It’s Time to Think Differently
About Your Career
Futurist Alvin Toffler, who way back in 1970 warned of the shock of accelerating change in the future, once said:
The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
With the rate of change accelerating each year, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality certain to change your work environment, it’s a necessity that we periodically reset our thinking and behavior.
In fact, it will need to become part of who you are. Fortunately, the unlearning process is an ongoing, compounding, and virtuous system. That means the more you do it, the easier it gets and the better your results. But it’s up to you, of course, to embrace the process in the first place.
I’m going to attempt to make the case that you should view the unlearning process as an aspect of innovation, and do it not only voluntarily, but enthusiastically. This decade will present accelerated change from new technologies, demographic shifts, and political turmoil that will make the status quo unmaintainable.
The first thing that needs to be unlearned is the traditional idea of a career. It’s certainly a dangerous time to think that a job provides security. Or even that a single source of income will remain stable, even if that source is self-employment.
In other words, why would you ever put your economic viability in the hands of a single source? Worse, that source is likely an organization that functions only to maximize profit and will spit you out as soon as it thinks the bottom line will benefit from your absence.
Think about it in terms of basic investment strategy. Putting all your cash into a single asset is dangerous. You should instead diversify your portfolio to spread the risk around.
Diversification is also the way to think about your livelihood. And it will likely be the way you have to approach it in the near future, whether you want to or not.
Don’t let change just happen to you and put you back on your heels. And certainly don’t let someone else cut off your income and hang you out to dry.
Create your change proactively, on your own terms. This is the first crucial step to developing a “personal enterprise” mindset.
From Career Ladder to Personal Enterprise
We’ve been conditioned to think of life as three stages — school, career, retirement.
Now we’ll need to adapt to a multistage work life that will be more fluid as technology constantly eliminates tasks and entire jobs. Add to that a longer work life (and life in general), and your career is going to start looking more like a series of projects than a standard career arc.
Even if you manage to maintain a single traditional “job,” all the current career advice says you’re going to have to perform like an entrepreneur to do well. Except you’ll still have all your eggs in one basket.
The problem is, with just one change of heart (or lack thereof), your single employer can smash all your proverbial eggs. On the other hand, the personal enterprise approach looks for a replacement egg to add to the mix that maintains (or increases) your income.
When you think about your work and income in terms of a series of projects instead of a career ladder to climb, you set yourself up for success in many more ways than just monetarily. But given that we all have to make a living, the money can be much better as well.
Think of Oprah, a self-made billionaire. Winfrey started her career as the youngest and first African American anchor for WTVF in Nashville. She then got a co-hosting gig in Boston before landing the A.M. Chicago morning show. That eventually evolved into The Oprah Winfrey Show, which went into syndication in 1986.
It was this Emmy-winning audience platform that became the base for Oprah’s personal media empire. She launched O: The Oprah Magazine and the Oxygen Network in 2000. She went on to found OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, and ink substantial partnerships with Weight Watchers and Apple. She also occasionally acts and is a major philanthropist.
Or consider George Clooney. Actors naturally have portfolio careers (another term for the early stage of a personal enterprise). Clooney started with bit parts on television shows, then semi-regular parts, followed by his breakthrough as a star on ER.
While still on ER, Clooney began appearing in films and slowly growing his Hollywood cachet. Then he began to direct and produce. While that’s more than enough for most actors, Clooney made real money when he leveraged his fame (aka his audience) to create Casamigos Tequila with business partner Rande Gerber. The brand was sold to Diageo for nearly $1 billion, after thousands of Clooney fans sampled and enjoyed the tequila George made for himself.
I’m using “old” media celebrities as examples simply because the personal enterprise approach could also be called the “Hollywood” model. But you don’t need to impress producers or other media gatekeepers to get started. You are a media producer in the digital realm, and that simple change in mindset can unlock the power of the personal enterprise for you.
Make the Future Work for You
Again, a faster-approaching future means accelerated change. And it’s easy to see why change makes many people uneasy, if not downright fearful.
But as a source of opportunity, nothing beats change. Looking back over the past 22 years of my journey, at each point it was advances in technology that provided me with the ideas that became successful businesses.
It’s not the technology itself that made the difference, though. It was understanding how that technology would affect human behavior that created the opportunity. Because while context changes, human nature doesn’t.
And that’s why you’ve got to accept the coming rapid technological change and keep a cool head while others are freaked out. Not only will you be able to spot the opportunity, you’ll also be able to execute on it in a way that helps other people who don’t have your insight.
What you’ll need to do is begin to think like a futurist. I’m not talking about becoming a pundit or prognosticator who loudly makes predictions, playing up the few things they got right, and hoping you won’t remember everything they got wrong. That’s an entirely different game.
When you think like a true futurist, you pay attention to what’s going on, identify signals, and then develop scenarios based on the likelihood that any one signal will become a real trend that affects human behavior in a meaningful (and potentially profitable) way. You also develop timelines to estimate when these meaningful impacts will occur, because sometimes being too early is worse than being a little late.
Once you identify a lucrative signal, you’re not done yet. Once you develop an entrepreneurial mindset, you’ll spot ways to make money everywhere. But it’s also important to pair profit potential with personal purpose –– at least in my experience.
The key is to collect plenty of profitable ideas. Then you can choose the perfect opportunities for you, both in terms of money and life satisfaction. And that’s when the non-monetary benefits of the personal enterprise approach accelerate as well.
Purposeful Projects for Profit and Personal Growth
Let’s consider the idea of pairing profit potential with personal purpose. I know there are people out there who think they could pursue any business idea as long as it made them lots of money.
It’s tougher than it sounds, given that profit potential alone rarely sustains people. But the real downside to that approach is the personal growth as a person you’d miss out on by only focusing on money. Plus, research shows that people with a strong sense of purpose make more money and have a higher net worth.
Purpose is a pivotal force that runs throughout the fields of personality, motivation, and perseverance. Ultimately, acting on our sense of purpose can provide life satisfaction, an emotional state that we value more than happiness.
That’s how the intersection of the personal enterprise approach with your sense of purpose leads to an incredibly fulfilling life. Money earned from a business you can run from anywhere gives you a great lifestyle, but satisfaction on the inside means you have greater well-being no matter where you are.
When you’re powered by purpose, you make choices based on what your future self wants instead of being constrained by your past or defined by your present self. Psychologists know that when this is the case, your personality develops according to your goals instead of your goals being predetermined by your personality.
The greatest value in thinking of personality as “doing purposeful projects” rather than “having personality traits” is the true potential for change. Beyond more money and greater freedom, that makes the personal enterprise approach a catalyst for positive change and personal growth.
Psychology Professor Brian Little refers to your ability to change in this way as “acting out of character.” When you think of who you are as a story that’s driven by your recollection of the past and how it conditioned you, “acting” out of “character” takes on a special significance.
But acting out of character has two significant meanings beyond Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” It means a departure from our characteristic way of behaving, but also acting from character.
And this is where purpose-driven work meets the self-determination of personality. Little explains:
We often act out of character in the second sense when we guide our actions by our values. You may not be naturally open and extroverted. But given an important occasion or project, you have little choice but to act out of character, to rise to the occasion and be an alternative you — in a sense, perhaps, an optimized you.
An “optimized you” is what personal growth is all about. But it can’t be what someone else tells you to optimize for. It’s got to come from a personal sense of purpose that is ultimately derived from your values.
You become what you believe.
Freedom is the Driving Force
Yes, you can make a lot of money with the personal enterprise approach. Personally, I’ve made more than I ever really aspired to make. And the ability to travel the world, live wherever you want, and avoid the economic disruption that so many others will soon face are all key benefits.
But when it comes down to it, freedom is what we all want. We don’t want someone else telling us what to do, what to create, where to live, when to work, or when to play. This has been my primary motivator over the last two decades, and as an added bonus, it’s paired with a healthy income at the same time.
There are plenty of people who have lots of money, but no true freedom. That’s not what we’re aiming for with the personal enterprise approach. Make lots of money, yes –– but design things from the start for maximum freedom, creative control, and growth into the best version of yourself.
Ready to dive in deeper? Lesson two arrives tomorrow.