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Living In The 21st Century

Posted by in Essays, Letters and Writing


It’s hard living on the bleeding edge of history. Harder still to know how to live when every, single day the world tilts further into a future that is at once wildly unpredictable and startling unforgiving. Sometimes making lists help, and this is one such list, based on things I’ve picked up over the last decade or so of trying to wade my way through it.

Disclaimer: The beginning focuses heavily on work and career, it’s the consultant in me, but don’t worry it gets a bit broader near the end.

1. For the first time in history we all have the tools to craft our own jobs and set the course of our own lives.

2. This does not imply that it is easy or right for everyone, different people have different paths to meaning.

3. Much of the meaning and happiness in our lives is wrapped up in doing something incredibly challenging, for an incredibly long time, that we can believe in.

4. Our greatest failure is that we rarely take a moment to discover this belief — what makes us tick, what brings us meaning, the reason that we keep breathing.

5. We owe it to ourselves to know why we wake up in the morning, if we don’t, we rely on culture to tell us.

6. Culture tends to react slowly to the structural changes that underlie it, often telling us to behave in ways and believe in things it can no longer support.

7. There is, for example, this idea that a single 9-5 job that you basically hate should be the sum total of your career — structural changes to the modern economy are increasingly proving this notion false.

8. Today we are required to be more fluid, to accept that in order to thrive, our productive capacity should often be distributed across multiple “jobs” with different types of compensation and a sliding scale of commitment.

9. We can be volunteers, hobbyists, consultants, freelancers, advisers, contributors to community projects, entrepreneurs as well as employees — occasionally holding many of these “jobs” at once.

10. The modern economy rewards this, rewarding those who understand that a career is an ideology, a point of view, not merely a daily grind designed to keep us in bread and beans.

11. We are products and those who excel are the ones who can separate their “offerings” from the sea of competitors by shining a light on the talents and expertise that distinguish them.

12. “Shining lights” and all that is not easy work, it requires self knowledge and a deep belief in a set of values.

13. One of those values is that we’re all entrepreneurs, we are all creators, we can all be agents of change — big, small or otherwise.

14. Change does not necessarily mean changing the entire world, it can be just as meaningful to change your neighborhood, your household or yourself.

15. The first step to producing change of any kind is the realization that you are capable of affecting the world.

16. Knowing that you can affect the world is difficult because most people think that they are boring, that their ideas are worthless, that any change they could make would be better made by others.

17. A part of the reason that we have so little faith in our ability to make a difference is that we tend to define ourselves wholly by the dictates of our job titles, rather than looking at a job as a part of a wider career.

18. A job is what you do to pay the bills, a career is what you live within to improve your world, you take on one to work towards the other.

19. Careers cannot exist without “jobs,” ways to buy food and keep up on the rent, so the beginning of your career should not be the end of your job.

20. Without something that allows you to see your job as a fragment of a larger career, however, that job will consume your life, so you should understand where each job is taking you, establish longer term goals, and work aggressively to reach them.

21. Society changes too quickly to allow your skills to grow stagnant, if you’re not learning you’re dying, if you’re not adapting you’re being left behind, the world changes in a blink and so must you.

22. Time is and has always been your greatest currency, the thrust of life should be towards earning more of it and using what you earn to build skills and do things that fulfill you.

23. To that end, automate everything that you can, leave room to concentrate on all of those things that you can’t.

24. To help you do this, be on the lookout for any technology that makes your life easier, and be certain to ignore all technologies that don’t.

25. Never allow your life to become more complex without it also becoming more interesting or more productive, preferably both.

26. Complexity makes you fragile, fragility is dangerous in a world of rapid, difficult to predict and highly significant change.

27. Money should always be a tool and never an end in and of itself, spend it freely if it helps to grow your career, your knowledge, or your happiness.

28. When using your money remember that the things that we do are always more memorable than the things that we have, understand that long term happiness is always drawn from experiences rather than possessions.

29. Your possessions should be shaped and determined by your life, your life should never be shaped and determined by your possessions.

30. Know what you want to achieve with your money and why you want more of it, whenever you don’t know, put what you have away somewhere safe until you do.

31. Maintain a broad perspective on the world, learn what you can about as much as you can and bring that wisdom into everything you do.

32. One form of genius, a very useful form, is the ability to combine two seemingly unlike things into a third in a unique way, this sort of genius requires perspective and punishes those who see the world through the mouth of a tunnel.

33. Never underestimate your capacity for error, being human means being irrational.

34. Everything, especially error and trauma has a lesson to teach, learn to treat failure as a tool rather than as a penalty.

35. Don’t let work consume you, a few hours of time off can grant more perspective than a few days in front of a desk.

36. Understand that the trappings of success hold no value in and of themselves, that the culture of fame and wealth is as much a trap as it is something to strive towards.

37. Learn how to build a website, to code, to communicate online, to design something usable, to work within and around the context of the web — the Internet is here to stay and those skills will drive the future forward.

38. Remember that the only things that can’t be outsourced are clever thoughts and the brass to speak your mind. Cultivate your ability to communicate your thoughts and the courage to implement your ideas.

39. Accept advice willingly, seek it out — in the end you will ignore most of it, but you’ll change everything because of the rest.

40. Give something back to the world.

41. Develop an interest in the problems of others, make time for voices outside of your head.

42. Travel as often as you can, get some perspective on the world outside of your front door.

43. Learn another language, it will change you.

44. Nurture your relationships, your work should never become the sole driver of your life.

45. Save like you’re going to spend 20% of your life miserably unemployed.

46. Learn to invest what you save, never underestimate the power of compound interest.

47. That being said, understand that an iron clad law of investing is that the more complex your strategy the more likely you will end up spectacularly poor because of it.

48. Never take on debt you don’t need, but understand when debt can actually serve a need.

49. Like money, recognize that ideas are wealth and should be saved as you would anything else, write all of them down and store them away for a rainy day.

50. Build those ideas that you are capable of producing well, develop a sense of your strengths and your weaknesses, and have the courage not to get wrapped up in one to the exclusion of the other.

51. Challenge your perspective constantly, always assume that you are wrong and strive towards becoming more right.

52. Respect others perspectives, even if you don’t agree with them, even if you find nothing agreeable about them — just as you are rarely entirely right, they are rarely entirely wrong.

53. In the end, be the sort of person that someone can believe in, that you can believe in, that whatever small part of the world that you care about can believe in.