One of my absolute favourite books is, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson. I discovered it about seven years ago in an airport bookstore. At the time I was on a bit of an adventure myself and was facing a 16-hour layover. My usual pick would have been in the murder-thriller-spy genre, but I was intrigued by the title and at 400 pages or so, I thought, “Why not?” So, I made my purchase, found a good spot, put my feet up on my overnight carrier, wrapped myself in a blanket and entered the world of Allan Karlsson.
Even now, the memory of it has me in stitches. From the very beginning, with his escape from a senior citizen’s home to his last landing in Bali, Allan had me chuckling and reeling in laughter, totally oblivious to the travelers around me. Buried in the humour though was the profound message, that regardless of the stage of life, your circumstances or even your abilities, with the right mindset, you can always reinvent yourself. Actually, that’s two things, the right mindset and reinventing yourself. The latter can’t happen without the former though and its relevance now cannot be understated.
In an interview in September 2018, with Clay Skipper of GQ, the historian Yuval Noah Harari says, “The most important investment that people can make is not to learn a particular skill—”I’ll learn how to code computers,” or “I will learn Chinese,” or something like that. No, the most important investment is really in building this more flexible mind or personality. …we need to get to know ourselves better and we need to develop this mental flexibility. Not as a kind of hobby for the side. This is really the most important quality or skill to just survive the upheavals in the coming decades”
“Know thyself” This is not news. This exhortation is probably as old as the first human thought, certainly it recurs in every tradition – spiritual, agnostic or otherwise. But why, is it of such significance at this stage of our existence? In the same interview Harari explains, “So let’s say you work in a bank and you have your successful career. And then after 10 years, your job has just been automated: you’re trading the stock exchange and all of a sudden the algorithm is much better than you, so you lose your job. You need to go relearn much of what you’ve learned for the last 10 years—you need to go back to the beginning in many, many ways. It’s giving up on not only on much of what you’ve learned and accomplished, but on your perception of yourself. So you no longer know exactly, what do you do? So it demands a lot of this flexibility and emotional intelligence—how to manage such a transition in life.”
Artificial Intelligence and biotechnology will continue to disrupt our world, accelerating an already rapidly changing local and global environment, making the future of work almost undefinable. Understanding who you are, why you are and cultivating acceptance then, creates the internal force field that both protects and provides the emotional flexibility required to navigate the future. The right mindset allows you to see the possibilities rather than drown in the perceived reality.
Over the years I have found that the practice of reflection through, keeping a spiritual journal, silence and gardening, has led me to a deep understanding of myself, providing me with clarity of purpose and direction. Like doing abs, it has strengthened my core. Being exposed to the best in leadership development has given me the skills I needed for a life after the world of traditional work.
Facing the loss of a job or the necessity of a career shift is the new normal. Acting now, to strengthen and redefine yourself, then, is not an option you have the luxury of dismissing. Your emotional and financial stability requires it.
Find what works for you and act on it.