Finding order in chaos: moving from gig to salaried work
No two minds are alike, but there are some experiences that we as human beings can all relate to. Graduating from university would be one of those things. Some feel a sense of excitement and wonder at the possibilities ahead, others a sense of trepidation towards the looming unknown.
My personal university experience sat firmly on the line between those two paths. This article will be a peek into my post-graduation journey: my stint into self-employment and its associated lifestyle, and how getting my current role at Mighty Bear Games changed my routine.
It’s not like it is in the movies. You don’t finish your last class and stride off campus, arms around your peers, the sun lighting your way out. For me, graduation was sitting in my room, watching my study credits tick down to zero. It did not feel all that different until I realised I had finally stepped into the wide wild world of working adulthood. I briefly looked through job listings, and as I had geared my studies towards animation and being an animator, I was hit with that faint sense of dread when there were no opportunities that were suitable for me at the time.
“It’s only the first day, I can’t really expect to immediately find a job” I had thought to comfort myself. And so I left it at that and went off to enjoy the rest of my ‘graduation day’.
Weeks had passed with no suitable animator openings for me to apply to. It was during this then-endless free time that I found a community where there were people — content creators and regular users alike — who were looking for animation work to be done. I had never pictured going into freelancing, but circumstance had put me there and so I took the opportunity. My career in animation therefore started with me doing animation work on a commission-basis, Fiverr-style.
Self-employment has its perks, but is also definitely not for everyone. Questionable job security and a serious lack of benefits aside, there is that privilege of working for yourself — having ownership over how and when you work. However to that end, it is also a very isolated form of work, and you are your only yardstick. Gig work requires high levels of self-discipline and self-management.
Being fresh out of graduation, I only had the skills I developed as a a student to help me develop my work style. I treated each commission like a school assignment. Unsurprisingly, not all of it translated well into professional work. It felt a lot like I had just gone back to school. Here are some things I did that I probably won’t ever do again.
Not separating work and play
When you’re a full-time student, there’s not much of a separation between that and regular life. You attend classes in the day as a student, but after class is over you still are a student, with homework and assignments to finish. Bringing this mentality into freelance work meant I was constantly on the clock. This ended up with me working on-and-off across very irregular hours of the day, like how I would a school assignment.
Having irregular work hours led me towards very ineffective timeboxing. I started out being able to knock out work with more than ample buffer time. This left me with lots of free time as the next assignment I had was already scheduled accordingly. Knowing I'd have ample time to finish my active assignment led me to procrastinate, since I assumed I'd have enough time within the timebox I provided to the client. When challenges I had not foreseen with the assignment arose, I’d find myself backed into a corner, and had to either fall back to the age-old student trick of cramming, or delay the deadline. Obviously, neither of this was professional or nor good for my health, as my sleep schedule suffered.
I quickly learned that the quality of work I was outputting was the only reflection of me as a professional. But, I wasn’t sure what to compare this reflection against. At school, I always had peers working on the same assignment to gauge myself against, and more importantly, to ask for help when I was stuck. In gig work, it was just me. And I didn’t have anyone to work with to set a baseline quality. As a result, some of the work I ended up delivering had inconsistencies. Finding that benchmark was challenging due to the varying nature of each commission, and of course, my own inexperience working as a professional.
All this meant that work for me ended up feeling no different from school. The late hours spent cramming, the irregular sleep schedule, and the lack of change in lifestyle made me felt like I was stagnating, and though I was able to make a living off gig work for several months, it felt more like treading water. As a fresh graduate, I wasn’t prepared for the rigour and discipline needed to be successful at gig work.
A return to order
I think most people do crave at a certain level the order that regimentation provides. Regimentation might leave a dirty taste in your mouth, especially if you’ve gone through military conscription. It is synonymous with heavy restriction of movement, forced schedules, and a strong general lack of freedom. But I found that the freedom that comes with self-employment did not give me the right environment I needed to thrive in.
My role at Mighty Bear came at a fortuitous time. The work culture I found myself embedded in, and the new colleagues I started working with helped wean me off my previous habits and let go of work-habit-baggage I carried from my student days. Mighty Bear’s work culture essentially helped me in tackling all the problems I previously faced: being unable to separate work and play, poor scoping, and a lack of benchmarks. Here’s how it helped.
Separating work from play & scoping effectively
The company’s strict stance against overtime work and keeping to work-hours allowed me to very effectively and comfortably figure out my work-life balance. This, in turn, helped me better scope out the work I was able to do. It also helped that I heartily did not want to regress into my previous habits — this also helped keep me focused and efficient while I worked. I should add that an effective onboarding process could not be more helpful. The entire process helped me find my rhythm working with the team. (Maybe we should write an article on that!)
The work I was tasked with within my first month had me feel my contribution to the project we were working on, and that feeling of stagnation was gone. The biggest change from my self-employment stint, though, is being able to work in a team again. Working in a team immediately gave me a better gauge for the level my work needed to be on, and having that clear goal and benchmark to work towards meant less uncertainty in my work as well.
A salaried 9-to-5 may be a more regimented and structured life compared to gig work, but it is still one that I find comfort in. I’m able to separate work and life while fully enjoying both. I’m sure many people wish they could have the liberty to work however and whenever they would want to, and for some people that could be perfect to their lifestyle and character, but I’ve learned that it isn’t for me!
That allure of complete freedom definitely has an irresistible pull, especially for fresh graduates coming out of school, but I think it’s important to also know that it may not be for everyone, and it is completely okay to prefer structure instead.
I hope this article was helpful for you, especially if you’ve just left school and are considering gig work! If you enjoyed it, leave me some claps below, and follow Mighty Bear Games on Medium.
Finding order in chaos: moving from gig to salaried work was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.