Some Thoughts on Job Security in the Era of COVID
I am fortunate. As my friends in the production, restaurant and event industries are getting laid off or furloughed, I find myself about as busy as I can handle while quarantined with a newly minted 15-month-old. While Seattle was seeing its first few cases of coronavirus, I had just begun a 4-month freelance contract, serving as a creative lead on a $6 million account while the full-time lead is out on maternity. Quickly those few cases in Seattle turned into a nationwide pandemic, and shelter-in-place began, and I have been working from home for the past 10 weeks, jumping on Zoom call... after Zoom call... after Zoom call. (I mean it when I say that if I never talk on Zoom again after this is all over, it will be too soon.)
On one of those calls last week, I was having my weekly check-in with another account lead, and I remarked, "Wow, only 6 more weeks until my contract is up."
"Yeah, but you're gonna stay, right?" she asked. "If we find you an opening?"
"Well... I'd be happy to freelance any time, of course..." I hedged.
"But not full time?" she pushed.
I shook my head.
"Don't you want job security?"
"I just... I like freelancing," I said.
Which is true. I do like freelancing. I like working for myself. I like the variety. I like the flexibility. And damn if it didn't take me three years to build up the courage to actually take the leap and do it, so I might as well ride it out and see where it takes me.
But throughout the week, I found myself wondering, "If they offer me a job, should I take it? I have no idea what the market is going to look like after this. Would a little security right now be such a bad thing?" The more I thought about it, though, the more I kept coming back to the same thought:
I already have job security. Or at least, I have all the job security I can ever really hope for.
Maybe at one time, having job security meant having a literal job, a place to put in 40 hours a week, something to do and somewhere to go every Monday through Friday. But I don't think it means that anymore. I think having job security means possessing the ability and knowledge to make a living for yourself.
Yes, we will always need an employer (or employers... or customers... or patrons) to find what we do valuable enough that they offer us money in exchange for our work. But they are not the ones who determine whether we are secure or not; we determine that for ourselves.
I have security because I understand my strengths and how to use those strengths to solve problems.
I have security because I actively cultivate and refine my skill set, and I know those skills transcend industry, meaning I can find ways to be valuable in a variety of settings.
I have security not because I know money will be coming in every day/week/month in predictable intervals, but because I know how to navigate the market, how to foster relationships and make connections authentically.
I have security not because I have good clients (which wow, I really do), but because I know what I can do if -- and realistically when -- one of those clients disappears.
I'm not saying this to mitigate what so many are experiencing, which is deep uncertainty and fear for what the future holds. And realistically, my life come mid June when this contract ends is looking a little uncertain, too. I'm saying this because I think COVID is finally making clear what has been our reality for a while now -- that we can only find security in the things we can control. And while we cannot control a corporation, we can control ourselves.