by Kathryn Grayson Nanz
February 24, 2022
Polyworking wasn’t a word I had ever heard of until I encountered the social network by the same name. Yet, without knowing it, I had been polyworking for my entire employed life – taking on multiple jobs and projects, above and beyond my 9-5 “day job”. Some of these have been more of what you might imagine when you first hear about polyworking: evening and weekend freelance gigs with contracts and 1099 forms at tax time. Others have been just-for-fun side projects, volunteer work, or things that land somewhere in-between – like speaking at conferences that offered a stipend or covered my travel and lodging. What do they all have in common? They have all enhanced my life and broadened my skillset. hey were things that I have been privileged enough to be able to do out of joy and not out of necessity.
I think the basis of my love for polyworking came from the years I spent working in advertising. My favorite part of being a graphic designer at an ad agency was the way I got to learn a little bit about the unique world of every client I worked with. When we go to college or enter the working world, we’re forced to choose something and specialize – but there are so many options! In advertising, I got to learn a little bit about everything. I designed print ads for a company that made impact sensors for sports helmets to protect players from traumatic brain injuries, and learned about concussions and the history of the sport of football. I made a logo for a beekeeping society and learned about the lifecycle of bees and how they communicate. I made a website for a company that made games to help children recognize and control their emotions, and learned about the emotional response cycle and the power of mindfulness and breathwork. Each and every one of those jobs felt like a window into another world; it was exciting and addictive. In time, my career path took me away from the world of advertising, but I could never give up the experience of constantly getting to learn new things from the people who are most passionate about them. I thrive on routine and structure, so I would never want to give up working a 9-5 job – I love the jobs I’ve had and the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with – but polyworking gives me a way to keep exploring and stretching beyond the boundaries of any current position’s role and requirements.
The other part of my love for polyworking came from a need to share that learning. In college, I was extremely lucky to have two wonderful professors who inspired me and had a huge impact on my life. After graduating, I always felt like I had a duty to pay that forward - to pass along what I had learned. At first, I envisioned this in a literal way; returning to school for a graduate degree so that I could become a professor, myself. I’m still figuring out if that’s the right path for me – but in the meantime, I’ve discovered so many other ways to pass knowledge along and pay forward that gift of education. I love to blog and make videos, to livestream, speak on podcasts, and give talks at conferences. I also love to work with junior designers and developers; to mentor, review resumes, and look over portfolios. I feel incredibly lucky to have had so many people in my life who did those things for me – art directors who taught me, engineers who programmed with me, or managers who took a chance on me. Whenever I find myself in the position of being able to do that for someone else, it’s important for me to do so.
For me, polyworking is made up of those two parts: the jobs and projects I take on as learning experiences, and the opportunities I have to share that knowledge through speaking, mentoring, and writing. Both bring me great joy, as well as offering me new life experiences and perspectives that I never would have had, if I had stayed on the straight-and-narrow path of working only my 9-5 job. I’ve gotten to travel to new cities and countries for conferences. I’ve made lifelong friends. I’ve celebrated with people as they’ve been hired to their dream jobs. I’ve made connections that have shaped my personal career, and I’ve been recruited by companies who have read my writing or heard my talks. Perhaps most importantly, I believe that polyworking is what opened the door to finding my true passion in the world of Developer Relations. DevRel was a career path that had never considered for myself before, but it’s proven to be an absolutely perfect fit – and I never would have been contacted about it or even considered it as an option if I hadn’t had those experiences writing, speaking, learning, and growing after my job ended for the day.
We are not our jobs - we are so much more. Polyworking offers us the opportunity to expand our skillsets and try new things in a low-risk situation; we don’t have to compromise a job that we love or step away from the 9-5 that pays our bills. There’s space for us to be authentic here, and we get to choose how we engage with the work. It can be something we do for free, because we love it and it makes us happy, or it can be a true “side hustle” and second job. Both approaches to polyworking are valid, and both can offer us so much – we just have to be open to the opportunities.
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