through them.
Master your irreducibly human skills. Technical and transactional competencies required in your business are necessary, but you need something far more foundational. To perform in the midst of volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity, you need meta-competencies. What is it that you can do because you are human? What is it that you can do because you are this particular human? Get very good at these things.
Whatever you do, make a life-long commitment to learning to love the harsh world that seems to be pushing against you.
Work is intimacy, a place where your inner world comes into full contact with the outer world. It is a conversation between lovers, a continual negotiation between what you want and what the world wants. Like in a marriage, you will learn what love is only when you are willing to go to the place where neither you nor your love has ever been before.
--- This article first appeared on www.chadrallen.com ---