In 2001, I was eager to leave my corporate job. After several decades of “fighting the good fight,” that kind of work had become monotonous and fatiguing. You may have been there too…or maybe this is where you are now. An endless stream of meetings, discussions, phone messages, travel, and more. At the end of the day it takes its toll.
When I was thinking of making the change, it was against the backdrop of the huge boom of the “dot com” economy, when it seemed the internet was making so much opportunity possible for so many people. I was one of many otherwise stable employees, in otherwise stable companies, who was pondering the ultimate entrepreneurial question of the day: “Can I work on my own?”
My strategy was relatively simple—do the same kind of work I’d been doing for decades as an employee, but do it as an independent freelancer.
I asked myself that question and I took a look online.
The promise of online work was great…log on to a site with freelance assignments, find your right match, do work, and get paid. It made sense…except in 2001 that was more fantasy than reality. Back then most of the assignments were for programmers doing webpages and small computer programs. The kind of work I wanted to do—marketing and managing relationships with prospective clients via the internet—wasn’t much in demand.
Fast forward nearly 16 years and things are much different. A number of these online marketplaces have emerged, by some estimates as many as 200+. More importantly, there are more than half-a-million assignments every month up for grabs—a big increase in business volume online. All impressive…but irrelevant unless those jobs are something you can do.
The good news is that the biggest change I’ve seen in these online assignment networks is in the skills that are in demand. They have shifted from programming and other geek stuff to about 50% non-technical assignments…tapping into skills you probably already have.
When I explain this to most Baby Boomers, they are mildly interested but pretty convinced there isn’t much in this for them.
But most are wrong…really wrong. And I can give you three reasons why:
- Because they think of themselves as their occupation rather than a powerful collection of education and career skills.
- Because they “discount” skills that have been learned through their education, volunteer work, hobbies, and life experience.
- Because they underestimate the wisdom they have earned through decades of solving business and life problems.
Let’s tackle skills versus occupation first. Chances are if you have been working over the last 20 years you have picked up a few new skills along the way; skills you didn’t have when you left your formal education. You understand email, for example. I don’t mean just the mechanical process of sending email but the skill of written communication. Since email came along, you’ve written many thousands of words expressing yourself in new ways, explaining things, responding to questions, and solving problems in writing.
Now let’s take a look at your “discounted” skills. Most of us have a life beyond our career: working with the Boy Scouts to raise money, organizing our church’s building fund, or figuring out how to pay our mortgage off faster, with lower interest costs. None are really related to a career but all are valuable. And finally, what about wisdom?
The world of freelancing is about solving problems. And, to the extent that you can solve problems, you have value in today’s (and tomorrow’s) economy. It’s hard to teach a robot wisdom, hard to take a newly minted architect and infuse them with the knowledge you learned from designing two dozen buildings. You get the idea. The textbook never fills in all the details because the details are coming together in new and different ways, every day. Wisdom comes from solving problems. And no matter your path in life, if you are a Baby Boomer, you’ve got decades of experience solving problems.
So what are your talents, hidden skills, and wisdom that will become the foundation of your next exciting chapter?
Once boomers scratch this surface they can usually produce a flood of ideas and insights. It may start as a trickle at first. But as you begin to identify the skills you are using (or have used) in your career, volunteer activities, church work, and life experience, that trickle becomes a raging river.
Once you have made your list of career skills, added the skills you cultivated in other areas of your life, and combined that with your wisdom…you are on your way.
Let that list sink in. The biggest challenge I face in helping boomers learn how to freelance isn’t having to teach them new skills but helping them identify and connect with those skills they already have. OK, now it’s your turn—time to create your exciting next chapter.
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