The world that was
Remember this world?
This guy, or some version of him, was your standard career man some generations ago. He could look forward to about 40 years of 40 hour weeks, one job for most of his life, steady paycheck, an uneventful retirement with enough saved to buy a house, kids in college. In short, the middle class hallucination.
And for a while this guy existed. And it was good. And for many of us, this is our original, childhood conditioning of what work should look like. And yes, we are still carrying this image around at the back of our minds.
But I got news for you. You're not this guy. You don't live in this world. You cannot have the same approach to work as he did.
A lot has changed since the days of our parents. The first big change is that work can now follow you everywhere.
I remember when I started my working life in 1998, there was literally no way to contact anyone once they left the office. The home landline perhaps, but that was a long shot. Work just naturally fit into the office hours. And banking hours were brutal, but even they would end at some point. And then came the mobile phones, so your boss could call you at any time. He still had to get you to show up at the office though. And then slowly came the laptops, so you could carry work home, and then came high speed internet and Slack so that the pings would go on 24/7 and the final nail in the coffin of work-life balance was COVID and the WFH pandemic. All boundaries were vanquished and work invaded even the bathroom.
This level of exposure to stressors is unprecedented. It never really shuts off. Even on vacation. How are we expected to maintain our sanity like this, let alone be productive. Who figured this was going to work?
The other big difference is volatility. Your life probably looks more like this.
Wearing company swag, bleary eyed, surrounded by monitors flashing red at any time of day or night. And with zero security --- no assured job for life, no company pension, nothing. You either live by your wits, or you die by someone else's wits.
The average number of jobs held during a career used to be 1 or 2. Now we switch jobs every few years. All of us are basically self-employed freelancers who move from paymaster to paymaster, all of whom have no obligation to look out for us.
And we're seeing now the wave after wave of layoffs in the tech companies. We're seeing the bank failures. We're seeing the aftershocks of pandemic economics in the rising interest rates and the surging inflation. The 'tech bros' who till recently were commanding enormous paychecks and perks are now out of work and hurting. The world has moved on. Copilot can write the code now.
As of 2023, all industries are now legacy, waiting to die and be reborn in the regime of the LLMs, the autonomous agents and the artificial intelligences. This is the second such rewrite of the technological landscape in my lifetime. The first was the Internet and it's famous software the ate the world.
This is two secular level changes to the deep structure of the world. Entire industries died. Entire other ones were reborn. And the onus of 'reskilling' is on us. (Onus, on us, geddit?). No one is coming to look out for us, to make sure that we're going to be able to be productive and well fed members of society.
No, the only one who is looking out for us is ourselves. In such a situation, to do nothing is to walk into the jaws of obsolescence, believing till the last day that it can't happen to us.
We can't live like our fathers did
The world has become a very volatile place indeed. For us to survive the constant onslaught of stress, the insecurity of knowledge work, the constant treadmill of acquiring skills only to find them obsoleted over and over....we're going to have to think different.
And by the time you're done reading this entire text, you will understand how taking time off work can help us turn this world to our advantage. Chaos, as they say, is a ladder.