Whatever you want to say about 2014, one thing is for certain—this year has offered no shortage of reminders that the world is wild and uncertain. From unrest in Ukraine and the Middle East to Ebola and scientists landing a probe on a comet (a tiny moving object millions of miles away!), the news seems tailor-made to remind us that nothing—and I mean nothing—is predictable anymore.
And that, of course, goes for your career as well. The same forces of global interdependence, resource crunches, and amazing tech innovation that’s made the news sometimes seem like a Hollywood thriller this year mean the days of stable decades-long career trajectories are long gone.
That’s probably not news to you. But the question remains—what, if anything, can you do to prepare?
It’s a profoundly important question that a couple of clever blog posts have tackled recently. Specific strategies will necessarily be different from person to person and business to business, but these authors claim to have unearthed general principles or ways of thinking that can make you more resilient and likely to thrive no matter what gets thrown at you. Here are a few of their suggestions.
1. Remember That Things Are Designed
This one comes from Jessica Lawrence, director of New York Tech Meetup, writing on Medium recently. As part of a previous gig encouraging girls to get involved in tech careers, she’s noticed that we often overlook a very simple but incredibly profound reality—someone built the world the way it is, so someone else could build it differently.
“We had asked the girls to start creating a bug list—a list of design flaws they found in the world around them that bugged them, whether it was the handle on a door being too high or their sneakers rubbing their feet the wrong way,” Lawrence recalls. “As they were building their lists, one of the girls said to her mentor, a female engineering student, ‘I’ve noticed my mom doesn’t have any place to store her purse while she’s driving our minivan. Does that count as a design flaw?’ Her mentor confirmed that yes, indeed, it was a design flaw and that in designing and building the car, that was a feature that had been left out...mostly like by the male engineer designing it.”
Sounds simple, but “the girl’s eyes lit up.” While this girl might seem sweetly naive, the truth is a lot of us adults also often forget that the way things are designed now is not set in stone. The fundamentals of “design thinking” can help us all spot possibilities and settle less.
“A huge portion of the products we use and encounter are still significantly flawed and do not solve some of our biggest challenges. All of us should be exposed more often to design and engineering early in life,” Lawrence insists. “We also need to learn how to assess community needs and understand the true needs of someone outside of our own bystander experience.”
2. Acknowledge That Every No Is the Flip Side of a Yes
It’s hard for people pleasers and workaholics to acknowledge sometimes, but you actually do not have infinite time here on Earth—no matter how hard you try or how productive you are. This reality means that every time you say yes to one thing, you are inadvertently saying no to all the other things you could be doing with that time.
Again, this isn’t really news, but it is something we often fail to examine closely. On the blog Dumb Little Man recently, SimpleREV organizer Joel Zaslofsky urges those looking to future-proof their brains to be more mindful of these tradeoffs and more thoughtful about where you can edit your commitments to make time for new, more meaningful pursuits.
“Sometimes you need to give up one thing to squeeze in another,” he writes. “I had to give up TV, movies, and video games for new things that I loved more…It was only by going on sabbatical from what was holding me back that I had the time to build skills to future-proof my brain.” His bottom-line takeaway? “Intentionally and consistently take sabbaticals from your current skills and tools” in order to acquire new ones.
3. No One Will Manage Your Life But You
The world used to be far more paternalistic—the company you worked for would dutifully sort out your retirement and shelter you from various economic storms. Well-trod career tracks whisked promising kids through known steps steady and lucrative employment. No longer. To survive these days, you need to become an expert in self-management, Lawrence also points out.
“Self-management covers everything from self-awareness to how we manage our financial stability on an individual level when we no longer work with a single employer for 20 or 30 years,” she explains. It encompasses both the small things—“how many times a minute we check our email”—and the large, such as developing “a deeper understanding of how we work best and what allows us to flourish.”
In our unstable future, this skill set is no longer optional. “Creating this resilience for yourself involves the work of compiling a toolkit of compensatory skills that allow us to move in and out of various types of employment, from freelance to full-time work, while maintaining some semblance of economic stability,” Lawrence concludes.
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