Editor’s note: Matt is a 23-year-old white resident of Raleigh, N.C.. Since dropping out of Clemson University in 2014, he has been using Uber as his primary source of income. There are an estimated 6 million mostly young American workers who are choosing to work part-time so that they can pursue other interests; Matt fell squarely in this category. Below are his comments to me on his current life situation. He asked that his last name not be used, worried that it would jeopardize his employment.
I started driving for Uber after I left college in 2014. I had gotten my associate’s degree, and was in the middle of getting my bachelor’s degree at Clemson University in South Carolina. But after some time, I decided it wasn’t something for me, that I wasn’t fully committed to investing my time in school. I found myself questioning why I was there. I knew I could use a degree to boost my income and get a good job somewhere, but for where I was in life, I was not ready to settle down.
Joining Clemson’s investing club was my main catalyst for leaving school. I’d thought I wanted to go into finance, and had an interview lined up for an internship with a financial firm. But it began to consume my life — I stopped returning my mom’s calls and my grades suffered because I was obsessed with making money. I realized there was something else going on, and was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder.
That’s when I was like, I’m done with college. I was so caught up in anxiety being in that field and, in my mind, having to make everything perfect, that I was making myself miserable. That’s why I went away from it — finance, school, a predictable life — and I didn’t really want to go back.
So I did a total “180” from going to school and being involved in lot different things, to moving back in with my mom in Raleigh without any kind of plan.
Things became pretty desperate pretty quickly. I was applying to things like dishwashing jobs, just any job I could get where there would be no larger expectations of success. I sent out my resume to a lot of low-level jobs that I figured I could easily get. But I quickly found out those are some of the most difficult jobs to get these days. Employers ask, “Are you just going to leave in a few months? Because you probably have better opportunities.” If I did, I wouldn’t have been applying, but I couldn’t convince them that was the case.
So as one might do when you’re desperate for a job, I found myself looking over Craigslist. I saw an ad for Uber that sounded enticing: I could make $1,500 a week just by driving my car around. So I signed up. I soon realized I couldn’t earn quite as much as had been advertised, but I could still make pretty good money. And the freedom was awesome — it’s still great.
Since I signed up, there have been a number of rate cuts. When I started it was $1.50 per mile, then at one point it dropped all the way down to 75 cents. It’s since come up to 85 cents. While I’m earning less than when I first started, demand has picked up substantially, so I’m still able to do okay. I’d say my net average earnings on a given day are $8.50/hr after all expenses, like gas and maintenance. I can usually earn more on the weekends when demand is highest.
The pay isn’t great, but the freedom Uber offers makes me willing to sacrifice — I’ll accept lower earnings for more flexibility with my time. I’ve been able to pursue my interests in music production and photography. I’ve been recording my own electronic music tracks, and with the encouragement of my friends and family, taking photo assignments. I also just finished a cross-country trip with my girlfriend (whom I now live with) and went to a conference she was attending in D.C. I could never have done these things on a whim if I had a regular full-time job. Freedom and flexibility: it’s hard to put a value on that.
I know I have to be more conservative with my spending, although I haven’t really started doing that yet — if I need extra cash, I'll just drive more. I'll occasionally get help from my parents if I’m waiting for an Uber to check to come in or need gas. I also do have questions about how I’m going to make it financially in the future. But – for now, at least – I have the ability to put in as much or as little time as I want into Uber in a given week, depending on what else I have going on.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll do this, but the longer I do it, the more I enjoy it. Most of my friends think it’s pretty cool too. The only person who’s upset is my Mom. She kind of looks down on it, and is not very proud that I’m an Uber driver. She says it’s not a real job, and that I’m not living up to my fullest potential.
I don’t agree with her point of view.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.