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From University President to Uber Driver: Understanding The Sharing Economy Through Social Experiment

These days, your Uber driver could be anyone. Literally. But imagine your Uber car pulling up and seeing your university president behind the wheel. That’s exactly what happened when Oglethorpe University President, Lawrence M. Schall, decided to run a social experiment of sorts. Schall is spending the summer moonlighting as an Uber driver, along with his full-time responsibilities at Oglethorpe.

Why? Because of the sharing economy.  

More and more of his students are faced with the prospect of joining the freelancing marketplace, whether by choice or by necessity. His wife is a freelance advertising executive and spends many of her days at Panera or Starbucks with a laptop, along with contractors just like herself.

The key learnings from Schall’s experiment is interesting is that it says a lot about both the growing freelance workforce as well as the traditional full-timers. With the flexibilities of a being a freelancer also comes the challenges: no benefits and instability. But from this experiment, Schall learned something about the traditional workforce he didn’t really expect to: the challenges and the grind of the daily commute just to make a living. Many of the passengers he picked up had to resort to Uber due to the inadequacies of public transportation. It’s apparent that both this new freelance nation and the traditional full-time workforce face challenges, but in very different ways.

So what can we, especially those of us part of this freelance workforce, take away from Schall’s social experiment?

  1. Have multiple part-time gigs outside of your industry. To be successful and most importantly make income, freelancers string together various jobs, like these Uber opportunities. The earnings potential can be lucrative but it’s a tough business to be in. You have to understand the intricacies of each business to maximize your profits.
  2. Think outside of the office. A year or two ago, who ever thought Uber would be a viable source of income? Business is rapidly changing, especially technology, and new opportunities pop up everyday. Think outside of the traditional office.
  3. The old economy and the new economy are intertwined. One of the most interesting parts of Schall’s experiment was his interaction shuttling workers back and forth from their job (as well as the daily struggles they faced). It’s apparent how intertwined this old and new economy is and, on a bigger scale, how much they are reliant on each other.
  4. The face of the freelance workforce is ever evolving. The profile of a typical freelancer today is changing. It’s no longer made up of young adults looking to break away from stereotypical jobs. It includes seasoned executives, stay-at-home moms, and retirees looking for something to occupy their time. As Schall mentioned, a large percentage of Uber drivers are over the age of 50 and that’s also indicative of the changing face of the freelancer.
  5. It’s all about the hustle. Last but certainly not least, it’s all about the hustle when it comes to a day in the life of a freelancer. There’s no guaranteed paycheck and a large part of success is about chasing opportunities, not waiting for them to come. Becoming an Uber driver is one example of that.

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