According to Global News, spending a bunch of time in University or College, then doing a bunch of low paid/maybe unpaid internship work will not mean that you get the reward you were promised. Whether you are a teacher, an engineer, or social worker, it doesn’t matter you’re more likely to be a contract worker long term. You’re less likely to have extended benefits or sick days during your career.

I’m not surprised by this in any fashion, we’ve been heading towards a “freelance” or contract culture for a while now. I’ve been working for myself for around 10 years now. None of my three children have ever known me to do anything other than work for myself.

Unfortunately many people are entirely baffled by the change. They feel betrayed and let down. The dream they had is gone and they are left with no path forward. In part this is because much of school sets people up for this faulty dream. Even the high school students I talk to now are being told that they should be looking for a decent paying job with benefits and a path “up the ladder”. Then they should be spending a few decades at this job and they’ll be all good.

But it’s a lie that their teachers are telling them. It does students a disservice because they never work to build the skills they’ll need to survive the gig economy that they’ll be facing.

If you’re facing a career that’s more contract than traditional employment, here are some steps you can take to thrive.

Take Control of Your Career

One of the things that people lose in this gig economy is a lack of investment from their employer. Where training was more common, it’s now less common. We could lament this and protest it, or we could accept it and thrive.

The way you thrive is by taking your training in to your own hands. Stop waiting for your employer to pay for something, budget properly and build your own skills.

As I write this I’m finishing a course that has helped me publish a best selling book. I’m learning a new programming language to further automate my iOS workflow and possibly turn into a course. My next stop will be to hire a coach to help me with my blogging and blog marketing.

Even when I had a job, and it was a traditional employed job, they didn’t want to pay for training. They wanted me to go speak at conferences and only if I was speaking would they support it. If I was going to educate myself, that was my thing to pay for and take out of my own vacation time.

Today I wouldn’t be writing for Liquid Web and Godaddy. I would never have done courses for the Asian Efficiency membership community. I wouldn’t be able to take my kids to the park for an hour in the middle of the day 2 – 3 days a work.

None of these things would have happened if I didn’t become better at what I do on my own time with my own finances. My wife has had the same experience, she wouldn’t be coaching figure skating if she didn’t take the course to become a coach in the first place. We fronted the few thousand dollars it took for the course and accommodations in the hopes that she would be able to coach for our local club.

After that the local club has helped pay for further training, but it always depends on budget and we always invest first not knowing if they’re going to pay for it. After her first course, they reimbursed us.

We took the risk first though and that $2000 risk turned into a decent income for her for the year. Certainly much more than she’d get working part time anywhere else.

And skating lights her up, so it’s worth even more than they pay her.

Show your next contract you know what you’re doing

If you’re in the “contract” world, then you need to show your next contract what you’re best at. You need to keep showing your current contract that you provide value. Yes in some sense you’re always on the job hunt.

One of the reasons I get asked to do paid writing for other companies now is because I’ve written over 1700 posts on my own site. Some of these people that are now the VP of marketing started reading my writing years ago. When they decided that they needed more community voices helping them get noticed, they reached out to me.

Your blog is your online CV, so keep building it. If you’re not writing, then you’re not in a position to command the highest value possible from your next contract.

Build up Social Supports

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, explores what it takes to survive the tough times in a job. What he concludes is that it’s those people with the strongest social supports that are most likely to survive the rough patches.

Many contractors have no long term direct co-workers. I haven’t worked alongside anyone for more than a few weeks for 10 years. Yet when I shared about my struggle with suicide I had dozens of emails and text messages all of support for me.

Before I made it public, I had friends around me that were willing to just listen to what was going on with me. This is because I had been intentional about building up support systems around me. One of the things I do is every Friday I have coffee or take a walk with someone I know locally.

These talks don’t always go deep in to the things we’re struggling with, but sometimes they do. It’s in these regular meetings that you even build the type of relationship that can stand harder things like depression and suicide.

If you need someone to lean on, make sure you’re taking the time now to build those relationships. Look up from your screen to see the people that are around you. Be intentional about engaging with them.

Build Your Own Vacation Plan

One of the things that is missing for many contract workers is lack of vacation, at least lack of paid vacation. Sure we could lament the laws around vacation, but that would be a waste of time. You can control this too.

Over the years of establishing myself as a leader in my field I’ve had many big companies want me to dive on something right away. Many times I’ve told them that I’m not working for the next few weeks because I’m off. Most years around Christmas I shut down work from around December 20th to January 15th. I usually take a week or two off in the summer and take regular long weekends to hike and camp with the kids.

It takes two things to make this happen.

First: You need to plan ahead. I have a budget and every month I put aside money for vacation time. I put aside money for my next computer. I put aside money for emergencies. When these things come up, I don’t sweat it I just draw on the money I had saved.

Second: I spent a bunch of time establishing myself as an expert. This means people are willing to wait. This means that when they hear my prices, and my prices are much higher than most others, they don’t get upset. They were coming to me for my expertise and they expected a price that matched.

Stop Waiting for the Dream

Far to many of us have been sold a dream. A dream where we incur huge amounts of student debt and then get a job that pays it off in like 20 years.

Stop believing this lie.

You can take control of your career now so that you have even more control than you do in a traditional job. At any time I have 3 – 6 clients for content/web work and 3 – 6 coaching clients. If any one of them decides that they don’t want to work with me anymore, it’s a small loss.

If your employer stops seeing the value in you, then you go from 100% income to 0% in seconds. I’m not going to lie to you and say that building your own career is easy. It’s a bunch of hard work, but if you’re willing to do it you can control who you work with. You can have so much say over what you get paid.

You can build that life you’ve always dreamed of.

If that sounds like something you want, I wrote a book to help you navigate this job market. It’s called The Art of Focus and it’s available now on Amazon.

Photo by: seelensturm