The Silent Rise of the New Work Pioneer

iStock_000001731048XSmallDid you see Get Ready to be a Change Maker by Bill Drayton and Valeria Budinich over at the Harvard Business Review this week? The article talks about recent economic history, how we’ve cycled through agricultural, industrial and technological revolutions and are now on the cusp of another change again. In their words:

“We are transitioning from a world in which a small elite runs everything to a world in which everyone needs to be a player.”

Whilst it’s good to see this being recognised and articulated, and thought given to what leadership needs to look like now, I think that academics and business leaders alike are vastly underestimating the effects of a movement that’s been afoot for years already.

For, whilst they’ve been clinging to their status quo world, a not so small tribe of people has been making things different for themselves, without any need for institutional guidance or direction.

I call this tribe The New Work Pioneers.

They may not yet recognise themselves by this term, but, just as surely as the disenchanted Europeans set sail for the New World all these centuries ago, this group of individuals have already left the old world of work for real or metaphoric pastures new.

The tribe’s membership includes those who have ditched traditional workplaces to create their own lifestyles; those – including freelancers and artists – who saw early on that work as we currently know it wasn’t for them; and those who are taking a different kind of consciousness into employment with the aim of giving themselves a more liveable corporate experience.

The thing that has prompted each individual’s initiation to the tribe has been different. Sometimes it has been a personal change, like the loss of a relationship; the birth of a child; a serious physical illness, either of one’s own or of a close relation; or a mental breakdown.

Sometimes it has been a change prompted by an employer: an experience of harassment or bullying; a redundancy or its threat.

Whatever the catalyst, tribe members get to a point where they ask themselves serious questions about their work and its role in their lives. “Does life really have to be like this?” is not an uncommon one. Once voiced, New Work Pioneers accept the challenge of creating a different kind of work for themselves. In this they set themselves apart from the millions who might hear the questions, but be unable or unwilling to answer them.

New Work Pioneers have much in common:

  • They value themselves as people and have a real sense of the choices in their lives. They’ve stopped to think about whose lives they’re living: their own or their families and friends. They’ve chosen the former.
  • They appreciate the fundamental role work plays in their lives, not only as a source of income, but also as a way of bringing who they uniquely are to the world. They take their own talents, beliefs and values seriously.
  • They’re committed to find the way to do what they love and to love what they do.
  • Their value of themselves extends to their partners, families and people around them, and to experiences beyond work that enriches them. They know that work and life are not opposing forces, but part of the whole picture of who they are.
  • They see the importance of relationship in their lives and take the time to nurture positive connections with people around them.
  • They have a readiness to challenge the status quo of work and to rewrite some of the bizarre rules that are in play around it.
  • They are committed to their personal growth and development and they see work as a vital aspect within that. They know that as they change, their work changes too, and vice versa.

So, some questions for you: do you recognise yourself in this description? What kick-started your journey into doing and looking at work differently? And what other things do you think New Work Pioneers have in common?

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  1. Hey Christine,
    I love this term. I think a lot of people are realising there is another way (or ways) to do things and are indeed forging a new way to work. People are realising the power they have to choose and create something else and that all our life’s components are intertwined. If you are not happy at work, whatever that might be, it does creep in to other areas of your life.
    Thanks for another great post.

    • Christine says:

      Well said, Jen.

      One of the things you touch on here that I did not include in my list is personal power. I think in this new world, people are indeed taking back their power and that’s causing fundamental shift in, firstly, their own lives, but ultimately, society too.

      Thanks as ever for your contribution!

  2. Pete Savage says:

    Your post is as inspirational as it is accurate. Well said and well-coined: “The New Work Pioneer” Love it.
    - Pete Savage

  3. Scot Herrick says:

    Please build a movement with this theme. Seriously. It precisely describes what is needed to move from corporate worship and dependency into a fulfilling, diverse life.

    I’ll help.

  4. Hi Christine
    How are you?
    I loved this post. New Work Pioneers(NWP).
    You could form slogans, start a movement, design logos, have captions with the word NWP.For example: The Tribe Of NWP (remember i gave you the idea christine……lol!!!)
    You could even start a political party called the NWP.It might give the MP’s a run for their…….
    Enough of my terrible & dry sense of humour
    Would it be fair to say the following about the NWP?
    They keep taking risks because they see positive end results ahead of them.
    They focus on their output which is a product of their experience, knowledge…put into use.
    They don’t label themselves as failures because they’ve failed at something, rather they keep trying.
    They believe in themselves even if no one believes in them.
    I’m loving the whole concept of the NWP.
    Do have a lovely weekend Christine.

    • Christine says:

      Hi Ayo

      I’m really well, thank you!

      I think your list of NWP characteristics is spot on. Thanks for sharing!

      I hadn’t thought about logos and captions, but I won’t forget you gave me the idea! ;)

      You have a good weekend too!

  5. I love this concept Christine – thanks for sharing it.

    I don’t associate myself with this fully yet but I am making roads to move in that direction. There’s so much possibility out there for everyone to grab a piece of the action for themselves and truly make their life fulfilling and exciting. All we have to do is step up and make it happen.

    • Christine says:

      Thanks, Ben. I have an inclination that in your very own way you are already a tribe member!

      I think it’s a very individual thing; also it’s a journey. But what pioneers have is the desire to make things different, and I think you’ve got lots of that!

  6. Linda Wolf (Insanely Serene) says:


    While I have very different opinions of the word and concept of tribe, I like many of the ideas you’ve presented here. Most particularly, I like the idea that each and every one of us can be a leader. I think the people you call New Work Pioneers are the tip of the iceberg. At least in Western societies, where we value individualism and self as well as the collective, there are many many more people who are seeking to find and express and be their true selves in society, who would welcome an opportunity to break out of their rigidly defined societal roles. I think our education system here in the U.S. is very limiting of individual talent and it takes a lot of work to get to the point you describe, breaking free and choosing to be oneself and make one’s way no matter what the response from others and the world.

    It’s taken me a few years to get clear on my path, and I’m still working on it. I’m on my way to living the life I choose, completely and fully, and know I’ll get there. What put me on the path? For me, it’s been an incremental process over the course of my life. But I always had a commitment to truth, from my childhood, that I think has formed the seed of growth in this direction. I also have goals of finding ways to foster others on this journey.

    Thanks for this inspiring post. I hope we do see a movement, and more and more leaders joining together.


    • Christine says:

      Thanks, Linda. I also think it takes a lot of work to get to the point I’m talking about here, and – as the name of the blog suggests – a different kind of work: a work that’s more inwardly focused, on understanding one’s self, as much as on learning new skills or whatever.

      I’m not surprised to hear it has taken you a few years to get clear on your path, nor that your still working on it. I think there’s a lot of stuff out there that promises to be a quick fix, but what I’m talking about here, I believe, is more of a process; a way of life. Interested to hear that truth has been an important driver for you and that you have goals to support others on this journey. That’s wonderful! Meantime, thanks for taking the time to share so much of yourself and your thoughts here!

  7. Mary Altmann says:

    New Play Pioneers!

  8. Julie Walraven says:

    I am continually refining my path but I could almost be called an “Old New Work Pioneer.” I’ve forging a path of self-employment and subcontracting for years and recently dropped the last contract to focus on Design Resumes solely. I have labeled 2010 a journey and adventure and this year I think I feel more like a pioneer than ever before. It is now up to me, no base pay to fall back on. If no clients book, I could be in trouble but I don’t see that as happening. Instead, I hope to forge more and more connections and find new ways of communicating with my existing client base.

    Thank you for your post and I wish you blessings in the future, Christine!

    • I did chuckle at the concept of the “Old New Work Pioneer”, Julie!!

      I admire that you’ve taken the bold step of concentrating on one thing this year, Julie. I can’t but help think that because of your focus and determination you will be very successful with it. Thanks for sharing so openly where you are with your journey – and I wish you well for it, and look forward to watching you flourish!

  9. I like this article a lot but am sick of the use of the term tribe. It reminds me of my days in college studying anthropology when it meant something interesting and cool. Just because its been coined in modern day by Godin does not make it relevant nor applicable. I however like the term New Work Pioneer, which suggests those forging their own paths (and not following some new idol). Thanks.

    • Thanks, Mischa. You make a really good point about my use of the word “tribe” here and I’m glad you did as your comment made me reflect. I think I did use the word “tribe” because I wanted it to mean something that was interesting and cool. However, what I don’t want is to trivialise something that to me is very important by inappropriately giving it some “in” social media marketing buzz. I do intend to work with the idea of the New Work Pioneer going forward, but I suspect I’ll drop the “tribe” analogy.

      Thanks again.

  10. Bob Bessette says:

    I like the term New Work Pioneer because it is an accurate definition. Jonathan Fields immediately comes to mind of someone who is challenging the status quo. What I like so much about what these people are doing is that it gives us, who may still have a traditional job, reasons for hope. There truly are possibilities out there, to shed the traditional work role and venture out into new methods of work. I hope everyone who tries, is successful , but I know better. I also think that in a year or two from now there will even be more options available. It’s an exciting prospect.

    • Christine says:

      Thanks, Bob.

      Glad you spotted that. I think work will subtly reinvent itself over the next years – I think it has to. The people who are leading the change are both inside and outside or corporations and the opportunity is immense! Exciting times, indeed.

      Best wishes to you too!

  11. Heather Villa says:

    I’m definitely seeing more and more people looking to venture into this type of “new work”. The internet and social media have blown open the doors on traditional work and hiring practices. Employees and employers alike are not longer tied to options in their immediate location. We can find positions and clients and contract for work from anywhere. I believe this is why we are seeing so many people becoming ‘New Work Pioneers.” :)

    • Well said, Heather. I think, without doubt, the internet and social media are fuelling this change and indeed making it possible. We don’t need to be tied to old ways of working any more.

      Thanks for your comment and good to meet you :)

  12. Christine, I love this concept. It takes a certain lack of fear to become a New Work Pioneer, and I believe that the economic meltdown forced many of us to face our worst fears about work and to move past them toward something different — a work identity not associated with any employer but aligned with total life integration and living ones deepest values. Thanks for the encouragement for the journey!

    • Thanks, Kristy, I’m glad you liked it!

      You’re absolutely right that the meltdown made many of us face our worst fears. It sounds like you did the courageous thing, stayed with yours, and realised there was something – someone? – different beyond them. Awesome!

  13. Gee Backhouse says:

    Yes, Christine – I’m definitely a New Work Pioneer! What was the kick-start? For me, it was being very comfortable but with a niggling feeling that I was living someone else’s idea of the way life should be. So I changed pretty much everything relished the growth and development that I continue to experience. Wonderful and heartening to see this accurate depiction – thank you! Amitiés, Gee
    Gee Backhouse´s last blog post ..The Thought that Counts

    • Christine says:

      Thanks, Gee!

      I love that phrase “a niggling feeling of living someone else’s idea of the way life should be”. Congratulations on listening to the voice that knew that was the case and on grabbing the opportunity to live your own!

      Cheers :)

  14. Ali Davies says:

    Really enjoyed reading this as this year is the 10th anniversary of me escaping the corporate rat race to work and live life on my own terms. It has been a hell of a journey with many ups and downs along the way but there has never been a moment that I have regretted it.
    Your phrase New Work Pioneer is new too me but based on your definition you can count me in this tribe.

    • Christine says:

      Welcome to the tribe, Ali!

      And congratulations on 10 years beyond the rat race. What you say about life’s ups and downs resonates with me. I think there’s a fantasy in some quarters that deciding to work on your own terms is a breeze, but that’s not my experience either. Working with complete integrity doesn’t stop the bills needing to be paid or mean that you escape the realities of the markets. However, living life on one’s own terms means that one is totally alive to each experience. And there’s something as thrilling for me in that as there are scary moments too!


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