It has been a hell of a year. And a decade for that matter. The rate of change in how we live, work, shop, communicate, move is hard not to feel. These changes aren’t inherently good or bad, but require us to adapt, which brings fatigue – and excitement. When we don’t know what’s coming next, it’s hard to know how to prepare for it. So in these turn-of-the-decade days, when we’re inclined to plan for health, wealth, and satisfaction in days, months, and years to come, what are we to spend our precious time and attention on? There are three specific and tactical suggestions below, but first let’s consider the qualities we need to develop to thrive in the next year and ten.
The next decade, let’s call the ‘Soaring ‘20s,’ will evolve in ways yet unknown, but unequivocally promise continuously accelerating change. The determinants of success (in a holistic sense, considering the flourishing of mind, body, and spirit) in that dynamic context are: Flexibility, Creativity, and Resilience. The most successful people of the next decade are building those muscles because they know it’s hard to know the exact skills, data points, assets, or other specific resources that will serve them. The good news is that these formerly-called ‘soft skills,’ though ‘power skills’ is probably more apt in today’s environment, are indeed muscles we can grow and train.
Success Drivers in the 2020s
Before sharing specific tactics to set yourself up for success, let’s consider these three skills more closely.
Flexibility allows us to adapt to our changing physical and social context. It’s often said that the only certainty in today’s world is uncertainty. Fortune 500 companies are far less likely to stay on the list for this decade than they were in the 2010s. Technological developments, sustained by the exponential rate of Moore’s Law, make new communication, data, machine learning, and other tools move faster than our human imaginations. Many of the ten most-needed jobs in 2030 likely don’t exist today.
Success in this context requires flexibility, in the sense of having a growth mindset, that we ourselves, and the people we work with, can adapt our skills to other uses and learn new skills as necessary. We need to think differently about the skills truly required for evolving and new roles so that we can help ourselves and others successfully transfer our skills and experience to the jobs we collectively need done.
Creativity is necessary to identify how our unique assets fit a role, set of gigs, or other “future of work” arrangement that meet our material, emotional, and spiritual needs while also serving the people and planet around us. It’s important to aim for the broad definition of creativity: “the use of the imagination or original ideas,” rather than any kind of artistic output. We tend to underestimate our own creativity, tying it to painting, signing, or other formal creative arts.
To succeed in the 2020s, we don’t have to become artists, but we will be served by honing this universally human ability skill of imagination. We need to imagine new and different possibilities for our lives and work in small and big ways, from an hourly stretch break to remote work to going freelance to a more holistic role that includes finance and supply chain responsibility as well as marketing. One of the incredible gifts of modern technology, particularly data storage and analysis, is the ability to manage complexity. This capacity enables mass customization: allowing individuals to pursue unique solutions, whether personalizing their Nikes, or filling their time and funding their life by doing a lot of a very specific contract job for clients all around the world via Upwork. So you might consider it bad news that very few of us will be able to follow a text book “career path,” working logically up the ranks in a single company or industry for most of our lives. But we have to take it is great, empowering news that this whole new world of possibility has opened to design work and lifestyle that are uniquely suited to our individual skills, interests, and needs. By definition, only you can create this for yourself, and it’s going to take some creativity!
Finally, we must develop resilience because anyone who’s alive today understands that what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, which will look and feel like failure. Following on the earlier point, creativity also requires trial and error, exploring possibilities that will not always work out. It’s not very likely that our first attempt at creating our 2020s working methods or role will be our best. And even if it is our best yet, our context will change before long, and we’ll have to adjust our approach to meet it. The way to stay sane, healthy, and happy through this ongoing learning curve is to develop resilience: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”.
How to Build Critical Skills for Success in the 2020s
Here are three ways to help yourself and those around you build the skills we all need to thrive in the Soaring ‘20s.
1. Get good at recovery.
Peak performance physiologists and neuroscientists have learned that neither our bodies nor brains can perform at their best all the time. They need adequate recovery. Indeed, the latest new fitness gadget is a wearable based on measuring recovery, via sleep, rest, and meditation.
Recovery might seem like a no-brainer: Netflix and Chill, right? But in fact, you can excel at recovery. We’ve all felt the difference between eight great hours of sleep and eight less great ones, to say nothing of a short five and a half hour night. There are a lot of other techniques – y’know, technical stuff like taking a stroll – that help your body and mind recover much more efficiently than a binge-watching session. Like so much of well-being, what works best is pretty personal. Make it your Q1 plan to try a variety of things to see what works best for you in different situations where you need to recover.
2. Practice enlightened self-interest
In this fast-changing, mass customizable world, we each stand the best chance of success by being the best version of our unique selves possible. Like recovery, this is not as easy as it sounds. Much of our education, professional training, norms and expectations are still calibrated for the Industrial Revolution, when individuality was not an asset. We were cogs to fit into production lines, whether as laborers or managers. Now, we need to relearn the process and skill of self-awareness and development.
To develop effective self-interest, we have to get beyond the noise of what others (people, systems, our vanity) want us to be and do to remember what truly makes us thrive. This is an ongoing process and requires effort, time, and quiet to get beyond layers of noise about what we should be. Meditation and other mindfulness practices are important tools, as are reflection tools and exercises from freeform journaling to personality surveys, like Five Elements or Strength Finder and many more. Even horoscopes can be useful to get you thinking about who you are, how you work, and what you need, whether or not you believe in their validity. Again, this is a personal process, so use what resonates with you.
Finally, we have to get enlightened. No big deal, right? Again, use a basic and broad definition: “having or showing a well-informed outlook.” The etymology, or root, of the word is important too: “shed light upon”. Think of your process of enlightenment as shining light upon the shadows in your life – those topics that you don’t know much about, or perhaps intentionally avoid for one reason or another. Read different news sources. listen to a podcast from a different industry, or with a host of a different age, race, religion, or national background. It is this exploration of a range of perspectives and areas that will enable you to reach the peak performance and fulfillment of pursuing your own interests in a way that also serves the people and planet around you.
3. Make “to be,” not “to do” lists.
As products of the Industrial Revolution, we have become excellent do-ers. We are evaluated by our employers, and often ourselves, by how much we produce and how quickly, whether we’re making widgets or delivering client insights. In this Fourth Industrial Revolution, where machines can do more and more of the physical work, our success is determined much more by how we do what we do, or ultimately how we ‘be’ than what we do. With some constraints, it does take all kinds. We need creative free thinkers as well as deadline-oriented taskmasters. So as you evolve your self-awareness, look for those qualities that you want to develop or emphasize, and make To Be lists. By the way, it’s a lot easier to think about these ways of being during or just after a productive recovery, like a stroll or idle free writing.
Anecdotal experience and national and global data show that we are not thriving as our level of development should allow. Despite drastic reductions in the worse levels of poverty and sickness, anxiety, heart disease, and other lifestyle ailments are significantly rising. We haven’t yet adapted to this new world, and it’s costing us our health, mental and physical. As Einstein (probably) said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So this year, maybe you don’t have to write down the number of pounds you want to lose morning and dollars to gain. After all, even Instagram is letting go of numbers!
Build in five minutes of self-awareness every morning and fifteen minutes of ‘enlightenment’ (aka reading or listening to different sources) on your commute. Or just a weekly weekend stroll around your neighborhood or office. And then find a recovery or enlightened self-interest accountability buddy to share your progress – and challenges! Perhaps you’ll even build in a bonus review of your ‘to be’ lists. These are the habits that will build the flexibility, creativity, and resilience the Soaring ‘20s call for.
original article appeared in Forbes By Nell Derick Debevoise