Quirky careers, offbeat services free the young from 9-to-5 rut

The new generation prefers to use their skills and experience to pursue work that gives them self-esteem and purpose.

For a long time, most Chinese people, especially the old generation, believed that only two kinds of employers provided good jobs: big companies that offer fancy salaries and state-owned enterprises that promise lifetime security.

But in recent years, many young people are looking beyond the traditional norms. Security and money may be important, but they are no longer the dominant driver when they seek careers.

The new generation prefers to use their skills and experience to pursue work that gives them self-esteem and purpose.

Such a mindset is hatching many niche occupations in China and changing lifestyles. Workers are freeing themselves from the nine-to-five rut and tailoring their time and pursuits to their own interests.

Shanghai Daily talked to three young entrepreneurs who have chosen the road less traveled.

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Zhou Yiyan (right) and her colleagues help a client rid her home of clutter.

Zhou Yiyan, 33, clutter consultant

For Zhou Yiyan, tidiness is a virtue that reflects an orderly soul.

She and several colleagues operate a workshop in Shanghai, helping people rid their homes of clutter.

Zhou says she believes that the condition of a person’s living space reflects inner character. Her aim is to help them tidy up that space, mostly through lectures and workshops. Sometimes she also goes into homes to supervise clutter removal.

A former media professional, Zhou says her interest in clutter-busting began in 2014, when she read several books by Marie Kondo, a renowned Japanese domestic organizing consultant.

“As a reporter at the time, I sought fulfillment by talking to people, listening to their stories and getting to know the outside world,” she says. “But then I thought it would be good idea to examine my own inner world.”

She tried to tidy up her rooms, using methods recommended by Kondo’s books. Out went all the junk that she never needed or no longer used. Rid of the clutter, she felt lighter and exhilarated. It was a life-changing experience.

The idea of “decluttering” hadn’t taken hold in China at the time, so Zhou wrote down her experiences and posted them online.

In 2015, Kondo was selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people, and she appeared on various mainstream media across the world.

“It inspired me to think that if Kondo’s concept could be accepted by the Western world, why not China?” Zhou says

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Zhou Yiyan (third from left) often hold workshops and lectures on declutter.

She launched the WeChat official account “No. 1 Organizing Platform,” which quickly became popular. Zhou attracted more than 30,000 followers within months.

Although she didn’t speak Japanese, she went to Japan in 2016 to further study clutter elimination and obtained a certificate.

“Japan has countless associations involved in home organizing, and all have their certificates,” Zhou says.

“I could see that the market there was saturated.”

But China is an emerging market for such a service. Many people book Zhou’s times to help them do some thorough housecleaning. Zhou recalls a client who had 500 pieces of clothing. After long talks, the client decided to get rid of half her wardrobe.

Zhou, however, realized that a stable income wouldn’t come by merely going into people’s homes and doing the organizing for them.

“There are no returning customers in this business because once a client learns how to declutter, they don’t need further help,” she says. “That’s why I turned to lectures and workshops.”

Now Zhou is cooperating with several Japanese consultants to give courses that last for several days.

“Throwing away needless things is the first step in domestic organizing,” she says. “We are also trying to give people color and decoration tips. After all, a home is the mirror of who a person really is.”

Jiang Tao, 36, jogging coach

Hailing from Shenyang, capital of northeast China’s Liaoning Province, Jiang Tao works as a full-time “jogging companion.”

He runs an official WeChat account on which people can book his services. He currently is coaching five clients, charging an hourly rate.

Outsiders might think it’s a cakewalk to accompany people jogging and encourage them to carry on when they begin to flag. In reality, there is much more to the job.

“I make different, detailed exercise plans for each of them, taking into account their constitution and personal goals such as distance and frequency of running, and body strengthening,” says Jiang.

He arranges pre-jogging warming-ups, monitors a client’s heart rate during a run and gives muscle massages after each session. It’s all designed to ensure that people enjoy the training and in a healthy manner.

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Jiang Tao (left) runs with one of his clients.

Before starting his current job five years ago, Jiang worked in customer service for a logistics company. His interest in long-distance running started when he was in high school.

“My mother jogged regularly, and she influenced me to jog as well,” he says. “I had a bit of a talent for it and did well in school sports competitions.”

In 2009, Jiang devised his own personal fitness plan. To do that, he did deep research on sports sciences. At first, he used the knowledge to help friends with fitness training.

He finally quit his job so he could concentrate on a career as a jogging coach.

“In my opinion, jogging is the foundation for all sports,” he says. “I’m more like an enlightener, giving people a basic knowledge about how to get fit scientifically.”

Jiang says most of his clients are men between the ages of 20 and 40. They either want to lose weight or to prepare for local marathon races. They usually train three to five times a week, either in the early morning or in the evening.

“I prefer working in the evening because it’s really hard to get up around 4am in winter,” he says. “But that is the price I have to pay for not having to sit out my days in an office.”

Jiang says it was tough in the early days of the business, when income could be spotty. But now he has become better known in jogging circles.

“I have very loyal clients,” he says. “One of them has been with me for five years. And the number of clients grows every year.”

Liu Tingting, 25, shopping coach

When Liu Tingting graduated from college two years ago, she thought hard about what kind of career she wanted.

Majoring in apparel design and engineering, the native of the northeastern city of Dalian, Liaoning Province, was led by a passion for fashion and beauty.

“I was just eager to share my aesthetics with others,” she says. “I thought it would be good to help people with their shopping, helping them spend money on the right things.”

So Liu became a full-time shopping companion. Clients book her service through several social media platforms, and she goes shopping with them at an hourly rate of 300 yuan (US$47).

The job is not as easy as it may sound. Before hitting the shops, Liu first asks clients to fill out a questionnaire about their requirements, such as dress occasions and valuation of garments. She says most of her clients are white-collar workers and sometimes job-hunting graduates preparing for interviews.

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Liu Tingting (right) helps a client with a shirt.

“After meeting the clients in person, I think over what colors, makeup and hairstyles would suit them and what sorts of clothes would highlight the best aspects of their body shapes,” she says.

Perhaps surprisingly, Liu has more men as clients than women.

“Many young men pay quite a lot of attention to their looks, especially when they are to attend a formal occasion,” Liu said. “But it is more difficult for me because I have to wait outside the changing room, and it takes them longer to make a decision.”

Liu says she really loves the job and is thrilled when a client looks younger, more beautiful and more confident because of her efforts.

But like any job in the services industry, challenges arise.

“Some clients don’t trust me and believe that I am working in cahoots with the stores,” she says. “And some may look at merchandise in stores with me, then go online to find cheap substitutes that really don’t create the same effect as quality goods do.”

Liu, however, reckons that her job has a bright future.

“I’ve noticed that people in China, no matter what gender or age, are becoming more aware of their appearance, which gives people like me space for development,” she says.

The job also gives her a good income. She just bought a new car with her own money last year.

“That is not something many new graduates can achieve,” she says. “So I believe I have chosen the right path.”

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