The phrase what do you want to be when you grow up in largely irrelevant in today’s world
I recently discovered that one of my nephew’s liked meditation. In a bid to encourage him, I downloaded the Headspace app and proceeded to do a few sessions of guided meditation with him which he quite liked.
My nephews then returned home and got busy with their lives. I recently cross-checked with my nephew to see if he was managing to do his guided meditation. He told me that school leaves him with no time. Given the spiraling rates of anxiety and depression in today’s world, I wondered if the simple practice of sitting quietly for just a few minutes a day might help him and many others more than spending 10 extra minutes on some device.
Recently, I was also having a conversation with a family member on how one of their children was preparing for entrance exams to get into a course of their choice.
This got me thinking about how we are preparing the next generation for their work lives and careers that lay ahead of them.
Our parents seldom had more than one job, leave alone career, in their lifetime. Our education was rote and we were taught to chase marks. Little or no emphasis was given to soft skills, adapting to change, managing stress and failure was a catastrophe. Of course, we had a wider choice of career options to choose from when compared to our parents but I don’t think anyone could predict how technology and to some extent social media would overhaul the landscape.
Today, I am seeing more people switch careers, go solo, become digital nomads, all of which would have sounded absurd just a decade ago.
At the same time, there are many people who are confused and unhappy with what they are doing but are stuck as they believe they need to stick to the career path that they have chosen. Many organizations are struggling with change as they are stuck in some sort of relic, living on past glory, unwilling to shift gears.
A lot of the issues that we face today are a result of not being taught skills that could help us adapt to change.
Whenever we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, we were forced to give an answer, whether we believed it or not. Today, I think the question has no meaning as work and the way we work is undergoing a massive change. We don’t want to be just one thing when we grow up. The quest to find a job or profession that is all-consuming, while commendable, can also limit our ability to adapt to changes.
When there is such a drastic change, how can we help the next generation make the right choice?
Before we go forward, let me hazard a few predictions, even at the risk of being totally wrong:
a) Social media will undergo a drastic overhaul in the next few years
Why do I say that?
When social media arrived, everyone hailed it. Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign used social media heavily to reach out to its voter base. 8 years later, social media was lambasted for helping elect Donald Trump. Today, social media has come under attack from mental health professionals for increasing the rates of depression and anxiety. So much so that a couple of presidential candidates in the American elections are vowing to break-up big tech companies if they come to power.
Further, massive data breaches and online security issues mean social media as a whole will need to look inward if it is to have a more positive impact on the lives of people. This also means brands and marketers will re-look at how they see and use social media.
b) Traditional leadership will become more collaborative
This doesn’t mean everyone in an organization is a leader just like how everyone in a team can’t be a captain. By collaborative I mean the ability to work with people across functions. Traditional leadership, on many levels, has a ‘know it all’ and ‘I’m here to save the day’ attitude. It worked for generations and will still work in many situations. At the same time, it’s impossible for a leader to keep abreast with all technologies and changes that are occurring. This means they need to come down from their leadership perch and say ‘I don’t know about this, tell me more.’ This also means they need to learn new things from people, even if they are the boss.
We are already seeing this shift with many senior personnel in industries leaving cushy jobs to start out on their own as their existing roles prevent them from exploring new things.
c) Career changes will go from being aberrations to norms
Previously, people lacked choices. So even if they were unhappy, they stuck with what they were doing. Today, that isn’t the case. That doesn’t mean that changing careers will be a walk in the park. If you change careers every two years, no one will take you seriously. The ability to transfer a few skills from one career to the next and picking up new skills fast will be the key. This video can be a start point on how to do so.
d) Mental and physical well-being will not be optional
When we studied, no one even broached this topic. In fact, as we went to higher classes, even the physical education classes got reduced to once a week. Now, the burgeoning physical and mental well-being industry is a sign of how we failed to acknowledge a very important part of a reasonably fulfilling life. Toxic workplaces and leadership, ineffective ways of dealing with stress and rising mental health issues mean we need to re-look at the importance of life-skills and how we imbibe them instead of leaving them to the mercy of some pointless moral science class.
e) Conscience will play a big role in choices
Though it might seem we are very far from this ideal, many businesses are already making products that reflect their ideals. This affects everything from the material used in clothing to the pesticides in food. This also means finding new ways to scale what was once considered niche and select.
All of this brings us to how we equip children to take on a future where the very nature of jobs keeps changing. At the same time, many changes have already taken place in the education system. Projects are given more importance and owing to the smartphone and gadget deluge, comfort with technology is almost a given.
A few suggestions in this regard:
a) Have multiple question papers
The power of questions is a very strong one. It drives us to seek better answers. But we pay scant regard to this.
How can I do this better?
Why am I repeating the same mistake?
Isn’t there an alternative?
How can I make money using this skill?
People get stuck because they ask the wrong questions or no questions at all and have ready-made answers for why they can’t do something. A multiple questions paper is the exact opposite to multiple answers one — you have to guess the right question instead of the right answer.
b) Allow them to set their own pace of learning
In the real world, there is no syllabus. Maybe that’s why we falter. This is also a reflection of ineffective goal setting. Give students the lessons that need to be covered in an academic year and ask them to break it up into 3 different terms. Then ask them to collaborate and decide the pace at which they want to learn. Of course, the entire syllabus needs to be completed, just that they decide the pace. When they collaborate, they will understand that not everyone is at the same level. It might also make a few students volunteer to teach those who might have difficulty keeping pace. This exercise can teach collaboration and teamwork.
d)Have year-long projects that require new skills to be learned on the way
It starts off by asking students to come up with a fictional product. They assume their project ends there. Once they are done with that, ask them to come up with ideas to launch the product. Once they are done with that tell them that they will be put through a mock customer care simulation where they will be answering customers’ calls with regards to their product. This means in one project they need to ideate, create a proposition, sell and listen to customers’ concerns, all of which require different skills.
This is just an example. A project that requires multiple skills will also enable them to realize which part of the process they enjoy more.
c) Go hard on soft skills
At a certain point, the only things that separate two people who are equally talented are their soft skills. Though I believe that the word soft has made it feel like something that isn’t important, something that can be picked up along the way. Sadly, little or no attention was paid to this when we were in school. Here are a few:
How to negotiate
How to deal with stress and all of its related issues
How to present (something I am terrible at and still have to work very hard to get better at)
Dealing with failure and rejection
In the past, we put a massive premium on learning just a handful of skills. Even in the future, mastery will not be frowned down upon. Just that we need to be able to get good, if not master, more than a few skills at a faster rate. This means using our minds to work for us instead of against us, collaborating, better interpersonal skills and getting comfortable with failure.
There is no curriculum that solves for multiple careers.
But we can surely equip the next generation with skills that will help them navigate the complex landscape that lies ahead of them, better.