How to get ahead in the 21st century

On jobs, career, and money in a time of digitalization, unemployment, and inequality

I write and think a lot about technology, digitalization, and the best ways to organize the future of society in the face of great changes ahead. When people ask what career to pick in a time in which it is so hard to predict what industry will be impacted by technological disruption – it is time for me to say a few words on this topic.

First off, digitalization and automation should not be underestimated. Technology is changing labour markets drastically. McKinsey Global Institute estimated that within the next few decades, up to 50% of current jobs could be automated, not considering any technological advancement within the same period.

For this and many other reasons, working conditions have become more fluid in recent years. People work more short-term, switch careers, or become self-employed.

What can you do to thrive in this new environment?

Most importantly, it is crucial to understand that college is not a magical social mobility tool anymore. Going to college is not a ticket to life success that you can cash in after 3 years on campus. Also, education, in general, is no automatic guarantee of high-paying jobs and safe careers. This is a misconception that I observe quite frequently, especially when graduates are completely surprised that employers are not running after them as soon as they get out of Uni.

The truth is that, unfortunately, at best, when getting out of a decent school you will get A job. Not your dream job, not something that “fulfils” you, no – A job. And you should be so lucky.

To all the kids in college: Realize that even though you have a degree, you will have to start at the bottom of the ladder and work very hard to climb it. Just make sure that even though your first jobs might not be what you ultimately want to do, they should get you closer and closer to your ultimate destination.

However, the issue for many kids who go to college is that they accrue giant amounts of debt, in good faith of finding high-paying jobs right out of college. I am personally sceptical whether this bargain will prove to be as profitable in the future as it used to be a decade or two ago. Further, your debt will keep you from pursuing lower-paying jobs after college that might ultimately lead to your dream career, as you need to immediately optimize for salary when you hit the labour market, deeply in debt.

These considerations should be in the back of your mind if you think about going to college these days.

But this article is supposed to be about a different kind of advice. Digitalization and globalization will increasingly create a situation in which people in western labour markets directly compete with machines and workers all around the world. In an interview with author Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin remarked that there are numerous people on earth who are “willing to be obedient and work harder for less money than us. So, we cannot out-obedience the competition.”

 

So, what should you do to get ahead?

In Seth Godin’s words, you must become a creative problem-solver. You must get an eye for spotting when people could need your help to help them with the issues they face every day. Do not just passively offer your service – no, actively search for issues that you could solve.

WTF is this? How am I supposed to do this? Don’t worry- I got you.

It does not matter if you are 16 years old and worry about the future, you are between 21 and 35 and just cannot seem to get life to work, or you worry about how to teach your children how to get ahead – I have some actionable advice:

 

1) Make use of new educational opportunities.

 

We have already discussed college – but of course, education is still important. But digitalization offers you amazing opportunities in this regard. You have access to infinite amounts of education for almost no money.

  • Read books and listen to audiobooks. There are many cheap resources out there to get you going on the topics you are interested in.
  • Listen to podcasts. People say that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Well, you are in luck, because technology offers you the opportunity to listen to hours of interviews, Q&As, etc. of some of the most successful people alive.

A good starting point is the Tim Ferris Podcast, which lets you listen to hundreds of interviews with industry leaders and other impressive people.

But also use YouTube and Medium or WordPress to stay in touch with the experts in your field.

  • Consider taking university courses – but do it online. Coursera offers you to do qualifications online for a fraction of the cost of an actual college degree. This way you can take courses taught by Stanford professors anywhere in the world, for around 25$. At the end, you receive a diploma, that you can attach to your CV, or show off on your LinkedIn profile.

 

2) Become relentlessly proactive

In this day and age, it is not sufficient to take your CV from employer to employer. What you should rather do, is to show practically that you can do what you say, when you claim to be hard-working.

  • Do Freelancing work. Sites such as upwork.com offer you the chance to open a profile, input your interests and skills, and connect with people that need jobs doing. This way you can make money on the side, create a name for yourself, and learn valuable work skills.

You can do this while you are studying, while you are doing other qualifications, and even on the weekend.

  • Start your own stuff. There is no need to wait for anyone to give you permission.

If you want to start a blog, a YouTube Channel, an online business or whatever it is, you can do it. The tools are all out there and are either free or astonishingly cheap. So, go ahead and start your own thing.

  • Start for free! Do not assume that you must make money from Day 1. Say you want to become a personal trainer but do not have the money/time to do your qualification. Well, then start off giving your friends advice for free, write them workout plans etc. This way you can make a name for yourself and learn what people want and need. Offer to coach people for very little money, even though you might feel like you are worth more.

 

It is important to realize that you need to get out there and start working very proactively on creating the kind of work life that you want.

 

3) Become financially literate

You constantly see this post on the internet of people complaining that in their whole school career they never learned how to do their taxes or how to set up a pension plan. Well, what is being bitter about it going to do? Search this stuff out and figure it out by yourself. As your income from a steady job is likely to decrease in the future, it is important to secure your financial future through a comprehensive financial strategy that includes a savings plan, a private pension, tracking your expenses, investments, etc.

A good starting point here is this YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT3EznhW_CNFcfOlyDNTLLw

But there are many more great resources out there.

Also check out this app, which helps you invest automatically: https://www.acorns.com/

 

4) Be more aware of your actions

Very clearly define where you want to go and what success means to you personally. It is important to not pursue someone else’s idea of happiness.

This seems to be obvious, but too often people follow the dreams of their parents or get influenced by what their friends are doing, rather than to periodically sit down and think about what it is that you want for yourself.

This is probably the most important and most complicated thing. Almost none of you will do this properly though, unfortunately. Everyone walks around so programmed by societal ideals and agendas. You often have no idea what it is that really makes you tick and that is important to you. So, you will have to spend some time with yourself and see what it is that matters to you. This is hard and scary. And it will not be just once that you will have to do this.

 

 5) Do not be caged by conventional thinking

 

Just because your parents do not understand it, does not mean that you cannot make a career of it or at least make some good money from it and gain experience.

These days you can make money playing poker online, giving people dating advice, sitting pets, vlogging about your city, etc.

If you see an opportunity, go for it. Do not pour your entire time and money into it but see if you can create something for yourself and whether it is worth your time. If you decide that it is, do not let conventional ideas of what a job should look like stop you.

 

I am usually writing more political posts, and I write a lot about the politics of the future. Specifically, in connection to organization of work, welfare states and labour markets in an increasingly digital world. I believe that pension systems and government-funded education should play a role in the societies of our futures.

 

But when it comes to advising the individual, I believe you are better off being independent rather than relying on the state or anyone else.

 

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One thought on “How to get ahead in the 21st century

  1. Very good blog…I hope more youth will read and take heed to such advice…the politicians are failing us…moving more towards enriching themselves and corporate….this is a good way for individuals to take back some of the proceeds from the corporations while doing what they enjoy best. Good one!

    Liked by 1 person

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