The Myths About Work That Threaten Democracy
Many of my readers are exhausted by the turmoil that is taking place in America. But, the root causes are not political. During research for my latest book, it became increasingly clear that convulsive and accelerating change around how we work, make livings, and express ourselves is the greatest contributor towards today’s turmoil.
Let’s begin with the role that work plays in any democracy. Relevance is the purpose of democracy. When too many people lose their relevance, democracy falls apart.
Today, we are in the biggest restructuring of work since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. History provides little insight into how to change our beliefs, behaviors, and mindsets quickly. Now, we need to exceed the speed of the waves. We invented the environment to produce that kind of rapid change. But, out on the streets, underemployment is now the single biggest symptom of workers falling behind.
The stakes on this topic are high. Unfortunately, our political leaders in both dominant parties have been raised on focus groups. Prior to the mid-60s, our Presidents didn’t make promises. They galvanized Americans to change, serve, lead, protect, participate, and grow. They told us what we needed to hear. But, it is the Focus Group that gave us the political landscape we have today. This marketing invention produced the modern politician who tells us what we want to hear.
After 50 years of telling American’s workers what they want to hear versus what they need to hear, we find ourselves in a perfect storm. The richest and most diverse talent pool on the face of the earth isn’t being told what to do, it is being given inept promises. We find ourselves at a very real crossroads. Historically, American became what it is today because it attracted the world’s most talented people.
The notion of hitting a perfect storm grows when we examine the righteous myths that grow during times of outrage. The tidal wave of blame that cascades through our culture speak of people who fear the future where technology eliminates all jobs. Take a closer look and technology has never eliminated work. It has made skill sets obsolete. History has shown that work revolutions produce violence and disruption but the people eventually develop the skills to fit into the new world. This one is different because it is happening so quickly.
Myths get shrink-wrapped around our fears to protect us from the truth. Today, I’m not here to dismiss some of our most hallowed soapboxes. But, I do suggest that we question each one. At the very least, let’s examine the kinds of shape-shifting we engage in to believe what we believe.
Unemployment has become a political and one-dimensional number. It disregards all of the people who’ve given up on finding work or who settled for part-time incomes. It overlooks over 50 million individuals who wonder if they will ever work in the industry they worked in before.
The American worker’s distress comes into sharp focus when we examine the more complicated and also more credible measure of underemployment. Recent surveys from Payscale and the New York Times indicate that 46-48% of our workers characterize themselves as “underemployed.”
Here is just one example of underemployment:
Just a few years ago, associate attorneys in law firms routinely made $150-400k. Most of their time was consumed with tasks. Technology-based platforms such as LegalZoom have taken on these tasks. Now, many of the same attorneys are making $40 an hour in environments resembling sweatshops.
It would have been far easier to blame technology or the “1%” for this setback. But, the fact is, many of these attorneys never took a sales course, were too afraid to make a presentation, and never built an effective community or support system around their careers.
In a world where new college graduates will change careers, not jobs, 4-6 times, our leaders ought to be telling American workers to learn the skills of connectivity with the world around them. Our leaders used to tell us to develop courage. What happened?
The Middle-Class is Disappearing
The middle-class often viewed as “The American Dream,” began shortly after the end of World War II.
In 1960, the average (middle-class) income was $5,800. Adjusted to inflation that would be $45,416.00 today. In fact, today’s average family income is $61,372.00. What did we do with the extra $16 grand?
Let’s begin with the fact that an average American now pays out about $8,000 on interest, not principle, per year. During the last 60 years, the individual debt load has skyrocketed and the practice of saving money has taken a nose-dive. Once again, focus groups showed business that Americans wanted more stuff more quickly. We justified growing debt to purchase homes, cars, educations, vacations, and gobs of cheap stuff. Now, we need all of these things.
The Middle-Class isn’t disappearing. It is in debt.
Immigrants & Cheap Outsourcing Are Taking Our Jobs
Low-income immigrants are taking jobs that we don’t want. High-income immigrants continue to provide the kind of talent that makes America a unique global power.
South Park is one of our country’s most reliable barometers of the ludicrous beliefs we adopt. In a recent episode, the town fired Alexa and gave the job to factory workers who quickly found the work demeaning and quit.
As blue-collar work is displaced by robots and technology, one of our fastest-growing sectors of work is in healthcare and eldercare. Instead of complaining about immigrants taking our jobs, how could we start inspiring blue-collar workers to pursue work traditionally held by women? Think of the spiritual opportunity. Instead of spending days and weeks on the road alone, we have work options that allow us to become better people, to develop compassion and empathy for others. This is but one possibility that demonstrates how changing our mindset opens the door for new relevancy.
I am so tired of the outsourcing complaints that I will bring this up one time. The United States provides more outsourcing to the world than any other country.
Technology is Taking Our Jobs
Technology is eliminating repetitive and task-based work. But it is our lethargy and arrogance that shields us from change. There are so many examples of developed countries doing a better job of protecting and growing their talent resources. For example, Germany uses more assembly-line robotics than any other large developed country. And yet, it doesn’t lay off its workers. This is because of strong partnerships between employers, the government, and education. Workers are constantly trained to develop greater and newer value. To them, it isn’t socialism, it is a sound business investment.
This is the time that our political leaders would serve the country by saying,
“You have the wrong skill set. Learn new skills. Reinvent your life. Do something that solves a problem in the world. Invest your energy in making the world a better place. Or, quite simply, find something that makes you smile.”
Time and time again, history has shown that technology doesn’t take away work. New work steps in. Now, technology is offering us freedom from mind-numbing work. For the first time in history, doing the work that we love is the best choice.
Virtually every day, I am involved with a conversation.
People ask me, “What shall I do about my work?”
I respond, “Do what you love.”
“But what if I can’t make a living doing that?”
“Find a way to make a living doing what you love.”
Why is this the only practical choice?
Only love has the power to reliably make us willing to change our beliefs and outlooks. Love is the best motivation for courage. Isn’t it time to love the people we love to develop courage and take action for their futures?
As task work falls away, let’s make it our primary ambition to change our mindsets. Instead of rewarding our fear with cynicism and contempt, how about developing true optimism? It is a very different animal, one that believes our action will lead to our ultimate good.
A Few Suggestions
- Stop waiting!
- If you work in a company or an industry that is shrinking, leave! It is in these environments that so many people feel they are losing their relevance.
- Never blame others for our circumstances. The moment we do is also the moment we give up our power.
- If you need to change, stop seeking comfort before taking action. It ought to be the other way around.
- Curate consumption of the news. Television news tends to cover topics about work from a fear-based point-of-view. Use news sources that discuss how changes in the workplace can benefit us. The trance caused by fulltime consumption of negativity is turning some of the most loving people I know into emotionally violent nightmares.
- Invest in your future. When we get frightened of our livelihood, we tend to hoard money and resources. But, this is the very time where education, coaching, mentorship, and other forms of support become bridges to new success and freedom. This is especially the case for those of us who are committed to richly rewarding lives.
Answer the questions that are worth answers:
How can I become most relevant?”
If technology is giving me freedom from task work, how do I want to use that freedom?
Where could I find the greatest meaning and impact?”
How can I use the watershed changes in front of me to bring meaning, vitality, and purpose to my professional life?”
What would I most love to do with my life?
Why am I waiting?
How can I help everyone that I love to become more relevant?
Seriously answer the questions.
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