Trend away from the mainstream

More people are choosing a varied work life, writes Michael Emerson.

More people are choosing a varied work life, writes Michael Emerson.

The past decade has seen a seismic shift in the employment landscape in Australia, not only in the amount and type of changes workers can expect to make through their lives, but also in the types of roles people are choosing to explore outside the mainstream job market.

In 1997 there were 6750 fitness instructors (including yoga instructors) in Australia; in 2013 this number has grown to 27,250, an extraordinary 303 per cent rate of growth. Similar rates of growth are visible even within some mainstream roles; in 1997 there were 36,750 working gardeners, today there are 67,750.

The drivers for these shifts seem to be achieving a better work/life balance, a desire for more autonomy at work and a search for greater life satisfaction and fulfilment through different roles, rather than working in the one job for 40 years and retiring with a gold watch.

Susan Mitchell is a yoga practitioner who left a successful career as a sales manager to follow her dream of owning and running a yoga studio.

"I have always been motivated and I think that gave me the courage to switch careers. The challenges were definitely around moving from structured work, knowing what your stable income is, to leaving all that behind and trusting your decision. I think a career highlight is to work in the field of your passion."

These roles outside the mainstream job market, without a business card to define who you are or what you do for a crust, can take a strong sense of direction and motivation, not to mention doing without a regular salary.

Richard Collins is an artist who also at various times in his life has been a cartoonist, actor, director and casual gardener.

"As a cartoonist I somehow made enough to live on. No way as a painter. At present I work as a casual gardener. I really enjoy it," he says.

The compensations for those working without paid leave and managed superannuation are increased levels of engagement and life satisfaction. As Mitchell says: "It is a calling. The satisfaction comes from fulfilling a life of purpose or dharma, as we call it in yoga."

The huge rates of growth in these employment roles seem to suggest that despite the uncertainty involved in managing a portfolio lifestyle, for many the rewards far outweigh the disadvantages.

As Collins says: "Every day raises questions that could keep you from doing anything if you weren't careful. I try not to think about questions like recognition.

"I try to do my best and to make something beautiful."

Michael Emerson is an economist and director at Economic and Market Development Advisors.

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