As salaried jobs give way to contract work, employment is increasingly a DIY proposition
- Last Updated: 4:23 AM, June 18, 2012
- Posted: 10:32 PM, June 17, 2012
It was early on a raw winter morning, as I passed through Stamford, Conn., on my way to interview someone for a $100 freelance story, when I realized my work life had probably changed forever. As I passed the UBS building, I thought about traders who’d been checking the global markets for hours already; same at a dozen nearby hedge funds and cap management firms, a virtual ground zero of the 2008 financial crisis.
Across from all that, literally on the other side of the tracks, a few dozen guys were lined up along a service road, waiting for the pickup trucks that cruise by looking for day workers, like rough-and-tumble models on an urban catwalk.
As a downsized executive who’s gone from a long-term corporate earner to a freelancer stringing contract jobs together into something resembling a livelihood, I made a sudden and stunning connection to these guys. Were these “networking” laborers really so different from myself and the thousands of others who’ve made the same transition from salaried employee to free agent, just because we line up in home offices, libraries and Starbucks on our Internet-highway screens, hoping to land some paid work?
A depressing thought to some, maybe, but even a little truth goes a long way in the new mobile, global networking economy, where one day you’re riding the salary train and the next you’re the proprietor of “Me, Inc.,” ordering new business cards and designing your brand’s Web site.
Welcome to Transition Nation.
I arrived here by a familiar route. One morning in 2007, I boarded a commuter train in Westchester to my job as an administrative executive at a Manhattan-based media company, where I’d worked for 18 years. I was 58 at the time, and had been promoted to director of operations and corporate services four years previously, after many years of managing corporate travel services and sourcing.
But by the time I returned home late that night, my life and those of about 1,000 of my former colleagues had been dramatically altered. Our company had eliminated our jobs.
As my then 15-year-old daughter so succinctly put it: “Dad, you got fired? Will we have enough money? Will we need to sell the house?” As it turned out: yes, barely and yes. Leave it to a teenager to cut right to the truth in under 140 characters, with no adult-speak about “early retirement” or “job elimination.”
My company treated me fairly well as these things go; some might say very well. I was allowed to early-retire and was offered job-placement counseling for a year.