Picking at Knots: We're All Job Creators Now

09/05/2012 04:41 pm ET | Updated Nov 05, 2012

In the wake of the economic downturn of 2008, many lost their jobs, their savings, their homes. It was a tumultuous time that proved many things, but none so clearly as this: Following the "rules" doesn't necessarily earn you a secure future. As they pulled themselves from financial devastation, many workers around the country began to reevaluate their priorities. Values like work-life balance, autonomy, and self-determination took a front seat.

When I came up with the idea for TaskRabbit, all this was just in the making. I had a safe position as an engineer at IBM, the economy was just peachy, and it never occurred to me that my future company would have an impact on the way people think about work in a very different America.

Yet here we are.

What began as a way to leverage new technologies (specifically social, local, and mobile) to once again connect people with their neighbors has grown into something much larger. The TaskRabbit community provides thousands of individuals access to the kind of economy that puts them in charge of their own lives and income. TaskRabbit offers a new model of work, one that makes it possible for people to set their own schedules, establish their own rates, and use their talents and skills to earn a living on their own terms. Each person gets to figure out exactly how they want to integrate their work with the rest of their life.

Some use our marketplace as a primary means of income, some use it to fill in the gaps between freelance work, some use it to add a layer of financial security to a traditional job, and others use it to pay the bills while they start a business. The thing all these people share is that they are no longer waiting for someone to create a job or a career for them; they're doing it themselves. The TaskRabbit community has swiftly and organically discovered something pretty monumental: The solution to the jobs crisis won't be found in figuring out how to bring the old jobs back. No, our collective task is much larger than that. We'll navigate the jobs crisis by embracing new models of work entirely. Simply put, we're all our own job creators now.

Frustrated with waiting in line for increasingly rare nine-to-five openings, more workers are choosing to skip the lines entirely and take a different approach to work. People are crafting income strategies that involve multiple revenue streams -- consulting here, teaching there, running an errand or two to fill in the gaps. More people are hopping on the startup train and lofty co-working spaces and local coffee shops with wi-fi connections are replacing the dream of the corner office. Now that traditional employment can change on a dime, the startup life just doesn't seem as risky. Or take the case of a downsized worker from any field who struggles to find a comparable job. Maybe this worker finally has time to take a swing at a passion project: opening an Etsy shop, writing a book, or becoming a yoga instructor.

All of these people are flirting with ways of working that fit their skills and lifestyle. True, they don't have the securities and benefits that traditionally come with full-time employment but, like the rest of us, they learned in 2008 that those securities and benefits aren't as secure as they once thought. They've learned that the old way of work doesn't really work for them, and they've decided to pivot toward something better.

Are we ready, as a society, to fully give up the old way of doing things tomorrow? Of course not. So many elements of our lives (benefits, retirement, continuing education) are tied to the antiquated models of employment and it's going to take a lot of untangling to totally free ourselves. But we've started picking at those ancient knots and exploring other ways to access these things. Continuing education is a great example of this. You don't have to put in years at a company to get them to spring for your post-grad tuition -- dozens of companies have emerged to give us all access to skill-based education. We're finding ways around the status quo. This is what we've witnessed in the TaskRabbit marketplace, and it's really exciting stuff. Take a look around you and I bet you'll see even more evidence of changing attitudes toward work.

So I ask you, consider participating in this pivot. Pick at the knots. Share a skill with someone. Do a favor. Revel in what it feels like to be the one who decides to take action, then ride that momentum to the kind of life you want. It's yours to create. The world will catch up with you.