Category Archives: work

10 Questions We’ll Need to Answer in the 2020s

1. Do the rules still apply?

The past decade felt like a crazy oscillation. One week I would feel more liberated than I had ever before in life. The next, someone was trying to impose restrictions, conflict and guilt on me. I doubt I am the only one that feels this way.

For much of the 20th Century, we operated with certain cultural expectations. These “rules” were first challenged in the 1960s with the counterculture movements at the time. In the 2010s, they were further challenged. The most high profile manifestations are the acceptance of gay marriage and steady progress of marijuana legalization.

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The nature of work is also starting to change, at different rates depending on location and industry.

The strangest dynamic I observed throughout the decade is the gap between where the expectations of the average younger worker is and the manner in which those at higher levels of established institutions operate. It’s no secret that younger workers today want flexibility, purpose, the ability to grow and the ability to be true to themselves. Some of this has shown up in flexible working hours, changes in dress codes and more collaborative environments in some places.

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However, those at the top of most institutions, those with the real power, are mostly still using the old set of standards.

The same can be said for other parts of our lives. Many people are questioning assumptions and restrictions related to things like gender and origin. This has oddly coincided with a fairly zealous clinging to some aspects of the old set of rules. I still encounter plenty of people holding strict inflexible standards about what it means to be in a relationship (just without the one man one woman standard), and what kind of things people need to do when they reach certain stages (ages) of life.

In the 2020s, we need to end this state of confusion. Do the rules still apply? If some need to be kept, why? If we created new ones (see political correctness) can we get rid of them?

2. What’s next?

The key trends of the 2010s were older ideas. Social media and smart phones are turn of the century inventions. There were countless reboots or remakes of movies. Even the heavy use of auto-tuner in hip hop music is a revival.

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Statistics have shown that what we are doing has not been serving us well.

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Our culture seems stagnant. It’s time for something new. Given our mental health issues and a feeling of restlessness, it feels inevitable that something new will come this decade.

3. How do money, work, fulfillment and resources intersect?

Leaders around the world are starting to recognize that happiness is not directly tied to measures of economic success like GDP. That is because more money can only make a person happier to a point. Once a person’s basic needs are met, the focus shifts upwards on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, to feelings of love, belonging and fulfillment.

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For nearly a millennium, some form of currency has been used a medium of exchange. Jobs have provided people with the money they need to satisfy their resource needs. The lucky ones also found some level of fulfillment out of their jobs. This may change. Cryptocurrency is challenging the role of money. Automation has the potential to significantly reduce the need for us to work to meet our resource needs. It may be possible in the not too distant future to meet these needs through a manner other than “jobs”.

4. What is the purpose of each communication method?

I doubt I am the only one frustrated by this one. We added a bunch of new communication methods over the past 30 years; email, text, social media, forums, chats and other platforms. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus around which forms of communication are for which purposes. This makes organizing groups of people a more confusing task than ever before. With loneliness on the rise and loneliness clearly linked to some of the bad mental health outcomes of recent years, we need to find a way to eliminate this unnecessary obstacle for those trying to share experiences with others.

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5. What is the true source of power?

Traditionally one’s power is based on rank and authority, often in large institutions. One can also use soft power to influence people. Two things are changing how we view power.

The first is new avenues by which to influence people. The most commonly used ones are Instagram and YouTube.

There is also a growing distrust in our institutions.

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While recent surveys still show general trust and esteem for our military, police and small business, trust has significantly eroded for our political institutions, educational institutions, the media and big business. It’s not hard to imagine a future where people do not take titles at these institutions too seriously. Alternatives to many of theses institutions are gaining momentum.

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6. What is the true source of happiness?

This needs clear definition because we often fail to prioritize the things in our lives that lead to happiness, like spending time with friends and family.

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To shift priorities, we need to develop a better understanding of what makes us happy. Luckily, people have been studying this, both in an academic and practical real world sense.

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7. Can our institutions be modernized to reflect our true reality?

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The institutions losing our trust have not kept up with changes in our culture. Memorization of facts will not lead to success in the 21st Century. Government policies don’t seem to account for realities such as the average job tenure being less than five years and success and happiness being more linked to reputation and attention than income for many.

Can these institutions be updated? Or do they need to be replaced, by something new that comes along and serves us better?

8. Is it possible to end self-segregation?

Many studies indicate that most of the most segregated cities are in places like Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, where segregation was never or only briefly legally codified.

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This came to be based on self-segregation, people choosing to live around “their own kind”. Unfortunately, this has lead to continuing misunderstanding among different racial groups. In the coming decade can we….

  • End this practice of self-segregation which prevents interaction between people from different backgrounds?
  • Perhaps more importantly, not replace it with a different type of self-sorting, along lines like economic status, political ideology or lifestyle preferences?

9. Are large groups of people (>100 Million) governable?

There are only a few places around the world where this many people are under one government of sorts. All seem to be facing some form of dysfunction.

  • China went the authoritarian route, placing tight controls on the information their populace receives. They are currently dealing with mass protests in Hong Kong, one of the few places where there is access to information from the outside world. Many are also unhappy with their treatment of certain minority ethnic groups.
  • India and the European Union grant a significant amount of regional autonomy. This is a significantly different model, but has not been without problems (see Kashmir, Brexit).
  • The U.S. has tried to follow a model somewhere in the middle. However, we are dealing with a sort of national identity crisis.

Our identity crisis is related to this bigger question. Can a country with places as different as Seattle, Miami, Texas and South Carolina all live under the same national government? Is there enough that we share despite our differences? Can we avoid sliding towards the China model that tramples on people’s freedoms? Is there a new way?

10. What will be revealed to us next?

One of the main themes of the 2010s is the exposure of shady things. During this decade we learned…

  • About countless sex related scandals in the entertainment industry
  • Just how much steroids were being used in sports like pro cycling
  • The manner in which the Government was lobbied by the sugar industry to indicate that fat is a bigger concern than sugar in the 1970s
  • That the food pyramid many of us grew up with was completely wrong

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I’m gonna go out on a limb, but I feel like in the near future, something even bigger is going to be revealed to us… stay tuned!

Boulder Start Up Week

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It would be hard for me to think of a group of people that I have more respect and admiration for than the Start Up Community. Entrepreneurs take risks the vast majority of people would never even dream of. They put a lot of energy into creating something new in the world, and, when successful, create something meaningful. Entrepreneurs, along with those that join them in building businesses and others that pursue ideas using a similar mindset, are the ones responsible for most human progress. They are also the ones that create most of the jobs that the majority of the population finds security in.

At the risk of injecting politics into a blog I specifically wanted to keep non-political, it often feels like these job creators go unappreciated in some segments of the American population. Sure, there are some horrible bosses out there, and corporations that don’t care about their employees. However, there are plenty who deserve their high level of wealth and status. There are movements that seem to encourage resentment towards all wealthy people. Beyond encouraging mediocrity and threatening the system that has brought us economic prosperity, they are unfair to those that are wealthy because they did a lot of good for humanity. This includes the entrepreneurial community.

Still, many people, like myself, revere this community. Start Up Weeks occur all over the country. Each Start Up Week is a series of events that help connect communities of people who build businesses, work in start up cultures, or just are of the general start up mindset.

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Boulder ranks in the top 50 US Cities for start ups by dollars invested despite being relatively small in size. Start Up Week in Boulder is, in a way, similar to Start Up Week anywhere else in the country. There are panel discussions, individual presentations, sessions where discussions are facilitated in groups, and even a “start up crawl”, where people can visit various start up business around downtown, network with people and engage their creative sides.

Discussions at Start Up Week cover a fairly wide variety of topics from tips for those who are starting a business, to workplace culture, technical discussions and even discussions on societal trends. At Boulder Start Up Week 2019, there was a panel discussion on psychedelic drugs, their potential health benefits and potential emerging businesses associated with them.

Events take place all over town, at a variety of different settings, from shared workspaces like Galvanize, to businesses, and even museums.

What I have always found, when attending a Start Up Week, is that the best way to get around from event to event is by bicycle. Although, in places where they have scooters, that could be a good option as well.

Events like Start Up Week, and TED conferences, help me re-orient myself. It is easy to get bogged down in day to day life. Things like paying bills, maintaining a home, and meeting deadlines for work can occupy our minds in such as way that the big picture, who we are, who we want to be and how we truly want to live our lives, can get lost. Start Up Week offers a different atmosphere, with people talking about big ideas, passions, trends, and how to make dreams come true.

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One thing that makes every Start Up Week unique is the culture of the place where it is held, in this case, Boulder, Colorado. This was reflected in some of the discussions and topics. The discussion about the future of psychedelics came right after Denver became the first city to decriminalize magic mushrooms.

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The local culture had an imprint on both in the selection of events and the direction some of the discussions went. A lot of events covered topics related to health, fitness, and even specifically training for a major event like a marathon. In the discussions about HR related topics, such as workplace culture, human capital and finding your path, undoubtedly more questions were asked about inclusivity based on gender, age, and race than would be in other places. These both reflect on who the people of Boulder tend to be.

I spent the entire week switching modes, back and forth, between attending events at Start Up Week and tending to daily work requirements. It almost felt like the pull and tug that is ever present in my life. My heart is in pursuing big ideas, and looking towards the future.

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Sometimes it feels as if there are forces around me constantly trying to get me bogged down in day to day affairs. However, one of things I realized, both at events like these, as well as at work, is that it is not about ignoring all the things we get bogged down in. After all, bills need to be paid, homes need to be maintained and deadlines need to be met.

It is really about staying mindful of how even our day to day lives and the kinds of things we get bogged down in fit into the bigger picture. We lose sight of that when we become too focused on the specific action of, say meeting a deadline, to the point where we are not thinking about it in the context of anything bigger and it becomes a means into itself. That is when we need a reminder of where we are oriented and where we are headed. This is something Start Up Week and other similar events help me do, even if I am not currently starting a business.

More Than Just a New Job

The way the world is designed, heck, the way life itself is designed, it is impossible to go through a full lifetime without some major life changes and adjustments.  Regardless of what lifestyle choices we make, we all undergo periodic transformations.  Every one of us transforms from being an infant, to a child, to an adolescent, and to an adult.  Afterwards, most of us will transform to becoming parents ourselves.

Life in the 21st Century requires more personal transformations than ever!  Today nearly all of us go to college.  A life transformation occurs both at the start and the completion of our college education.  Additionally, the world is changing at an ever faster pace.  Gone are the days when one would be able to learn a couple of key skills to use over the course of a 40 year career with the same company.  Recent writing has even suggested that the most effective people reinvent themselves every 3-5 years.  Coincidentally, the current average time that a person stays at a job is 4.6 years.

It is hard for me to pinpoint the exact moment in which I realized that I needed to undergo a significant re-invention.  We often have this notion that ideas just pop into people’s heads out of nowhere.  We have all seen shows where a light bulb suddenly pops upon the screen, indicating that someone has come to a sudden realization.  This is not actually the case.  In reality, ideas are often developed over time, with contributions from multiple people.

For me, it took two separate disappointing experiences in traditionally-structured jobs, a whole bunch of reading, extensive self-reflection, and discussions with plenty of individuals, including some who had undergone a similar transformation themselves.

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Life after college started off really good for me, all things considered.  In Chicago, I had a steady job with a large corporation, where I met a lot of people who were also in their 20s, and had plenty of chances to enjoy big city life.

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It was the life I had imagined for myself at the time, but inevitably, things had to change.

The hardest thing I learned about life working for a large corporation is that a person can put in several good years, and have their work output feel quite well received by those around them, and still have decisions made on their behalf that are not necessarily in their best interest.  Essentially, what I learned, which sounds elementary to me now, is that corporations do not care about people, and that in large structured environments, people are often far removed from people making decisions.  It is common for someone to have decisions being made regarding their career path by people who do not know them much beyond what would be included in a two page resume.

During this time, I did explore a bit about non-traditional work environments, reading books such as The Art of Non-Conformity.  But, I guess I was not ready for it, and so I returned to another traditional structured work environment.

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I have not discussed this much in this blog.  As a matter of fact, I kind of feel like a phony even admitting that while I have been writing this travel blog, documenting the trips I was taking, I spent a good number of days sitting at a desk in an office like this.  Most people would not consider that the lifestyle of a “travel writer”.

I am starting to believe that every life transformation has both externally driven and internally driven components.  What I mean by this is that, the same way rehab programs only work for people who first “admit they have a problem”, someone can only re-invent themselves, when they come to some form of realization that it needs to happen.  However, I do not see situations where someone decides to make major life changes in response to nothing.

Usually, something happens to make one come to the realization that what they are currently doing is not working.  Sometimes, it’s just bad luck, like bad market conditions for a particular industry.

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Other times, it is something more positive, like being introduced to something new, a new idea, a new way of thinking, or a new opportunity.

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For me, it unfortunately took a combination of experiences.  At work, I once again felt that feeling of alienation, as once again decisions were made without my best interests in mind.  It actually lead to a work environment that I found not only non-fulfilling, but also unpleasant.

Through the afore mentioned self-reflection, reading and discussions I had over the course of 2015, I came to several key realizations that go beyond the standard “I need a new job”.  I realized that….

  • I had originally decided to apply for the types of work I had applied for because I had not really considered the alternatives.
  • It is not just the few bold people that work in environments other than office jobs with 9-5-ish hours.
  • With automation, globalization, and other forces, we are going to have to be more creative, self-directed, and individually motivated in order to maintain our current standard of living.
  • In order to get what I want out of life I am going to make some major adjustments myself.

For the last few weeks, I have been transitioning to a new employment situation, as a “consultant”.  This environment is described to me as being halfway between being in a “traditional” structured office environment and being a freelancer.  It requires me to work differently, think differently, and act differently.  As is the case for many that are self-employed, there are some financial risks, but in exchange, there is increased flexibility and autonomy.  With all these changes, who knows what adventures await!

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I am actually quite excited about making these adjustments.

In my new world, there are no more cubicles, and I do not have a permanent office.  This means that both meeting people and finding work will require significantly more individual initiative.  Without having the same people around me every day, I am going to have to determine for myself which people I should be associating with, both in a personal and professional sense.

In my new world, there is significantly less structure.  Nobody is there to tell me what time I should be doing what.  In order to ensure productivity, I will have to create this structure myself, determining each day, week, and month what I need to get done and when I will be doing it.

And, most importantly, my new world requires me to fully embrace thinking of life as a “slalom”.  Just as those that compete in slalom skiing must think several turns ahead of time, I must be prepared to think several moves ahead of time to ensure that I am setting myself up for a successful, and more importantly, enjoyable life both short and long term.

This requires a new me, and hopefully a better me.  It requires me to be more confident, both in what I believe in, as well as what decisions I make and what I believe myself capable of.  It requires me to take initiative without being paralyzed by the fear of failure that causes so many people to not pursue their ideas and passions.  But, most importantly, I believe it requires me to not lose sight of who I am and what makes me a unique individual.  Of late, I have been active in encouraging others as they pursue their individual pursuits.  What I am hoping for, both for myself, and for everybody around me, is that we do not transform ourselves into a completely different person, but that we are able to become what I refer to as the best version of yourself.

 

A Weekend to Recharge

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It’s a day we all experience at some point in the winter season- some of us more than others.  A thick layer of low clouds blanket the sky in a manner that states in no uncertain terms that you will not be experiencing a single ray of sunshine for the entire day.  Temperatures hover somewhere in the 30s.  There is a cold, damp feeling to everything that makes anyone outside feel as if some kind of very light precipitation is falling.  But, nobody can really tell.  In fact, not only are we unsure whether precipitation is actually falling, we are not even sure what type of precipitation (rain, snow, other) we believe might be falling.  And, to be honest, it really doesn’t matter.  Because, the mood is already set, and that is one of a persistent cold, damp, and raw.  It is as if the world around you is telling you that you that today is going to be more subdued than most.  That today will not be the day you go on some kind of life changing adventure, achieve something major, or even make significant progress towards something.

There is a half a century old folk song whose lyrics go something like “a time for war, a time for peace, a time to laugh, a time to cry”.  I am not really 100% certain what they actually say in the song, but I know the entire song kind of discusses the cycles and sub-cycles of life in that sort of manner.  And, it advocates the recognition that certain actions, activities, emotions, etc. have their time and place, regardless of which ones we prefer, which ones we enjoy, or which ones we feel are more beneficial.

I have always been one to periodically look for ways to get the maximum utility out of one of the most precious resources we all have- time.  Implied in many initiatives we take to better our lives, including the goals I made for 2015 at the start of the month, is a better use of our time, commonly in the form of trying to select in favor of behaviors we consider a good use of our time and against behaviors that we consider a poor use of our time.  However, one thing I often fail to consider is that not every minute of every day can be spent doing something that we feel is significant.  Just as the cycles of life often take us to the next exciting adventures in our lives, the cycles of life will also tell us when it is time to slow down and recharge our batteries.  And, although I consider myself to be in the top quartile for energy levels in my age group, even those of us with high energy levels can run into times when it is depleted.  A time to rage, a time to mellow.

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Sometimes it is hard for an energetic person to realize that the time to “mellow” has come.  For energetic people, this portion of the cycle of life can be frustrating, and, during down-times, I often find myself restlessly looking at bike routes and new travel destinations to consider in the near future.  However, this particular weekend, the time had come in no uncertain terms.  And, the weather, so raw, cold, and lifeless, only reinforces this fact.  It amplifies the mood.

Emotion and anxiety is a much more significant energy drain than many people realize.  In fact, I have found that at times emotions and anxiety can drain energy far more efficiently than strenuous physical and/or mental work.  There are plenty of times I remember bicycling 50+ miles, staying out partying well past midnight, or working hard to meet some kind of deadline, and still having an energy level the next day fairly close to normal.  However, I do recall several recent scenarios where drama, uncertainty, or allowing that part of your brain that worries about all things that can go wrong to stress me out about something have made me quite sleepy.

Along with the dull weather pattern, multiple emotional events over the past few weeks contributed to my need to take a weekend to recharge.  One of the hardest things to do is to say goodbye to a boss that you actually enjoy working for.  Two weeks ago, I found out that my supervisor, the man who hired me, has believed in me every step of the way, and genuinely respects me and my ideas, is departing.  This is hard to find in the workplace.

Work is not typically the most exciting thing people do in their lives.  There is a reason that movies rarely show a person manipulating data in a spreadsheet.  And, there is a reason I write a travel blog and not a work blog.  I’ve even seen some people that achieve the dream job they had set out to do from a young age, and still get burned out on it.  But, with good people around you and a good environment, the time that we spend at work can periodically be enjoyable and fulfilling, which is the most we can really ask for.

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This weekend, I am not just anxious about the uncertainty that comes with any change, but I am genuinely sad to see the man go.  And, while it is tough for an adventure-seeking extrovert like me to swallow a weekend of resting, and focusing on other areas of my life, there is a time for my focuses to remain within a 5 mile radius of home, and that time is now.  I am certain that 2015 will produce some amazing adventures, some of which I already have planned and look forward to.  But for now, all I can do is appreciate the opportunities I have received and do my best to make sure I continue advancing my career forwards without giving up on the most precious resource I have- who I am.