Personal Identity In The Gig Economy

In the gig economy, it’s increasingly common not only for people to have multiple employers, but also to have multiple roles.  As such, it’s increasingly unfeasible to suggest having a single, solitary identity that encompasses all sides of us.

That was the finding of a recent study that examined identities in modern society.  The authors believe that it’s increasingly common to have multiple professional ‘hats’, and the key to our ability is to manage that, even when they aren’t always consistent with one another.

Gig identities

The researchers tracked a number of people who held various jobs at the same time.  These were all people with a range of talents, and therefore had more than one career.  They were analyzed both through direct interviews with them, but also via the content they shared online via blogs, social media and presentations.

The analysis revealed an understandable struggle with authenticity, with a number of the participants revealing that they questioned their personal authenticity.  For instance, they might see themselves as imposters or succumbing to the ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ syndrome.

There were similar issues on a social level as participants struggled to provide an ‘acceptable’ answer to the dreaded “What do you do?” question.  Their unusual career choice left them feeling judged by others, and this in turn caused them to question their own abilities and choices, especially in the early stages of their multi-tracked career.

At the heart of such questioning was authenticity, with the questioners asking them to be authentic, with the implication being that you will always be the same, which in turn felt unnatural (or un-authentic if you like).  Who is it more important to be authentic for?  Yourself or others?  And were the two compatible?

Finding a truce

In such a stand off, it’s incredibly difficult to find an outcome that pleases both sides, but most of the participants eventually managed to find a state that worked for them.  For instance, they would create compartmentalized work routines that allowed them to fully immerse themselves in each job.  They were also very careful with how they presented themselves to others.  This allowed them to present only the part of themselves they were using for that particular job at that particular time.

This allowed them to present a single form of themselves externally that was dependent upon the context, with their more complete self only expressed in selective circumstances.

Internally however, they would continue to incorporate all of their various roles and identities into their sense of self.

As more and more people adopt this multi-functional way of working, this way of maintaining authenticity is itself likely to shift.  Indeed, the participants themselves revealed a growing acceptance of the benefits of such an approach to work, and the learning and flexibility that the various identities provided.

Hopefully, if nothing else, it will make that perennially awkward exploration of ‘what you do’ somewhat less so.