Tomorrow belongs to the Doers
A year ago I moved to Vienna for a job opportunity. A startup with the mission to encourage young people to become changemakers and create a better tomorrow was searching for a new team member. A friend in my Facebook network had shared the job opening, and I instantly felt drawn. Although still studying at university and needing to write my Master’s thesis, I applied. The job just sounded too cool to pass. It didn’t even take me ten minutes to decide.
Now I have been with the startup for a year, doing all sorts of things in all sorts of fields, having little clue what the hell I’m doing. I studied languages thinking I’d become a high school teacher or a writer of educational books for high school students. Now I’m organizing events, doing content production, coordinating global organizers of our events, taking care of community management and partnership management, writing blog articles, producing videos, concept developing new programs, and giving workshops. I know how to teach German grammar, not how to build a global community of changemakers.
Sometimes I just pause for a moment to catch my breath. This first year in Vienna has challenged my ability to adapt, reinvent, be creative and resourceful — basically to take on the role of an entrepreneur. It feels like I’ve only done things I didn’t know how to since I’ve moved here. It makes me a little breathless.
Yet at the same time, I have no doubt that this is the direction in which the world is moving. The jobs of the future will require us not to get too comfortable doing what we know and have always done. Of course, every book on startups and exponential growth will stress the importance of self-disruption and continuous reinvention, but much points in the direction that this will even be the case for most ordinary individuals both on a personal and professional scale.
The job forecast of the World Economic Forum predicts that 65% of those currently in school will end up in a job that doesn’t even exist yet. Current students are heading towards a future, unknown and uncertain, having learned skills and knowledge hardly up-to-date with the modern world. Of course, the future has to some extent always been unknown and uncertain, but in times when everything from gender identity and sexuality to 40-hour workweeks and basic universal income are being openly discussed, while issues such as climate change and global pandemics, and technologies such as biotech, cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence are turning our world upside down, very little in our current world seems known and certain.
And the pace isn’t even slowing down, it’s picking up.
So what to do in a world, spinning faster and faster and losing its certainty and stability? We’ve never had this much freedom to be who we want to be and do what we want to do. But you know the drill:
With freedom comes great responsibility — Eleanor Roosevelt
How can we take responsibility for our lives and make the most of this freedom that’s being forced upon us? Freedom will be an unavoidable fact of life in the future. To have any chance of living a good life, we must step out of our comfort zone and actively participate in the world we live in.
The Skills of Tomorrow
Hardly anyone disagrees that our current school systems are outdated. For the few who weren’t yet aware, the global pandemic should have brought this fact home clearly. The subjects taught in school are still (partially) relevant, but the emphasis and the methods for learning to write, read, calculate, analyze, reason, and discuss are old-school. With the digital resources abundantly present in our everyday lives and with the interconnectivity increasingly streamlining everything we do, it makes more sense to learn these skills in connection with instead of separately from each other. Cross border studies with a project focused approach are much closer to the realities of life. This is what students should learn. This would enable them to navigate the world confidently.
At the same time, I would argue that a stronger emphasis should be put on learning skills such as creativity, critical thinking, complex problem solving, leadership, adaptability, resourcefulness. So much information is readily available online. Learning facts by heart just for the sake of it makes little sense anymore. Instead, we should focus on learning:
A) How to navigate all that information available to us.
B) How to contextualize the information relevantly.
C) How to implement the information practically in collaboration with others.
As the future will be one of constant personal reinvention and situational adaption, we need to learn how to find the dots, connect them correctly and use them to take action. Learning facts and figures that will be outdated in no time makes little sense. Learning to google, pinpoint the relevant information, and knowing how to directly use it to achieve our goals is what will be demanded of us in the future — even more so than already.
Instead of focusing your attention on the culturally accepted demands of school and higher education, ask yourself:
- How can I best learn what I want to learn? University lessons aren’t necessarily better than YouTube videos, Medium articles, and books.
- What is my learning style? Visual, auditory, tactile, practical, theoretical — find a learning path that matches your needs and serves you the most.
However, think critically when finding sources and don’t blindly trust everything you hear. Fake news and fake facts are spread all over the internet. Compare sources, question statements, and research people.
The Assets of Tomorrow
Most societies still put a strong emphasis on theoretical knowledge and studied degrees. Universities and colleges have a high standing, and for good reason. The skills and methods we learn during our time in academia are incredibly valuable on so many levels: How to analyze, how to discuss, how to argue, and, most importantly, how to learn independently. Whatever field we submerge ourselves into, these skills lay at the heart of our educational journey.
However, I would argue that it’s high time for a shift in focus. Experiential and practical knowledge is so much more important than schooled and theoretical knowledge. It’s not a new discussion, but little progress seems to have been made to give due respect to learning-by-doing. Self-taught developers are rarely worse off than schooled ones; many of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time all dropped out of college; and most of the hands-on skills I use in my current job I learned in various volunteering positions.
Thousands of people will have the same degree as you. What will make you stand out are those extracurricular activities where you proved that you’re passionate enough about your field to put in the extra hours, that you’re actually capable of concretely using what you’ve learned, and perhaps that you have skills in many other areas as well. Employers want people who don’t need excessive onboarding, who can get straight into working, and who knows how to collaborate and get tasks done.
I would argue that a portfolio of projects and achievements is a lot more valuable than grades and degrees. If you have both — great. If you know you only have energy and time for one, carefully consider what makes more sense to you:
- How will you best gain the skills you need?
- Are you a theoretical learner or will hands-on practice bring you more value?
Don’t be afraid to follow your own path. There is no one-size-fits-all in life.
The future belongs to the Doers. Do what you can to become one — whatever that means for your learning path. School isn’t the only way to get educated. Especially not in times of virtual classrooms and online courses. And employers are beginning to realize this too — just look at Elon Musk (although I grant you, he is a bit of a special case).
In a word: Never ever stop learning. Stay curious and keep growing yourself. For example by:
- Spending time following your curiosity and cultivating your hobbies. It may easily happen that it’s exactly those interests and hobbies that will make you stand out in your next job interview.
- Reading, reading, reading (or listening to audiobooks, if that’s more your thing).
- Engaging with experts in fields that interest you. Follow and connect with them online. Turn them into your mentors.
Focus on the verb, not the noun. Don’t be a writer; instead, write! Don’t be a designer; instead, design. Don’t be an athlete; instead, do athletics. Prove yourself through your actions. Nothing could be a stronger argument.
The Job Market of Tomorrow
Never have we had so many opportunities to do what and be who we want. Despite lingering inequalities on some levels, most of us have access to freely chose our own path if we are willing to put in the time and effort. This is not to say that it’s an easy path — but the path is there for most of us.
In the western world, we live in an extremely individual-focused culture where our freedom of choice and variety of opportunities never have been greater. The natural conclusion for me is that startups and own projects will become even more widespread. Already now, 65% of students want to work in a startup. How could it be otherwise? Through the use of social media, online tools, and the availability of everything our hearts desire, we have gotten used to creating our own world. Living by the rules of middle-sized or bigger companies has little attraction.
In addition, another common prediction is that jobs will become short-termed and employees move from project to project without much security. Also this plays into the hands of startups. Building something by yourself might be the one way to create some security and stability. Not that startups are known for their stable growth and easily-gained success, but at least they might give the founders a sense of control. In any case, either you will work short term on the projects of others or you’ll work short term, or perhaps long term if you’re lucky, on your own projects. Those might be our two main alternatives in the future.
A secure and stable job is likely to become a lot rarer in the future. Take that into account when preparing for the job market. Passion and curiosity should be your guiding principles, not the long-term employee benefits or hopes of security.
- Focus on projects that interest you and advance your growth.
- Expect to be on the move constantly.
- Have side-hustles and work on several projects at once (they don’t all have to be paid–the point is the doing).
Run, Forrest, Run
Lastly, a quick word on self-care as well. With stability and security falling away and a greater need for constant adaption, reinvention, and growth, you will need something to fall back on to avoid a burnout. Hopefully, our workdays are going to shorten and our work culture change alongside the trends mentioned above, but nothing is sure yet. With a growing demand for staying on our toes will follow a growing need for breaks, slowing down and tuning into ourselves.
Find a rhythm that works for you and allows you to perform at your best. Proper nourishment, long deep sleep, a strong social network, regular exercise — you know the drill. It’s a no-brainer, but too many of us neglect ourselves for the sake of our jobs. But actually, the better we feel, the better we perform. Constant stress and big success rarely go hand in hand. High performance and proper health do.