Scott Pruden • Editor//Photo by
As children, we’re typically defined by our groups of friends, the neighborhood we live in, our hobbies and interests and what we hope to be when we grow up. But as adults, that list shortens to often one thing: our jobs.
It’s questionably healthy from an emotional standpoint (and certainly inaccurate for those who have a variety of outside interests), but the truth is that what we do for a living often defines us the most. The cocktail party or backyard barbecue question that never fails to break the ice is, “So, what do you do?”
Forty years ago, the answer was often simple. A healthy percentage of the time it would be, “I work for DuPont.” Or, take any other major Delaware employer and fill in the blank. Whether at the management or rank-and-file level, those jobs with “Uncle Dupie” and his club of patriarchal corporate cohorts could be depended upon to provide good, solid, often lifelong employment with generous pension plans and enough take-home pay for a mortgage, the kids’ college education and maybe a little extra to set aside for a week’s vacation in Dewey Beach.
That era of looking upon employers as benevolent father figures is long past. Beset by rebellious shareholders, DuPont has morphed into a shadow of its former self, while other companies that helped build post-war prosperity for the baby boom generation have been dissolved or absorbed. What’s left is a landscape where—no matter how good your job might seem—you’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
That’s the situation we were faced with in crafting this month’s feature, Why Non-Traditional Careers Are on the Rise in Delaware. While Delaware is full of great places to work in the traditional sense, we wanted to focus on individuals—the workers themselves—who crafted their own opportunities out of ingenuity, creativity, hustle and independent spirit. By decision or necessity, these Delawareans have chosen to strike out on their own and combine multiple revenue streams rather than seeking a traditional job that will provide a steady source of benefits and compensation. In doing so, they’re able to build their work around the lives they want to live.
Still, there are many who still ply their trades in the traditional sense—whether it’s in an office or on a factory floor or somewhere in between. Some are just entering the job market, others in the middle of their careers and plenty searching for new opportunities after a layoff. We wanted to highlight the options these workers had, as well.
And while in some ways this new “gig economy” and the various other workplace challenges speak poorly of what we used to think of as reliable employment, they also speak to the indomitable spirit of Delawareans determined to define their own meaning of work. By embracing technology to find a new job, acting on a “crazy” idea to create their own company or refusing to accept the traditional ideas of how meaningful employment is viewed, they’ve turned the question, “What do you do?” into something with a much more interesting answer.