Future Obstacles - A Way Through

Life is full of obstacles.  And, predictions for the Future of Work lead one to believe that there will be ever increasing obstacles to obtain and maintain relevant skills just to stay employed.  

The first such obstacle is the uncertainty of what precise skills will be in demand.  There are all sorts of predictions about the percentage of jobs that will disappear, and the general skills that will be in demand.  But no one can say, with any certainty, what technical skills will be in high demand in 12 years, let alone 2 years.

The second obstacle is the fact that work will continue to evolve, at an ever increasing rate of speed.  While there is little agreement about how the work will evolve, there is agreement on the fact that the speed at which work evolves will be great — meaning that there will be an ever constant need for tooling and retooling throughout one’s career.

So, how do we prepare for what we know, but at the same time don’t know?  How does anyone prepare for uncertainty?

According to Ryan Holiday, the author of The Obstacle is the Way:  The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, there is a simple, but not easy, process for overcoming obstacles.  In short, it is “three interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines:  Perception, Action, and the Will.”

Holiday’s book breaks down each of these three disciplines throughout the book — each discipline receiving its own section.  The book is not big.  In fact, it’s hardly taller than my phone.  And, the chapters are short, and easy to digest.  But, don’t let the book’s size diminish its impact on your frame of mind.  In short order, you’ll understand that how you perceive the obstacles in front of you, and how you act towards them is the key to getting through them.

As for the obstacles that stand in the way of our future at work, I think that the most impactful part of the book is the last section, the section on Will.  

Holiday states that “[w]ill is our internal power, which can never be affected by the outside world. It is our final trump card.”

Everyone loves a trump card, right?  I know I certainly felt a lot more confident about the cases I was litigating when I had a trump card.  So, to think that I carry around a trump card for all of life’s obstacles is certainly an incredible thought.  But, how do we play this trump card in the game of life, particularly work?

First, according to Holiday, it is important to understand that “will has a lot more to do with surrender than with strength . . .  True will is quiet humility, resilience, and flexibility . . . .”

To me, this means that to deploy our will we need to start by accepting our fate.  In fact, Holiday tells us to love our fate.  Now, he does concede that “it is a little unnatural . . . to feel gratitude for things we never wanted to happen in the first place.”  I agree.  After spending a fortune on a college education, no one will initially feel gratitude about the fact it may not be enough for the Future of Work.  

But, the 4th Industrial Revolution has already begun.  So, there’s no means by which any of us can stop its progress.  We must work on accepting that the world of work is changing rapidly, and employers will seek to automate anything that improves their bottom line.  And, once we have accepted our fate, we must persevere.

What does perseverance look like in this context?  It’s continuing to learn, to acquire and master new skills.  It’s trying new things and risking failure.  It’s understanding and appreciating the fact that there is an incredible amount of learning that occurs just from trying and failing.  And, it’s understanding, that success only occurs with trying.

I fully acknowledge that persevering isn’t easy.  It’s far easier to be frustrated by the fact that we’ve been duped into believing a college education is sufficient for successful employment. But, that frustration is not fruitful, and it doesn’t pay the bills.  So, ultimately, it is far better to accept our fate, persevere, and work together to find ways to “thrive and survive.” And, it seems far better to take Holiday’s advice and have the will and courage to simply contribute our “little bit to the universe before it swallows [us] up.”  

If our internal power can never be affected by the outside world, then whatever the Future of Work brings, we will still have power.  It may not be the power we want to have, but it will be power nonetheless.  And, it seems like now might be a good time to start developing our will, finding our power, to survive automation.  

How we react and respond to the 4th Industrial Revolution will impact future generations.  So, rather than getting caught up in the hype of jobs being stolen by automation and AI, we can choose to follow Holiday’s advice and play our trump card with a smile (perhaps a bit smug) as we work together, seek out opportunities to learn and teach, and have the will to live, not on the terms of our employer, but on our terms.


Growing Grit

The Future of Careers