Meet today’s millennial. 31 year-old Rebeccah lives in Oakland, California and works Monday to Friday freelancing as an executive assistant and grant writer for the charity sector. She has a weekend gig as a postpartum doula (a kind of midwife who helps women with the emotional and physical recovery after giving birth) and on occasion she also moonlights as a babysitter for a tidy hourly fee.
She’s not the only one. Back in the good old days work was a fulfilling way to earn a living and contribute to an industry or cause that we care about. But for many generation Y-ers like Rebeccah and myself, who graduated during the recession, getting a full-time job during those first years of our career has been a challenge. And when we do find work, it’s less and less likely to be a full-time gig. Subsequently we take on other part-time jobs to fill our time and, more critically, our bank accounts.
I moved from the UK to the US three years ago, and this year I joined the ranks of what many are calling the ‘multitaskers’ or, as my American friend puts it, hustling. These are people who have more than one job, either supplementing their income or interests through other work and opting for flexibility instead of stability. This can be a liberating but it isn’t always decided by choice. In expensive cities like London especially, one job often isn’t enough to make ends meet. In addition, on both sides of the pond, the number of full-time jobs have been dwindling. But what does this mean for our long-term career plans?
Myself, I had been working towards a career in communications for the charity sector, and a few months ago landed a writing job at an environmental nonprofit just down the road from where I live. The downside was that it was part-time, leaving me with three days a week to fill. I decided to take the opportunity to freelance as a marketing consultant for an online dating website. Much as I enjoyed the chance to choose my own hours, compiling newsletters with ‘this week’s dating hotlist’ wasn’t my idea of a fulfilling career.
But, despite not being related to my field of choice, my second job did teach me skills that I wouldn’t have learned in a traditional job setting, even simple self-management such as managing my schedule – not staying in my pajamas all day for a start. Plus, I actually enjoyed having a mix of office-based work with a team contrasted with days where I could set my own schedule and include routine tasks like doing a load of laundry during my lunch break. Given the choice however, I’d definitely prefer to focus on one career and industry rather than having to mentally switch between two different jobs.
There is mounting evidence however, that the multitasking model is making us more marketable to future employers. According to a study by UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the YCE: “Not only do millennials multitask far more than previous generations, they value […] work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer.” This suggests that we’re not just doing more work to cover our living costs (although that’s the main reason), but that we actually want nimble, flexible and above all, meaningful careers.
If you’re in a nine to five job that you enjoy, then great. But if you find yourself under-employed, don’t beat yourself up about it, because there’s a world of choice of what you can do with that extra time. Use it to build your dream career – it won’t be so easy if you do bag yourself an elusive full-time role. Plus, that freelance gig you take a few hours a week to pay bills may turn into a job offer, or may even prove handy if your life circumstances change, like relocating or starting a family.
My advice for newbie multitaskers? Follow as many job leads as you can, even if they aren’t in your dream sector, while always keeping in mind your bigger career goals. The traditional career path isn’t always an option for us generation Y-ers, as Sheryl Sandberg explained in her internationally acclaimed book ‘Lean In’ when she said: “careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” That’s becoming increasingly evident, and we can choose to fight it, or embrace it as an opportunity. It’s time to start hustling.