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The Connection Between Mary Poppins and the Gig Economy

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

What flying a kite can teach us about balancing work and life.

The 1964 movie Mary Poppins has made a comeback in my life. I grew up watching the movie repeatedly with my sister – and yes, I can still recite key parts of the dialogue to this day, accent and all. I recently watched this movie with my daughter and she now loves it as much as I do. As I sat next to her while it was on, I realized the movie makes a statement about the gig economy, work-life integration and overall happiness; something that makes me love it even more.

Bert, the character played by the amazing Dick Van Dyke, appears throughout the movie, each time working in a different profession.

Bert fulfills many work roles with complete control over his time.

First, he’s performing as a one-man-band and entertaining fellow community members. Next, he’s painting pictures as an ‘artist of the highest degree.’ When it rains, he proclaims that this is perfect weather to sell chestnuts, and off he goes to pursue that gig. Later, he appears as a chimney sweep and shares how lucky he is to work on the rooftops of London. And, when the wind changes direction and carries Mary Poppins away, he changes direction too and sells kites to local families.

Bert is a perfect example of a gig worker and sums up one of the greatest benefits of this style of work with my favourite line from the movie:

“I does what I likes, and I likes what I do.”

He has a variety of gigs that allow him to spend time on other aspects of his life. When his old friend Mary Poppins arrives unexpectedly, he heads off on a ‘jolly holiday’ with her. When Uncle Albert needs help, he’s there. He doesn’t have a boss to ask, he just goes and enjoys his time. As things change, in the weather, in the economy, he nimbly adjusts and pursues another gig. This is someone who works hard without losing sight of the things that really matter.

Bert, it seems, has found a way to balance work and life.

Now, it’s safe to say that Bert likely doesn’t earn enough in these professions to make him rich. But it doesn’t seem to matter to him because he’s happy, doing work he enjoys and spending time with people he cares about.

In a stark contrast to Bert, the father, George Banks, is an overworked banker and is obviously paid well to be living at #17 Cherry Tree Lane and to have a cook, a maid, and a nanny on staff. When George finishes his day at work, he looks forward to coming home to his slippers, sherry and pipe. The only interaction he has with the kids is to ‘pat them on the head and send them off to bed.’ By all accounts, George is successful; but he’s not happy. And this realization becomes clear for him only when he’s put in a position where it appears he must choose between his job and his children. Bert shares his wisdom with George, saying “...when your little tykes are crying you haven’t time to dry their tears…You’ve got to grind, grind, grind at that grindstone. Though childhood slips like sand through a sieve. And all too soon they’ve up and grown and then they’ve flown. And it’s too late for you to give.” This line was a turning point for George. It's when he says:

“Let's go fly a kite.”

It wasn’t long ago when I was like George, giving all of my energy to work and giving whatever was left to all the other aspects of my life. Now that I’ve experienced both sides, I understand why Bert is singing, laughing and dancing in all of his scenes and George only does that in the last few minutes of the movie. Being his own boss and creating a portfolio of work that sustains him and gives him joy is obviously working for Bert.

It’s working for me too.

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