The concept of Polyworking has been broached by the media in and as an attempt to manufacture consent for a new, and detrimental paradigm of work-life balance: it has been an attempt to create propaganda, wherein Millennials and Zoomers appear to consent to a hectic, precarious lifestyle; in which hustle culture and the gig 'economy' amalgamate into a Hellion beast, some sort of vocational 'lifestyle' where every individual's time is sopped up by their work, and they are eternally on-call.
That is not the concept I am going to introduce today. Today, I'm going to define the concept of Polywork, for what it means to me, and what I think it should mean for others.
Embracing the path of the multi-hyphenate
I come from a long line of Engineers. As far back as I can track, it seems to start with my great great grandmother. One grandmother did calculations for the Manhattan Project; the other is a great architect. My father worked on top-secret projects, and was one of the two people who helped modernize the Japanese telephone network. So, fixing problems came easy to me. It was in my blood.
However, being good at just one thing vocationally, is a recipe for extinction. You cannot just be good at one thing: not anymore. I don't envy the days of 40 year-long careers that ended in the receipt of a gold watch. But I do think that what we have now is a lot better than what we had.
My passion has always been in working to create cartoons. From an early age, I was deeply invested in the work of voice acting. I have voice-acted over 200 episodes of a popular cartoon. In doing so, I witnessed the power media has to change others' lives. It can bring cheer to even the sourest of faces, if you know what you are doing. It can uplift; inspire; enlighten; and rescue.
I have been a physics programmer; a game and level designer; a porter; a translator/localizer. By the age of 9, I had helped ship three games. By the age of 6, I had been working with Unix mainframes, and helping to point satellite dishes. One of my earliest memories is learning how to type, before I was even comfortable with printing letters with pencil and paper.
Without these formative experiences, I would not be able to pursue my dream, as it is, today. The life that I have led is essentially the fruit of the predicate of the concept of Polywork: to learn how to do a great many things… but, my goal is different.
On pursuing a different path
I do not learn how to do very many jobs because I want to succeed vocationally. I learn to do a great many disparate things because it helps to enrich my own life. By pursuing every whim I have, every vocational fancy, I gain skills I can use to improve my own life.
If I did not live as I have, in the Polywork fashion, I would not be able to do what I am doing today: using my myriad skills to create my own cartoon, in which I voice-act. Some would call me a VTuber. I prefer the term 'real-life cartoon character'.
Without experience programming physics, I would be unable both to work as well with 3D models as I am able, and, I would be unable to create my own particle effects. Lighting would also be an issue.
Without experience in level design, and game design in general, I would be unable to create my own digital spaces. With what I know, now, I can create whatever digital 'stage' I want, to play on.
Without experience with Japanese to English translation and localization, as well as porting things, I would be unable to access something like 90% of the content I use to make YouTube videos.
Without experience with Unix, I doubt I would be half as good as I am, both doing digital archaeology, to find things to use in my content; as well as being able to make old, useful programs run again.
It is here that I have realized that the job title of 'Engineer' matters very little, when it comes to what I am doing. To be an Engineer, for me, has only been the start of my journey. It is the base of what I have been building, all my life.
Being an Engineer means fixing problems. But fixing problems doesn't mean you can't have fun. And, indeed, to fix problems is part of the fun, for me. It enables my dream: to be a cartoon character, through the utilization of everything I have ever learned about computers.
That, to me, is Polywork: learning how to do many things, so you can live the life you want to.