We welcomed author-columnist-speaker-lecturer-podcaster Emma Gannon to the YCN Library for an evening of discussion around the ideas in her new book.

The future of work is set to be more elastic, fluid and multi-disciplinary, and Emma Gannon's 'multi-hyphenated' career path to-date is a strong case in point.

The best-selling business author and broadcaster has been published everywhere from The Guardian to MTV, The Pool to GLAMOUR, has been a columnist for The Telegraph and COURIER magazine and lectures at the Condé Nast College. As a frequent guest speaker Emma regularly features on panels, radio programmes such as BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour and conferences and events, where she shares her perspectives on work, lifestyle, millennial trends and feminism. She is the host of her own hit podcast, CTRL, ALT, DELETE, featuring special guests such as Lena Dunham, Gillian Anderson and Greta Gerwig.

With a work of non-fiction (by the same name as her podcast) under her belt and a role as a Prince's Trust ambassador, she has now written a second book all about her many professional pursuits: The Multi-Hyphen Method. An instant "Sunday Times business bestseller", the book teaches readers how to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit within themselves, reject the "Jack of all trades" stigma and to channel creativity and drive to start living more fulfilled and varied lives. Whether you're a staunch 9-5er or a millennial side-hustler, Emma's book is a source of inspiration to seek out your personal vision of success. 

On the evening of 30th October Emma returned to the YCN Library, where she recently interviewed friend and fellow feminist entrepreneur June Sarpong. Over the course of the evening we covered the thinking behind The Multi-Hyphen Method, her current projects and took questions from our audience.

Here’s what we learned. 

Emma has been “pleasantly surprised” by how well The Multi-Hyphen Method has been received. “No one talks about how hard it is to sell books”, so it’s satisfying to see “how well it’s resonated with people”. She points out that this book “isn’t actually about me”, mainly because “I don’t think books about careers are interesting when they’re about one person”. It’s true that the universal appeal of The Multi-Hyphen Method lies in its breadth of research and arguments which apply to more than “a single demographic”. It was inspired, however, by her own experience of landing her first “dream job on paper” and realising that she felt deeply unfulfilled: over the last ten years she has carved out a varied, successful and fulfilling career on her own terms. “I’ve learnt so much.”

Modern twist on an old idea

Emma is quick to point out that “the multi-hyphen career is not a new concept. Portfolio careers have been around since the 80s”, and she’s just put a “modern twist” on the idea, in a climate of side-hustling (“it’s become so popular!”) and changing (“millennial”) definitions of “success”. She spoke about the illusion of a career path, about how this generation – encouraged to follow traditional paths through school and university and graduate schemes – has been “sold a lie”. 

Work and identity

One of the themes in Emma’s book is the relationship we have with work: “it’s embedded in our identity”. She told us she noticed how differently people reacted to her after she quit her first job. “People treat you differently depending on your success on paper. […] It’s kind of gross.” Even though she was “happier and healthier” and had “more money in [her] bank account”, people were hesitant to accept her new version of success. In her book Emma outlines this redefining of success: “we don’t ask ourselves very often”, she said, “what does success mean to me? It’s very individual”.

Promote yourself

One of our biggest obstacles, particularly among women, is knowing how to promote ourselves, and it’s “an integral part of getting new work, new clients”. Emma argues that The Multi-Hyphen Method is not “a book saying quit your job”, but it’s a reminder that “everyone is more interesting than their job”. “We’re all human. We all have multiple interests.” She blames “British culture” for our tendency to disregard our interests, defining ourselves by single job titles. 

Forget the follower frenzy

Although Emma is very successful – by her own terms and those of her peers and followers – she claims “I don’t actually have that many followers. I don’t care about followers. I know that everyone who follows me cares about what I do”. This is because she has carefully and gradually cultivated a “micro-community”: “a solid, small group of people who know who you are”. She separates business and personal life with “a personal Instagram for friends and family”, and other social media accounts where “I make money online”. Her decision to share information about herself is exactly that – she decides what to share and where to draw boundaries: “I’m pretty open. I’m happy with that”.

Personal and professional freedom

Emma is a master of flexible working, but admits it has a downside. “People love to slate it, but there are more positives than negatives.” By this she means that “sometimes we work too hard”, if we don’t allocate ourselves periods of free time. “I work from anywhere, just give me my laptop”, she says. “I go with energy levels. I love that I can do whatever I want. I love the freedom.” She mentions later that if she takes a holiday, “and I don’t look at my phone for a week, I see that as an investment in myself”.

Finding a happy balance

The Multi-Hyphen Method is not “a flexible working manifesto”. Emma says her book is “just saying this is another way of doing things”. “I just want people to be happier. We normalise hating our work.” She rejects the traditional working environment (“a pit of despair”) in which we often conceal or reduce our identities, arguing that “it’s so important that your bosses know who you are”. Yes, it sounds very “millennial”, but “things are changing”. It’s “crucial for diversity” that people feel they can be themselves. “People are quitting their jobs like never before. They’re dropping like flies” – is it because we are quicker to challenge problems at work? Is it a generational shift towards empowerment and entrepreneurialism?

What’s holding you back?

For most of us, it’s the concept – or illusion – of security that holds us back from trading in our full-time jobs for our side-hustles. In fact, (as we heard before from Sam Conniff Allende’s YCN talk earlier this year) most small businesses have an average of 2-3 months worth of wages in the bank, so the idea that we are safer working for someone else is not entirely accurate. Emma is not asking her readers to be naive about the self-employment: “it’s really hard when you go through quiet months… but you can just make money in other ways”. It seems obvious that “seven or eight streams of income” are better than one. 

Fetishising failure and beating “burnout”

Freelancing doesn’t mean “monetising everything”: “You don’t have to be this side-hustle queen… hobbies are good for you”. Emma’s approach to work is to “follow my curiosity”, often looking to the US for inspiration and always exercising judgement as to when “not to jump on the bandwagon”. “You should trust your gut.” She also touched on failure, and her dislike for its “fetishisation”: in this age of startups and entrepreneurialism we glorify the “fail fast” approach, but “failure sucks. It really annoys me when people say how great failure is”. Her own experience is that, with “fingers in so many pies”, regular failures are “just part of what I do”. There is just “less attachment” when you have “multiple interests and income streams”. She also made a point of addressing “burnout” (“exhaustion. Feeling apathetic. Anxiety. Wanting to cancel everything in your diary for no reason”) in the book, emphasising the importance of being able to “spot the signs” and take preventative measures.

A millennial approach to money and success

Traditionally, people shy away from speaking about money. We don’t disclose our salaries to our colleagues and friends, it’s a “dirty word”. Emma said, “I find it weird how we don’t talk about salary. I talk about money so openly now”. There’s a real value to this, as she points out: discussing money can be “empowering”, it can help democratise the world of freelancing, and level the playing field. This is something that we should extend to the traditional world of work, if we hope to make any progress towards “closing the pay gap”. 

An exciting time for podcasters

Emma told us how her podcast started after the idea was dismissed at her first job. “I love it, it’s the best job in the world.” Today she has a listenership of a quarter of a million “incredible, like-minded people”, a platform which she takes seriously and wants to continue “using for good. It’s weird if you don’t”. Looking back, she reflects on how much she’s learnt since starting the CTRL, ALT, DELETE podcast back in early 2016, and how much the podcast community has grown since. When asked what piece of advice she’d give her younger self, she says, “I’ve done my best. I couldn’t have quit my job any earlier”, but that she would remind herself that “people will always say that something can’t be done. You just have to ignore them”.

Other projects

Emma mentions a few times that she is working on another book – “it’s very, very different from this one”. She points out the irony of writing a book advocating multiplicity and being pigeon-holed as “the multi-hyphenate girl”: “I don’t want to be put in a category”. Her philosophy is that constantly pushing our boundaries and “learning new skills and making ourselves employable” is the only way to “future-proof” ourselves in these uncertain times (a reluctant reference to Brexit). Women in particular have a tendency to categorise themselves, an audience member points out. “The having-it-all conversation is interesting”, agreed Emma. “We’re lucky we can be whatever we want, so why wouldn’t we choose to be?”

Tangible takeaways

“Being self-employed isn’t about doing what you love all the time.” Emma is clear that she does “loads of money jobs. No one gets away with not doing that”. She also plugged money-saving app Moneybox, advising that self-employers save for a buffer of about two to three months’ salary. Another tip for freelancers: be realistic about time. “Our perception of time stops us from achieving things”, she warns. “Carve out half an hour on a Sunday”, if that’s what you need. “I wrote my book on iPhone notes.” Finally, she says, remember that “it’s not a quick-fix. It’s hard work”. Emma has been building a personal brand for over ten years now, consistently blogging, podcasting and building her network of connections from which she draws inspiration, expertise and opportunities for the next project on her list. “This is how work will be in the future.”

All photography Sam Bush.

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