Like many people growing up in the late 20th century, I was told at school and home that success looked like achieving well in education and work, focused around core subjects and career paths into professions or trades. There were set steps to follow, and you were always being measured against others and ranked. The measurements, metrics as we talk about today, were numeric, linear and quantitative. There was a cut off point where those with enough marks headed in one direction in life, and those with not enough marks headed somewhere else, usually to lower paid employment or perhaps no employment at all.
However, turns out my greatest successes in life have been my side hustles. But no one ever taught me that. When I was very young, I experimented with friends about making things to sell. It was a game. We made art, cookies, or perhaps even mud pies, and played shop, selling them to family or friends for a few cents. It was a little glimmer of what it might mean to be entrepreneurial and receive reward for something you made from your efforts. Later in life, products and services I have designed and delivered myself have been the most satisfying and the most lucrative.
But my education for this was only ever a game. This approach to creating things, selling or exchanging them, was certainly not on any school curriculum. And once in the work force, creating new ideas, products and services in most of my early roles was not valued whatsoever. You followed a set line, a set of formulas with parameters around delivering work and outcomes. Step outside of the set rules too much and you were reprimanded.
Today, I still see this continue. I have witnessed children in school, students in university, hungry to turn their ideas into realities that will benefit their families, communities, and themselves shut down time and time again. Many is the time I have seen an inspired student or graduate deflated as their enthusiasm, their vision and their creativity is shut down. They get told to follow the script in their career, if they can in fact find a job.
In the Māori and Pasifika world I have seen this frequently occur too with another twist. These students want their study and their research to go straight back to their whanau and community, and yet they get told their study is an ‘academic exercise’ and they do not get to deliver their ideas and have to turn to compromised roles in mainstream workplaces.
An entrepreneurial or creative spirit happens on the sidelines.
In 2020 as traditional jobs disappear in the thousands and kids have spent half the year out of school, what new alternatives can we look at to fulfil on dreams, to source an income, and to ‘make a living’ in the true sense of the word? (Interesting how we default to thinking about cash when we talk about ‘making a living’ rather than giving this phrase a broader intent!) I’m pretty damn sure that professional roles for life are on the way out for good.
The power base of the tired old professions of accountancy, law, medicine and engineering are less and less relevant in today’s world. Many of the services offered by these professions you can now google, or manage yourself. I see more and more of the traditional firms resort to fear tactics as they desperately try to remain relevant, inculcating a risk averse business culture, telling the population that it is very dangerous to do without a lawyer, an accountant, an engineer or a doctor. It is tragic that many parents, teachers, academics, business and government leaders still push these professions as the pinnacle of achievement. And in so doing they’re selling their children and their children’s children a very dud deal.
Maybe it is a bad idea to try and quantify and systemise something as creative as a side hustle. But then again maybe we should honour, celebrate and encourage rangatahi today to have a few strings to their bow, to experiment with technology and creativity, with science and with art, and where all these often sidelined endeavours intersect. I once teased an old friend with a strict socialist ideology that the best thing I could ever teach my children growing up was how to write an invoice. And I wasn’t kidding. Writing an invoice can give you many things; an awareness of business, financial literacy, self sufficiency, self worth. I know for myself writing an invoice for my services is very satisfying and empowering.
Let’s pivot, no in fact lets pirouette, to put the entrepreneurship of the creative and tech sectors at the forefront alongside sustainable uses of the land and our beautiful resources, to grow food and shelter. Is it timely to change out what has been seen as the ultimate professions. Let’s honour the collective, the diverse skills in our communities. It is time to move away from hierarchies that values certain human attributes above others.
Kia Manawanui, Kia Kaha, Kia Māia.