Career advice from the godfather of punk
Almost a decade before lead singer Johnny Rotten first clenched a microphone stand, there was Iggy Pop, legendary American frontman of the band The Stooges – and close collaborator with the late David Bowie – whose music and onstage antics are often cited as having a seminal influence on bands like The Sex Pistols. Dubbed by many “The Godfather of Punk,” Iggy Pop’s career has probably had more ups and downs than most of us will ever experience in our professional lives. Yet when he delivered the fourth annual BBC Music John Peel Lecture, it was clear that he’d come through it all with an enviable amount of wisdom and humour.
In an almost hour long speech, Pop addressed the concerns that many of us are facing in almost any sector of our evolving economy, not just the music industry. And one of his main pieces of advice – which he emphasized both during his speech and in a Q&A session afterwards – is especially relevant to us all:
“How about selling car insurance?”
Iggy Pop has been, among other things, a drummer, singer, film and television actor, radio personality – and, yes, he even worked for a car insurance company for a time. But he didn’t do it all just for fun. When his music wasn’t selling, he still had to make a living. As he pointed out in his lecture, “If I had to depend on what I actually get from sales, I’d be tending bar between sets.”
Pop isn’t alone in recognizing the value of diversifying. Writing in Forbes, Dan Schawbel lets us know that “Gone are the days when you can rely on one source of income to survive.” He points out that the analogy between your career path and a portfolio of stocks is especially apt these days: just as you shouldn’t bet your life savings on only one stock, so too should you be wary of committing yourself to only one career path. “In order to confront uncertainty,” he writes, “the best thing you can do is diversify yourself.”
“Get organized. That helps a lot.”
Like the Punk movement he helped to inspire, Iggy Pop is fueled with a desire for creative self-expression and freedom. At 69, he’s still touring and singing with an incredible amount of energy. But he’s also a realist. “I’m diversifying my income,” he said, “because a stream will dry up.” Then he added: “I’m not here to complain about that. I’m here to survive it.”
It seems that a lot of people – especially Millennials – are thinking the same way. As Schawbel shows in his Forbes article, the ever-increasing rise of freelancing indicates a shift towards career diversification, and away from the one-job-for-life mentality. Predictions have already been made that by 2020 “there will be more freelancers than employees.” Anybody who wants to survive in that world is going to have to be prepared to adapt to it.
“Get the knowledge.”
If you want to diversify, you’re going to need an open and inquisitive mind. “Be curious,” is Pop‘s advice. He urges us to learn as much as we can, and seek out the people who can teach us more. In a world where “job security” sounds like a quaint and outdated phrase, survival in today’s economy increasingly means broadening your horizons through education and skill-enhancement. With unfeigned seriousness – and like a kindly career adviser – The Godfather of Punk told his audience at the Peel Lecture: “I cannot stress enough the importance of study.”
It may be hard for some people to reconcile this image of a calm, wise Iggy Pop with footage of him from 1970 being raised aloft by screaming fans as he smears his naked torso with peanut butter, but it shouldn’t. He remains a truly creative individual, able to take on multiple roles. He can be a wild man on stage one night, and a compassionate career counsellor the next. It’s called diversification. And the future looks like it’s going to be tailor-made for just such creative, free-spirited individuals.