Last week I learned that I’m actually part of a new and rising economic class, one that doesn’t fit traditional parameters of class structure in America. Since 2009 I’ve been living a workstyle/lifestyle that had no definition. But Charles Hugh Smith has given me, and people like me, a cohesive identity by coining the term mobile creatives.
Charles created the concept as a way to describe his life and work, and that of millions of others who are making a living in what might best be described as unconventional occupations. When I read his definition my immediate response was hey, that’s me! And not just me, but some of my friends and business associates, and millions of others.
You probably know a few mobile creatives – you may even be one yourself. And if you aren’t, it’s a workstyle/lifestyle that I highly recommend.
And quite possibly, it’s the occupational wave of the future.
Mobile Creatives – the definition
Charles describes mobile creatives in America’s Nine Classes: The New Class Hierarchy:
Mobile Creatives. This is an emerging class that ranges across many income classifications and thus cannot be described by income alone. Some earn Upper Caste incomes, others are Working Poor. This class is self-employed, free-lance, entrepreneurial, sole proprietors, with adaptive skills. They may collaborate with other Creatives rather than have employees, and may have part-time jobs.
The Mobile Creatives (which include small farmers, craftspeople, independent programmers, etc.) number around 10 million, or 8% of the workforce. I use the word mobile here not to suggest mobility between physical places (though that is one factor in this class’s flexibility) but mobility between sectors and ways of earning income.
Members of this class might take a short-term paying gig if the pay and circumstance is attractive, and then return to self-employment. They tend to foster multiple income streams and in general operate by the principle trust the network, not the corporation or the state.
Some members of this class joined the cohort involuntarily, as the result of layoffs; others pursue this livelihood for its freedom, flexibility (important to parents of young children or those caring for elderly parents) and potential for self-expression.
This is the “wild card” class that falls outside all conventional class/income hierarchies. It includes those seeking outlier wealth and those who have chosen voluntary poverty.
I’ve bolded the main components of the mobile creative lifestyle definition – there are at least eight of them – but they’re worth repeating so we can commit them to memory:
- Self-employed, free-lance, entrepreneurial, sole proprietors – The central characteristic of the class is some form of self-employment, if only on a part-time basis
- Adaptive skills – The class is adept at acquiring new skills as circumstances require
- May have part-time jobs – The job market is often a source of additional income, over and above self-employment alone
- Mobility between physical places – Businesses and skill sets are often highly portable, thus eliminating strict dependence on geography or specific organizations/employers
- Mobility between sectors and ways of earning income – The mobile creative seeks not a job, but opportunity, which can come from different directions
- Multiple income streams – Multiple income streams are often what mobile creatives use to replace lost job security
- Trust the network, not the corporation or the state – Mobile creatives favor people networks – preferably those with other mobile creatives – over formal organizations, for creating opportunity and solving problems
- Potential for self-expression – The mobile creative needs to create, and not simply earn a living; there is a need to find fulfillment in work, and not just a paycheck
I liken mobile creatives to the 21st Century worker merging with the hippie movement of the 1960s, except that where the hippie mantra was tune in, turn on and drop out, mobile creatives are actually working to build lifestyles that are entirely new and productive.
Though you may not be a mobile creative right now, there is an excellent chance you will need to consider it after a layoff or career crisis. Mobile creatives are using the work style to replace jobs that aren’t coming back, or are no longer worth holding.
One of the dilemmas that is most painful for workers today is the lack of career opportunity. Even though you may be well-employed at this moment, there’s usually a nagging fear that the loss of your job will require you to the take a new one at significantly reduced pay. You may have an even greater fear that there may be no job in your field at all.
That’s a common insecurity, and for good reason. Jobs are quickly being replaced by cheap offshore labor, robots, and more commonly, by computer software programs. A $200 software program, operated by one employee, can easily replace three or four jobs. With technology growing, we should expect this outcome to become only more common. In the service economy that we’ve become, the biggest expense employers have is payroll. When they’re looking to increase profits – or to save the business – layoffs will be the primary strategy.
This is where the mobile creatives come into the picture – with a strong emphasis on the word creative. Creativity involves innovation, which is something that computer programs cannot duplicate. The only way to remain economically viable is by cultivating creative skills.
It often means that you have to develop skills that can be direct marketed to the public or to small businesses. That’s where self-employment enters the mobile creative lifestyle.
Though full-time jobs that pay a living wage and offer a full package of benefits are getting harder to find, there are more niches that need to be filled than ever before. Part of this is due to the expansion of the Internet, and part to the growth in self-employment. Small businesses typically cannot afford to hire full-time employees to perform necessary services, which opens the door to contractors and freelancers. In other words, mobile creatives.
Mobile creatives focus on skills more than on a job. There is a recognition that income is inherently tied to skills. That may require obtaining necessary skills on your own from various sources – by taking courses, researching the web, YouTube, and through direct experience into new ventures.
Though a mobile creative can hold a job of some sort – often part-time jobs with above average pay – there’s a recognition that the best way to deliver your skills is through some form of self-employment.
That can often begin with starting a business as a part-time venture. The idea is to put your skills out on the open market, get a few clients, and build your business from there.
In my own situation, my primary source of income is from freelance blog writing. That started as a side venture, but after just couple of years it‘s become my primary occupation. Since I have an accounting background, I also work several days per month in a small CPA firm to increase my income and maintain relevant job skills. Then of course, I also earn some income from OutOfYourRut.com, which also serves as a resume for my writing skills.
I often consider that I could live, work and survive anywhere that has an internet connection. That is the reality of the mobile creative lifestyle.
If you want to know more about how and why you need to consider becoming a mobile creative, order a copy of Charles Smith’s book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.
Minimizing financial entanglements
Though being a mobile creative offers all kinds of advantages from a career standpoint – flexibility, mobility, creativity, and virtually unlimited opportunity – one thing that it does not offer, generally, is stability.
When it comes to earning a living, most people give stability a high priority. This is the whole reason why people tend to favor full-time, permanent jobs. But while being a mobile creative is often full-time, there’s usually nothing permanent about it. Part-time jobs and contract assignments end, clients go out of business or find other people to fill their needs, and income can fluctuate substantially from one month to the next. But there are also ways to manage this instability.
Because a lack of stability is usually a hallmark of the mobile creative lifestyle, it becomes important to minimize financial entanglements. This means, first and foremost, having an aversion to debt.
If income will be unstable, it becomes critical to keep your basic monthly living expenses to an absolute minimum. Debt creates a fixed expense, which does not match up well to the fluctuating income. For that reason, as a mobile creative, you may opt for living in a modest home or apartment, rather than in a large home with a fat mortgage payment, or fancy suite in a high rent district. You might also choose to drive a $5,000 used car over a brand-new one, and the payment it will require.
You also find less expensive ways to buy food, to replace household items, to fix your car, and even to entertain yourself. For example, in my house, we often replace household items by shopping at garage sales. Not only do we find decent merchandise for a small fraction of the price it would be brand-new, but we sometimes find items that we don’t need, that we can buy on the cheap and sell at a profit.
This is an example of applying the creativity that you use in your work to your personal life and finances. There’s always a cheaper way to do everything, and it actually becomes fun realizing that you don’t have to pay full price for anything.
You also find that the more satisfaction and enjoyment that you get out of your work, the fewer toys that you need, and the less important high cost entertainment is.
Expanding social networks and contacts
Charles Smith has indicated that one of the hallmarks of mobile creatives is to trust the network, not the corporation or the state. This is part and parcel of being a mobile creative. While society at large has been following a long-term pattern of detaching itself from people and community, expanding contact with people and network groups is a critical component of the entire regime.
The number of mobile creative’s in the US right now is certainly well into the millions. Nearly every one of the people participating in the class have an ongoing need to reach out to others – in network fashion – in order to get whatever it is they need in order to move forward.
You should not underestimate the power of this networking in today’s economy. In my experience, both people and networks have been highly receptive, and very willing to help little, ole me get where I’m hoping to go. The key is always reciprocity – you have to be willing to return the favor when needed.
Life outside the box
The mobile creative work-style/lifestyle is all about living life outside the box. In a very real way, it represents complete liberation from the office-and-cubicle world of corporate America and the many government agencies. It’s a work-style that creates a lifestyle.
After years of working in a corporate environment, millions of people may be only vaguely aware of what they’ve given up for the privilege. In an excellent article, White-Collar World – What the office has done to American life, Nikil Saval describes how corporate life has turned Americans into trained ponies. It’s a long article, but an excellent one if you’re looking for some perspective on life in the corporate world, and what it can do to the human spirit.
The corporate world has put everyone into neat boxes, where they’re expected to maintain “appropriate” business, social, personal, and even political attitudes. It even subliminally controls spending patterns, lifestyle choices, where we live, and even who we associate with. Those are considered necessary to create harmony within the organization, and they are often enforced by subtle social cues.
That’s one of the constraints that you abandon by being a mobile creative. Once you break out of the organizational realm, you can begin creating and living an interesting life, the kind that seems impossible when you’re confined to a cubicle, and responding to a strict corporate hierarchy.
Some of the common social commandments that you may reconsider or abandon completely as a mobile creative include:
- The need to be “upscale” in your consumption habits
- The need to eat so many meals outside the home
- The need to drive a late model car (which is especially unnecessary if you work at home)
- The perceived need to live in a “nice home” in the suburbs (more people are now opting instead for moving into cites, a lifestyle often more conducive to mobile creatives – see Why Americans Are Fleeing the Suburbs)
- The need to take expensive vacations as a way to deal with the stress of corporate life
- The need to achieve and maintain some strict form of social isolation
- The near religious attachment to retirement – for many mobile creatives retirement may no longer be necessary, or semi-retirement may be more desirable.
When you change the way you work and do business, you can literally change the way you live.
Do you consider yourself to be a mobile creative – or would you like to be one?
This is a class that is expanding each year. It is largely about flexibility, informal work arrangements, creativity, self-employment (at least as a side business), adaptability and with a heavy emphasis on tradable skills.
Though some people might fear the possibility of being forced into being a mobile creative, I see it as possibly being the new normal for middle-class America. For at least 15 years the middle-class has been struggling with maintaining the type of industries and jobs that will provide a comfortable lifestyle. I can see mobile creatives becoming the new “backbone” of American socio-economic life.
What do you think? Is this a viable career style? Or do you think this is a transition phase, on the way to an economy the looks a lot more like the reliable 1950s?