The future belongs to the curious. The brave. To everyone. There is no shortage of quotes and platitudes about the future, but they all draw on the same kernel of truth: The future belongs to those who want it.
But as my 7-year-old knows, wanting and getting are two different things. In order to develop a lasting career or accomplish any professional goal, it’s necessary to translate “want” into action and transform yourself into a future-ready asset ready for whatever comes next. But whereas in the past your employer may have managed this transformation, the future of work means it begins and ends with you.
Looking at the working world around us, we’ve seen a complete recalibration of the traditional career arc, and the steady, well-defined paths that once carried us from entry-level jobs to retirement are now gone. In discussing this pivot with Jim Marous, Co-Publisher of The Financial Brand, he observed that “change is happening faster than ever before, and it will not happen this slowly again. Employees and executives of all levels have the option of ‘disrupting themselves’ or risk being disrupted."
As always, this disruption is prompting widespread innovation and reinvention. The broader global workforce is undergoing a skills revolution to realign to a post-automation economy, a journey that Jim Marous wholeheartedly endorses. “The best way to transform for the new economy is to embrace the change that is occurring, take responsibility for self-development and leverage your current skill sets for new endeavors. Look for those areas of your company where investment is being made and make yourself an invaluable asset for that area.”
Being the master of your own destiny may sound daunting, but who else is better suited to find and develop your career opportunities than you? You alone know where your interests and passions lie, and you’re uniquely qualified to align your skills with the roles and challenges of the future. Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends study found that only 25% of employees believe their company understands their unique skills, strengths and interests, and our Workforce of the Future research suggests that flexible talent ecosystems are likely to replace rigid organizational hierarchies. If we are headed for a decentralized future, why would you want any individual company to define your future?
So how do you go about building a future-ready you? Become your own CEO. This means identifying gaps in your skill set, building up your own profit centers, and being strategic in how you allocate your own precious resources (time and energy). If you want to embrace the future of work, here’s how to start:
1. Find meaning in what you are learning – Self-motivation is great, but there’s a limit to what you can accomplish with your nose to the grindstone. Instead, find skills and lessons that are meaningful to you, as these are likely to stick with you longer and carry you farther in your future career. We remember information that is meaningful to us and that we are able to connect to our own life experiences.
2. Learn by doing – Classrooms may work for grammar and mathematics, but nothing beats experiential learning when it comes to preparing you for the real world. The good news? There’s plenty of opportunity, with many employers offering reskilling and training programs to employees looking for a new career path. Our Global Talent Trends research shows that 51% of employees are willing to take on an internal gig to gain experience. How will you ensure you’re prepared?
3. Teach – Counterintuitive as it may seem, one of the best ways to learn a new skill is to teach it. Think about it - if you have to teach it to someone else, you’re forced to deconstruct a concept and really understand it from all angles. Don’t allow yourself to accept a passing knowledge of any critical skill. If you want to know it, teach it.
4. Mentors – No matter who you are or what you wish to learn, there’s always someone out there to consult. I’m a huge advocate of finding mentors who excel in your field or possess a skill that interests you because it simultaneously helps you achieve your goal and broadens your network. Whether you’re looking for an introduction to a new skill or you wish to take your skills to the next level, there’s no need to take it on by yourself.
5. Take small, high value steps – Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t try to boil the ocean. Put one foot in front of the other. Pick any saying you want, but understand that there’s a reason why there are so many. Learning something new takes time, and upskilling can be especially frustrating in a fast-paced world where progress is measured in days, not years. As you take on a new skill, focus on long-term gains by setting milestones and creating habits. That’s where you’ll derive real value.
But ultimately, making the most of your future of work comes down to wanting the most of it. Building and maintaining a career “requires the elimination of excuses,” says Marous. “Like a diet, there are many reason not to succeed. It is not until you make behavioral modifications that change really happens and success become long lasting.” The future of careers is changing. Are you?