My career as a freelancer came about as a result of the infamous “dot-bomb”, also known as the momentary collapse of the internet around the year 2001. The widespread access to the internet among the general public led to numerous agencies and shops opening up to service businesses who wanted to “get on the internet”. The big dreams of many, combined with the juvenile medium of the internet led to business models that didn’t always succeed, forcing many service agencies to close down. This resulted in mass layoffs of highly skilled people who thought their futures would be made working in the internet industry. I was one of those people and as a result of my own experience, left internet work out of frustration and difficulty in finding a position that wouldn’t get me laid off in 6 months. I turned to a retail job while I planned my next career move and picked up a book published in 2001 by Daniel Pink titled “Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself”. The book supported many of my own ideas about work and how there must be a way to work for myself with more control and security than I felt in my time working in the internet industry for someone else.
In “Free Agent Nation” Mr. Pink explores what it means to work for oneself through his research of existing employment data, and interviews he conducts himself. He hits the road to talk to people working for themselves and the various definitions of work. There are independent contractors, small business owners, temp-for-hire workers and more.
A fascinating discovery in Mr. Pink’s road research was the growth he saw in the coffee shop office for independent workers, and how coffee shops were changing their business to accommodate. Many of the interviews Mr. Pink conducted took place in coffee shops, many in Starbucks locations. He found that Starbucks, among other coffee shops, were starting to provide larger conference type tables, additional power outlets and single person seating, all with access to free wi-fi. This encouraged remote workers to get out of their home offices and work in a different environment.
This update to the coffee shop experience was very evident here in Chicago. I saw Starbucks locations everywhere in the city start to gather crowds of independent workers hovering over predominantly Mac laptops drinking copious amounts of coffee and conversing with peers around them. The coffee shop experience provided a sense of community for these workers in addition to networking opportunities unavailable when stuck in a home office.
This book proved to me there was concrete evidence the ability to work for oneself and live a Self-Employed Life was out there. When a chance connection with a former colleague offered me the opportunity to take my first freelance project, I left my retail job and began my new career. If it was possible to live a Self-Employed Life, I was determined to do so.