Wake Up! Stay Relevant — Part 1

“To stay relevant — not just economically, but above all socially, you will need the ability to constantly learn and reinvent yourself,” — Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

Gerard put down the phone in a trance. He had just finished a call with his manager and the HR executive. The news was not good.

Gerard was a senior accounts manager in a small precision manufacturing company. He had worked at this firm for the last twenty years. He was a competent performer and his colleagues respected him. He thought he was doing a good job.

Then, a pandemic came out of China. Governments all over the world forced lockdowns to “flatten the curve”. Companies shut their offices. Gerard’s company instructed the Finance team to work from home. He had to learn a new lexicon of life - Zoom, Google Meets, WfH(Work from Home), On-line training, Online shopping, Food delivery apps and a New Normal.

He struggled with logging in for Zoom calls. He stood in line for hours to get toilet paper and hand sanitizer. He had no idea about online shopping. He had never taken any online course. Other than email, he was a complete neophyte to the online world.

One and a half month into WfH, he was offered an “early retirement.” That was what the phone call was about. Just like that, he had no tomorrow. No more Zoom calls, no more emails to answer and no more pay cheque.

He was 58 years old , with no job and no plans for the future. He didn’t even know if he had enough savings to last the “retirement”. For the next few days, as he says, “I moped. I drained my wine fridge at an alarming rate and contributed nonsensical messages on Whatsapp.” Then, he decided to give me a call.

We talked about his shock exit from the corporate world and the complete lack of preparedness for the new world that he was entering. My message to him was “You need to stay relevant.”

Over the next few minutes, I explained to him what that meant.

  1. It meant that he had to understand what was happening in the world around him and what had changed- to what is being referred to as the New Normal.
  2. It meant that he had to get to know himself better, understand what energized him, whether he had a purpose in life.
  3. It meant that he had to be open to learning new skills.
  4. It also meant that he had to figure out how to work and play in this New Normal.

I promised to help him develop some some options for the future.

But first, I asked him to take a pause, to disconnect from his corporate life.

Years of getting up early, commuting to work and returning at sunset, had been hardwired into him. The routine and the habits had become a comfort zone. He had to break out. He had to do things that he could never do when he was working. He had to get used to an unstructured life. This step was essential to prepare him for the next part of his life.

I sent him a lot of reading material so that he could make sense of the new environment. I am summarizing the insights for you all.

  • Businesses had realized that work from home had its advantages. A Gartner CFO survey showed that 74% of CFOs will move 5% of their workforce remote. Some employees were more productive when working from home. They were also happier because they did not have to waste time commuting to work. So working from home was going to be the new norm.
  • A lot of traditional businesses were going digital. Human jobs were being replaced by software, especially process driven ones like his used to be.
  • A different set of skills were needed to navigate this new normal. A World Economic Forum paper listed the Five skills required in the 21st Century:
  1. Tech and Computer Skills
  2. Robot and Automation Programming .
  3. Digital Literacy and Competency. (Gerard definitely needed to get this one).
  4. Working knowledge of tech enabled tools and techniques. (This skill also was essential for him).
  5. Critical Thinking soft skill. (We needed to find out if he had this).
  • People of Gerard’s age have been given a 20 year dividend. Longevity has been increasing over the last few decades. Men and women are going to live into their eighties. To enjoy this dividend, Gerard had to do something productive.
  • The Gig Economy, already on the rise, was now set to explode. It meant that more people were going to sell many more skills to the highest bidder. It also meant that there might be a customer out there for his knowledge and skills. He had to learn to find these opportunities.
  • Having coronavirus immunity would be an advantage when looking for a job. Not sure who said this, but it made shocking sense.

Gerard had been completely unprepared for losing his job. His biggest challenge was to come up with options for his future life. In part 2 of Wake Up! Stay Relevant, I plan to talk to him about a Growth Mindset and how the Designing Your Life program would help him build a life that is financially and emotionally rewarding.


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