The Road Less Travelled
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost
In the last few years, whenever I give talks or write about my experiences as a gig-worker, sooner or later, I will hear the comment “I’d love to do that, but can’t imagine it,” or “I dream about that kind of freedom, but am too scared of giving up the security of my monthly salary — even though I hate my job,” or “My parents would never understand how I could give up a secure job for a life of uncertainty.”
Security, social pressure, a fear of uncertainty, external validation and an overpowering cultural narrative define what constitutes a “successful life”. And gig-working certainly doesn’t figure in that definition
Security, social pressure, a fear of uncertainty, external validation and an overpowering cultural narrative define what constitutes a “successful life”. And gig-working certainly doesn’t figure in that definition. All the above are very real factors that shape our thinking (mostly unconsciously), and, consequently, our decisions.
Being the social creatures we are, our need to be accepted, validated and respected is extremely strong. It’s one of our strongest drivers. So, I won’t make the argument that we shouldn’t base our life on the narratives of our parents and society in general. I’m taking a couple of different tacks — fulfilment-as-success and future-readiness.
The former came up as I was having a very interesting chat with Shuvi Shrivastava, an associate at Lightspeed Ventures, a VC firm. We were talking about what kind of mindset it took to produce true innovation, and her reply was “when what we are driven by changes.”
Today, we’re largely driven by external validation and money, but she emphasises that “it is independence of thought, and charting your own course that makes the difference.” So, in that vein, for all those of you who dream of a different way, but feel too tied by traditional expectations, I propose a little exercise.
Take a little time to yourself, find a quiet corner where you will be undisturbed by neither Whatsapp nor your mum (or significant other) and put pen to paper. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. What values are you currently driven by? Why are you doing what you are doing? Are you in your job because you truly are fulfilled by it, or because it gives you something worthwhile? Are the values yours or someone else’s? Do those values have any meaning for you?
2. If you had nothing else to think about (including parents, society, your friend’s new Porsche), what would constitute a fulfilling life for you? If you didn’t have to measure up to anyone, impress anybody, worry about being a “good prospect” in the traditional sense, what kind of life would you lead?
3. What are the fears and the factors that stop you creating that life for yourself? Have you validated the “truth” behind those assumed factors? Is there a way you can test those assumptions in smaller ways? For eg, I have a friend who believed he had to keep his fancy investment banking job that he hated because that would get him better marriage prospects. When we worked through that assumption (including the idea that it was his position and possessions that made him a better “catch”), he realised that he might actually want to marry someone who liked him for who he was, rather than for what he represented. Oftentimes, we are not aware of the unconscious assumption that drive our actions. What are your untested assumptions and how do they limit you?
Another approach to questioning the current way is the idea of future-readiness. The values we hold dear today are based on a fast-disappearing paradigm of how the world works. As we edge closer and closer to an AI-based world and all the disruptions that come with it, changing your values and approaches then becomes a matter of survival.
The illusion of security will give way to full-blown uncertainty, and only those who are nimble and agile enough to continuously learn and re-invent themselves will have an edge. As author and digital analyst Brain Solis puts it: “If you don’t disrupt yourself, it will be a gift given to you by someone else.”
This applies equally to individuals and companies. If we can’t see the future we are headed towards, if we can’t say with complete certainty what skills and jobs will make up the future landscape, and how our lives will be reshaped by the disruptions wrought by cybernetics, biotechnology, ubiquitous computing and socio-political shifts among others, then one of the ways to prepare for uncertainty is to get good at dealing with it.
1. Educate yourself on the coming shifts, and how it will impact our lives, work and relations.
Some good resources:
Sapiens: Yuval Noah Harari
This is a phenomenal book that looks sweepingly at where we came from, how we came to be and where we are headed. It’s not a book that will give you specific answers, but everyone should read this book. Here’s Bill Gates’ take on it.
The Shift: Lynda Gratton
A professor at London Business School, Ms Gratton looks at the forces that are reshaping the future of work.
A Whole New Mind (Why Right brainers will Rule the Future): Daniel Pink
Whether you agree or not, this book is worth a read for its ideas on what kinds of thinking may increasingly be important.
2. Connect with remote-working / digital nomad communities in your city or online who can help answer your questions. Check out Nomad List (https://nomadlist.com/), reddit forums and Digital Nomad Meetup Groups in your city to get the conversation started. You become who you surround yourself with. So if you want to transform your thinking, seek out people who are already living the life you aspire for!
3. Write in to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with other digital nomads and communities with your questions / doubts, and we’ll take a shot at answering them and see how we can connect you with the right resources
“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death” — Anais Nin.
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