I am repeatedly floored by how lucky I am to be alive today. Here, in an era of complete turmoil, where things previously unimaginable are now normal, where old systems are dying and new ones are emerging that enable us to connect and cooperate in fascinating ways. All this, with our planet on the brink — it is all rather heady.
Sometimes, it is important to remind myself of this since there are moments when, confronted by all this turmoil, I slip into feeling frustrated and lost. When I reflect on why, I’m struck by the fact that never in my short lifetime — or, I suspect, in the lifetimes of my parents — have the way points, the path, or even the destinations for our lives been less clear, more uncharted, or simply completely unknown.
For confusing or unknown destinations, I think of my friends who wanted to get into news media, or a close friend who recently confessed that they’d love to sit on the board of the CBC (I can’t think of a better candidate), or colleagues who would like to be a Deputy Minister or even a bank executive. And yet, if you aspired to be the editor of the Globe and Mail when you hit your 40’s or 50’s I’m not sure you should be holding your breath… There may not be a Globe and Mail in 15 years, or a CBC, or even media companies. The role of a deputy minister may be radically altered beyond recognition — and do any of us really want to be bank executives? Worse, still, it’s not even clear what the equivalent of the editor of the Globe will be – it is fine to accept that the job you wanted may not exist, but what do you do when it isn’t even clear how to fulfill the underlying desire or interest?
If your dream was to contribute to national conversations, then the path has rarely been less clear. But it isn’t just the media. No matter what it is you want to do, the steps that were supposed to take you there… the education you are supposed to get, the jobs you were supposed to hold, they are less obvious, occasionally discredited and sometimes not longer in existence. This isn’t to say that newer, different, and I would argue better opportunities are not arising. They are. But they are hidden — hidden among a thousand blind alleys and dead ends. And yes, I even think the career paths of lawyers, doctors and accountants – the safest of professions – could change radically over the next few decades.
And the way points along these thousand paths are also harder to identify. What is progress? How do you know you are moving forward? I struggle with this question constantly: am I doing the right thing with my life? Am I making the world a better place? Am I growing? Developing?
In a bygone era I could have looked at the money I made, or the size of my office, my title, or any number of other things… but I find these metrics less and less helpful or meaningful. We all want to do more, be better, help with the next challenge.
What’s it all this mean? That remains to be seen. But here are two possibilities:
First, when you really don’t know what’s going to happen next you’d better grab that one thing you believe in. Because that value is a guiding light that allows you to keep marching on, even if you don’t know if you are marching forward, backward, up or down. Ultimately it is a leap of faith.
For me, that value is “share.” It’s why I got into negotiating – to enable people (self foremost) to be more effective at playing with others and learn to share ideas, possibilities, resources, anything… more effectively and fairly. It is why I believe in Open Source – that when we share, and build off each others contributions, we build faster, better and more cheaply, to the benefit of all. It’s the value that is at the core of my work in Public Service Sector Renewal – that a government that shares – shares its ideas, its data, in the process – both internally and externally, is a government that will be more responsive, more effective and more efficient.
The second piece is that we need peers. I suspect we are all (me especially) going to fail more than our parents. It is just a simple fact. There are more paths, and the right ones are less clear. So more of us are going to take risks, are going to try the unknown; and many or us, indeed the majority of us, will and should fail at some point. That’s why we need peers. We need friends and colleagues to help us, to pick us up when we fall down, to nurture us intellectually and help us emotionally.
When I look around at my friends I sense that we are blessed and cursed. We live in interesting times. The good news though, is that we are legion. Together, sharing and supporting one another, we are crafting a new world. I don’t know if my contribution is helping. It may all be one big failure – this alley I’m running down may be a dead end. That’s a frustrating, sometimes lonely, and scary reality to face down. But I know if I’m feeling it, someone else out there probably is too, and you should know you are not alone.