Creating and maintaining a clear, meaningful, and sustainable narrative about one’s identity is both a fundamental human motive and is associated with a host of positive outcomes. Typically, organizations and professional institutions provide people with scripts for building such an identity which serve to guide behavior, clarify relational expectations, and define career pathways. Yet despite investing heavily in their own education and training, professional gig workers may struggle to develop their identity story both because they lack the guidance of such structures and because the dynamics of gig work continually challenge important elements of one’s narrative identity, including plot, characters, coherence, continuity. In this paper we ask two interrelated questions: How does the experience of ongoing narrative challenges impact workers’ weekly behaviors and well-being? And how do gig workers build their career narratives? Addressing the first question, we propose that such challenges don’t only manifest as occasional bouts of existential anxiety, but instead are experienced as everyday realities that affect individuals’ sense of weekly progress, their feelings of thriving in their work lives, and their perceptions of their own resilience by affecting their ability to both stay focused and motivated, and exhibit the proactivity needed to get ahead of problems and tackle challenges. We test and find support for our hypotheses with longitudinal survey data collected three times per week over five weeks from 207 independent scientists. To address the second question, we analyze 244 independent scientists’ reports about their career sensemaking and future plans. These data are the first that we know of to explore how professional gig workers conceptualize and think about careers in the gig economy and offer insight into the core plot themes that gig workers use to make sense of and craft their stories of their work selves. Our paper contributes to theorizing at the intersection of identity and gig work by demonstrating how narrative identity serves as a critical resource for contemporary workers and providing insight into how professional gig workers build this resource by writing their career narratives as they go.
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