[You can listen to this article here.]
Here you stand, a creative. A practitioner from some form of traditionally defined disciplinary origin. A proto-vocational quality of yours that quite possibly arose as a childhood passion, a discovery made during your adolescence, or even a result of your mind-twisting experience as an undergraduate student. For many years, as you honed your craft, you visualised what it would be like to do what you love as your job. Then you started doing it. Only... it didn't look the way you were told it would look; it didn't look the way it did in your mind. You ended up filling the reuseable cups of the salariat with coffee to support your am-dram theatre work by twilight. You repaired gym equipment at 4 in the morning just so you could take a punt at designing interactive apps by day*. You honed your illustration skills for countless years to develop your dream syndicated cartoon series but you find yourself working as a performance illustrator at conferences. You've trained as a musician to produce tracks and perform shows, but you spend most of your time delivering workshops for schools and festivals. ...and for the most part, you're happy with where you find yourself - and rightfully so! Many of our most unexpected working scenarios are respectable, meaningful, and commendable. You're doing the thing(s) that you love to do, just in places you didn't expect. However, you ended up where you currently are somewhat accidentally as a result of your professional wandering, which is almost certainly a manifestation of your efforts for economic survival. If this sounds familiar then you are part of the creative precariat. Welcome to the room. Take a seat. There is no judgment here - we're all just trying to figure out how we ended up where we presently are, and we're all just trying to figure out where we are headed next. But one thing we can safely ascertain is that the unexpected (and in the worst-case scenarios, the undesired) territories that we have wound up in occupationally isn't totally, or even largely, down to our own decisions and capabilities. It comes down to globalisation. In response to this implication, we see a shift in the traditional socioeconomic class structures we're familiar with. The precariat is the neologism of economist, Guy Standing. A portmanteau of precarious and proletariat, it describes a new layer in the social class-strata that consists of individuals who are suffering from job insecurity, identity insecurity, and a lack of control over their own time; the precarious working class.
"They [the precariat] are having to habituate themselves to a life of unstable labour and unstable living; a sort of existential insecurity. They don't have any occupational narrative to give to their lives - a narrative that would say I am becoming something; I am something." Guy Standing, 2016.
At the heart of the precariat is the precariatised mind and with this comes the painful tidal forces of internalised uncertainty - quite often you just don't know what you should be doing with your time. Practicing? Networking? Retraining? Experimenting? Taking a risk? Playing it safe? Much like the phenomenon of thirst being mistaken for hunger, I believe the actions that are brought about by the precariatised mind are often (and understandably) mistaken for procrastination - by others, as well as the accused - but this is absolutely not the case. The environmental stress pressures of the gig economy are activating our fight or flight mechanisms, a limbic response, which in turn is seeing us respond much more limbically to our circumstances and wider social environment. So we start to wander for work while our lizard brain thrums. This state also gives rise to the anger that Standing refers to within ‘the progressives‘ faction of the precariat - this being the faction that most closely describes us; the creative graduates. ...and yes, identity insecurity can be difficult for the creative freelancer. Finding ourselves working where we didn't expect to is most certainly congruent with the grip of neoliberalism, but framed much more personally it also comes down to the sense of chaos that looms internally when we succumb to the conditions of the precariatised mind. Now, my fellow creatives, what can we do about all of this? Well, I'm proposing that we need to get systemic! We need to suppress our limbic impulses and understand not just WHAT we create but HOW, and most importantly WHY. In doing so we will find that elusive occupational narrative that Standing has been in mourning of on our behalf, and when we do indeed find it we will discover that our creativity is far more relevant than we could've ever hoped and dreamed. In an effort to establish and normalise the role of the Systems Creative I’ve been developing a card-based toolkit that can help us do just that. A design framework that champions our WHY over our WHAT. An organised repeatable planning process that fosters unrepeatable creativity.
Because, if we the precariat are being torn apart by a professional identity crisis, then let us work on gaining control over the sculpting of our own professional identities. If we the precariat are being savaged by an inability to control our own time, then let us unlock a new disciplinary prowess to the way we conduct our practice.
Thinking and acting in this way will enable us to control the chaos of creativity. But allow me to be frank at this point - I'm not saying the solution SHOULD lie with us because let's face it... we certainly weren't the ones who caused this. It shouldn't have to come down to a case of us being more frugal with the way we utilise the already razor-thin margins on our own time. Instead, the motions of time-austerity should simply and absolutely cease! However, the harsh reality is that we are being forced to sit down at a 'chessboard' to 'play chess' ...and although the brightest and rightest minds out there are doing their damndest to change the game that we are being asked to play, there is no shame in getting good at 'playing chess' in the meantime; it really is time to lock down our creative gambit as the precariat. I truly believe that a systemic mindset can enable us as the precariat class to sculpt our professional identities, take back ownership of our time, and even strengthen our professional spirit as we strive to navigate the world as the creatives who are finally coming to know themselves, in a world that is finally coming to realise just how much we are needed.
Making Sense is coming soon to Kickstarter. You can find the latest updates for this project here.
*...was this an example? Nope! It's exactly what I did.