Being On and Off the Bubble

Ausma Malik is Atkinson’s Director of Social Engagement. She’s pictured here (far left) with podcast guest and host of Gimlet’s UNCIVIL, Chenjerai Kumanyika (second from left), producer Katie Jensen (second from right), and consulting producer Yasmine Mathurin, outside our recording space in the Toronto Star.

Recently, I was looking up whether a couple of the TV shows I like were going to return for another season. To my dismay, one of my favourites was characterized as being “on the bubble” —  a new phrase for me. I learned it’s showbiz-speak for being on the cusp of cancellation or renewal. The show’s future rests in powerful hands. This seemingly innocuous term struck a surprising and deep chord.

Over the last several months, I have been having many conversations, reading and listening loads, about my generation’s relationship with work. I’ve been hearing what it’s like to live “on the bubble” — on the brink of unprecedented opportunities but also debilitating uncertainty.

While TV fans have Reddit threads to speculate about the fate of their faves, the stakes for a whole generation are much higher. It warrants significantly more space and time to share what work is about in this moment, and imagine what the future of work can be.

That’s what motivated us to create Just Work It, Atkinson’s brand new platform for podcasts and events on decent work for and by those of us who are called “millennials”. Online and offline, we’ll be talking about our work-related choices, chances and causes: the choices we make or don’t have, the chances we take or never get, and the causes that define our working lives.

The millennial generation spans two decades, 1981 to 2001. We all grew up with technology. The first wave grew up with personal computers, cell phones and video game systems. The second is known for their tablets, smartphones and apps. We have the edge over our parents and grandparents when it comes to communications, media and digital technologies, but we’re behind them by every economic measure.

What I’ve witnessed is that millennials are more talked about than spoken with, more watched than actually seen. That’s why we decided to investigate some well-known myths in our first podcast series, Avocado Toast: Smashing Millennial Myths in Pursuit of Decent Work. We’ll find out what millennial workers love enough to fight for in our second. A third series is on the whiteboard now and will explore the brave, new work we can imagine doing in 2062. By the end of the year, we hope many more of us will be seen, heard and engaged in discussion about policies for decent work and a fair economy.

I owe a huge debt to my excellent producer Katie Jensen who patiently guided me through Atkinson’s first experiment with podcasting. We met when I signed up for her workshop at Dames Making Games. Yasmine Mathurin is another member of this creative team. I listened to Yasmine talk about millennials and money in a CBC Doc Zone podcast last year, so she was one of my early inspirations. She’s a guest on the first episode and behind-the-scenes on the rest.  My co-worker, Pat Thompson, has been my strategic co-conspirator on this project from the start. More recently, Nora Cole signed on to coordinate an endless number of post-production details and to help us set the next series in motion.

As a trustee proudly elected to the country’s largest school board and a director on Atkinson’s small staff team, I have a unique set of work obligations. Somedays, it feels like I’m taking the idea of a “side hustle” to the next level. I’m baffled at how the important role of representing people and making education policy decisions could ever be considered a “gig” in this province, something that typically only people who are independently wealthy, retired or supported by a partner’s income can afford to do as their only job.

At the same time, I’m privileged to work everyday at the intersection of public policy and philanthropy. Here I can collaborate with many others to call out the systemic and structural issues that drive precarious work and help seed solutions. If this podcast helps you locate yourself in the system, structures and solutions, it will have achieved its goals. And if you are inspired to connect with us and our partners in the movement for decent work, it will make a real difference in all our lives.

That’s why I love podcasts. They’ve made a difference in my life. The intimacy and honesty of a conversation, the weaving of a story and feeling with music and voice, one person or many, professionals and amateurs alike, with something to say. Most of all, podcasts have given me the chance to step into someone else’s experience briefly, with the flexibility to tune in anytime, anywhere and while doing the most ordinary tasks. Getting pop culture analysis on my way to work. Laughing with two dope queens while making dinner. Uncovering the mystery of an unresolved murder (that I could never listen to alone) with family from out of town. And now sitting with the vulnerability, the validation and even the vanity of my generation, our work and our causes.

The choice to participate in these conversations gets us “off the bubble” somehow and puts us down on the ground where communities take root. From that place, the future is less daunting. Anything is possible.

Subscribe to Just Work It for the season and let’s see what happens. This show is just getting started.