[Another whipped-out installment of my professional development, “Unpolished and Rambling Blog-A-Week Project”]
I’m not at all an anxious person by nature. But being a parent to teenagers, even (especially?) good kids earning strong grades, feels way too much like watching a slow motion train wreck. I think this may be more so if you’ve been successful at creating an environment where your kids needs have always been met, if you’ve been a “good parent” and sheltered them from adversity. Here, I explore why, through the context of my personal lenses of entrepreneurialism and having known too many people who’ve never been excited by the jobs in which they spent over a third of their lives.
Most people hate Mondays. That’s a problem, and it’s going to get worse. I think it’s solvable.
We all seek. What we seek, what accomplishments we chase, often morphs over time. In my first career, as a soldier, I pursued professional competence. It was a both point of pride and required to both save and potentially take lives. Later, after having squandered a few years in corporate cubicle life before curing myself of a compulsion to work for others, I busted my ass to convert a few meager business skills and an unusual breadth of background experience into a second career as a business founder. Among the plethora of other reasons that drives anyone to hazard the risks and hassles of building their own business, I was at that time a passionate Seeker of (a) freedom from the psychological oppression of working for others and (b) personal financial independence.
Then I retired for awhile. Now, at mid-life (unless I embrace newly available, outlaw life-extension technologies), I seek new achievements.
To me, apparently, seeking = life; living without Seeking is just waiting to die.
There’s a platitude that says: “Life’s about the journey, not the destination.” I interpret that to mean you should drive your life in a direction that thrills and challenges you with the day-in-and-day-out of that Journey, otherwise you’re either tracking on the wrong destination or you’ve passively elected to let others steer your boat toward their dreams at the cost of your own.
Why would someone do that with their one and only life? I couldn’t.
As a result I evolved into a compulsive entrepreneur. So even when it’s not my primary professional focus, I constantly conceptualize businesses that might change the world for the better in some small way. I’m obsessively attracted to the idea of blending social good with making money. So while I’ve come out of early retirement to pursue a third (!) career by working to develop the skills necessary to make professional writing pay, I’m easily distracted by crowd funding friends’ visions, angel investing, and thought experiments about tech startups.
As part of that latter preoccupation, and in the context of choosing a profession, I’ve been experimenting with a framework for helping people identify, choose, then realize their dreams, despite the risk that anything I do will result in a mass-market demonstration of the futility in leading a horse to water. But my conviction is that having concrete dreams fueling one’s day-to-day energy strengthens chances of success and increases happiness. And I wish more of the people I interacted with were happier, that more of the people I know were either living their dreams or at least making remarkable, excited progress in that direction.
But it’s not easy figuring out your dream life and then transitioning that into accomplishment. If it were, people would be defined more by their progress toward identity fulfillment than self-classified by an occupation, a job, they actually consider a dream-killing, energy-sucking distraction forced by the need for an income source.
Which one of those two opposites applies to any given individual? That’s easy: If you suddenly had all the money you’d ever need and could do whatever you wanted in life, would you choose to keep your current job (or other time sink taking most your waking hours) for the next five years, or would you give your two-week’s notice so you could devote your energy to something else? Way too few people have charted their lives so that they’d choose the former. Way too many people hate proverbial Mondays — one of the surest indications you’re not working in your dream profession doing something you love.
I think about that common condition. Because it’s a pain point. And where there’s pain, there’s opportunity. A pent-up demand whose satisfaction could create social good (and profit).
Bookmark that thought: Where there’s pain there’s opportunity.
Sometimes, when the direct route toward happiness is obscured by malaise or inexperience, you can at least begin tracking in the right general direction by identifying and avoiding the common ruts that entangle lives and strangle joy. With introspection and a modicum of professional development, you can at least groom yourself away from having to take jobs that will predictably lead toward diminished satisfaction with one’s work life. At the entry level, and maybe beyond, ongoing development of core skills related to your passions becomes akin to positioning yourself to fail upward. In this manner, you increase your contentment by avoiding easy paths leading to discontentment. The earlier you takes these actions, the shallower the ruts from which you must climb before finding your own True Path.
Simple, in theory. But applying this blinding flash of the obvious to teens (and even boys in their early twenties), whose prefontal lobes are barely buds and thus almost physiologically incapable of envisioning, let along building, complex plans for the future is no small challenge. Hence teens’ stereotypical answer to questions like: “What excites you? What profession might you be passionate about? What do you want to do with your life?”
“Um, I dunno.”
So their first job usually ends up being doing something soul-crushingly boring to their young hearts, creating and cementing the expectation that work sucks and life is what you live outside of work. But you have to accept it because employment is one of life’s necessary evils. That belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because entry into that environment encourages you to grow out of your dreams; you begin to accept pale substitutes and life goes by. Suddenly you’re old, and you wonder where you abandoned your dreams.
But that’s fixable, isn’t it?
I think so. Thus I contemplate the behaviors of young people who, through lack of any life-sustaining dream development, have either fallen, or are at risk of falling, into whatever poorly suited job their too often random, undirected searches turn up via quick trolling through parentally relayed news of help-wanted signs or path-of-least-resistance perusal of the classified help-wanted ads. That inserts kids and young adults into the teeming throngs of the discontented who, years down the line, realize they’re living for the weekend, hating Mondays, and trying to remember — or perhaps forget — once-cherished dreams. These are the myriads who default into that too common, life-interrupted fate of spending 40-50+ hours a week making a living but not a life. Because they wouldn’t or couldn’t summon the energy or hunt out the coaching to find, develop, and pursue a personal passion outside of play time.
Why is passion important? Because globalization, and the flattening of markets and the competition that brings. Without passions drive, mustering and sustaining the enthusiasm for the incessant skill development and its attendant competitive edge ensures mediocrity. To create stable income out of your dream, it takes passion to build your talent into top 5%…or 2%.. levels of performance. Passion is required to compete with people like you who want to live their dreams. Very, very few can do that with grinding self-discipline alone. If your energy levels aren’t passion-fueled, doing something that creates a life and not just a living becomes a bridge too far. Without the passion that ties happiness to excellence and as a result drives constant growth in expertise, you risk falling behind those with whom you must inevitably compete. It takes passion to become great, certainly the best, at something — even in niche or small markets (characteristics that are also becoming obsolete due to technology’s march).
Let’s bookmark that thought, too: If you’re not passionate about what you do, you’re at risk of falling behind those who are.
Pulling another thread into this, I think about professional options and career “opportunities” that lure the majority of people aging through their teens and twenties (or worse, their thirties). My premise is that time spent working at something that bores you, that you’re not passionate about, is lost time. So I contemplate the societal ruts whose siren songs pull those struggling under a dearth of internal motivation when it comes to identifying, developing, and pursuing a personal dream. That lack yields a low-energy approach toward charting one’s future. Then that too often creates a downward spiral which, over time, saps one’s ability to muster the kind of vigor and focus it takes to keep a dream alive long enough to fulfill. So dreams die, and people end up hating Mondays.
Then there’s this driver: I have teenagers, so I spend some of my idle time thinking about what kind of world my kids are going to enter once they’re booted lovingly out of the house, encouraged to seek (and hopefully complete) some amount of free (to them) higher education, and are forced to select a career — ideally one that will provide happiness and subsistence without private or public subsidy. A “failure to launch,” a growing societal trend, is not an option. It’s evidence I’ve not done my job as a parent.
Like most teens, mine are uninterested in such introspection. Historically, that’s par for the course for teens. I think that’s been true for ages. It was for me in my day and if you’re educated enough to accept nature being as great — or greater– influence than nurture, it’s clear that my kids are encumbered by my genes when it comes to their timely professional development. But I had workplace and environmental luxuries my kids won’t. I grew up in a less competitive labor market, in an age where tech and globalization were primitive. What’s maddening is that the Information Age, with its democratic access to the world’s information should off-set that, but rarely does. Perhaps growing up in today’s risk-averse, over-sheltering and incessantly nurturing environment makes the condition worse. Adversity and independence are the mothers of ambition and innovation, and I’m afraid I bought too far into society’s deleterious mores when it came to balancing between hover parenting and encouraging free range kids.
‘Nuther bookmark: Overly sheltered kids are more likely to grow up dependent on external guidance, if not outright pushing, when making early professional decisions. That guidance — especially if it’s coming from the public educational system, colleges selling their majors at a premium, or uninformed parents — is likely to be hopelessly out of date before it’s even given to the kids.
Want an example? How about Joe Average looking for that first job and falling into the insurance industry, or perhaps a retail position in an auto-parts store, or perhaps with a manufacturer in the auto or one of the supporting secondary parts industries. Historically, these have been stable, if not glorious jobs for those who (almost certainly) never mustered a passionate enthusiasm for something more emotionally rewarding. But, hey, it’s a living and a steady paycheck, right?
This is how lack of foresight like that unravels a life.
Here we are in Spring, 2015. Cars with increasing amounts of automation are entering the mainstream. On the mundane side, multiple manufacturers already offer cars with 360º obstruction and approaching vehicle warning, self-parking, and even collision avoidance systems that will literally take over from you and stop the car if you’re about to drive into something.
A recent software update for Tesla cars introduced features that enable your car to automatically change lanes for you with a simple flick of the signal stalk, automatically match the road’s speed limit based on either GPS (digitized road map data) or the car’s visual sighting of a speed limit sign as well as other self-driving functions. Autonomous cars will be here, soon.
Are you still thinking that sci-fi stuff is far in the future? Even now the number of states with legislation passed and on the books allowing the operation of autonomous — another term for self-driving — cars is increasing. Google already has a car in production that has neither a steering wheel nor pedals and is testing it on public California roads. It’s been almost two years since Google reported having about a dozen cars on the road at any given time, and over 300,000 autonomous miles driven.
Conservative pessimists suggest that autonomous cars won’t be mainstream until 2030, but that by 2040 the concept of a driver’s license will be obsolete. Visionaries driving us into this future (heh — see what I did there?) free from idiot and distracted drivers screwing up our roadways, predict fully automated driving in five years! And by “visionaries,” we’re no longer talking futurist crackpots and starry-eyed pundits. Both Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Tesla owner Elon Musk are working aggressively toward this rapidly approaching time to market. Elon Musk, who I submit is a pretty savvy dude, has gone so far as to say that in 2015, a Tesla will be 90% capable of auto-pilot. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has predicted that they will begin selling self-driving vehicles by 2018! That’s just around the corner!
Coolio! It’s classic capitalism. We have sufficient infrastructure to handle the traffic, but it’s too frequently clogged by humans too lazy and ignorant to learn to drive properly, and too stupid to realize how much they endanger others with their frequent misprioritization of focus while piloting a 3500 lb, 250+ hp murder weapon. Those oblivious and unskilled people create over 11 million traffic accidents and kill 30,000 to 40,000 of their fellow countrymen a year in the US alone. It’s a pain point, and nothing creates commercial incentive (and profit) like addressing pain points, with convenience and better safety being the most low-hanging fruit!
So, autonomous cars are coming, and they’re going to get here fast.
So, I wondered, what does that mean for the heretofore mentioned young adult, who in the absence of a driving dream just sort of fell into a “stable,” if unfulfilling job in one of those previously mentioned industries?
Well, it’s a no-brainer that autonomous cars are going to be safer and the auto-insurance industry is looking with trepidation at the deleterious effect that self-driving cars could have on the insurance business. That’s a diplomatic way of saying parts of it are going to implode. Similarly, industries like manufacturing and retail — most notably in auto-parts — and collision repair, are all forecast to see reduced demand (read: business closures and unemployment) in an era when cars aren’t running into each other and other things willy nilly like they have for the last hundred years. So that’ll be another nail in the coffin of employment prospects for generally unskilled labor. And, poof, suddenly that young adult, who couldn’t be bothered to chart a more exciting course for his life, and obsolete job skills and is on unemployment.
Can he recover? Maybe. But he’s put himself, or he’s allowed well-meaning but misguided others to put him, behind the professional power curve. He’s moved out of the time of his life when that proper dream analysis and development could have given him an advantage.
With technology’s rate of change, an incredible number of the majors being sold by financially hungry colleges are going to be obsolete by the time gifted entries today work their way into middle management. So as a society we have to find a way to help our youth find their passion, develop their dream, and Seek a smarter, happier course through the disruption ahead.