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You can’t ‘future-proof’ your career. Here’s what to do instead

Futurist Elatia Abate says the more we can employ curiosity to learn what is changing, how it is changing, and what it means, the better we and our careers will be prepared to thrive.

You can’t ‘future-proof’ your career. Here’s what to do instead
[Photo: Westend61/Getty Images]

As themes on the future of work have evolved over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk–including my own—about the evolution of careers and how to future-proof one’s professional trajectory in the face of the massive disruptions that technology is bringing to the workplace.

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The desire to future-proof is understandable, especially when faced with the threat of a robot seizing your livelihood. With headlines shouting that half of existing jobs are susceptible to computerization and a whole sub-segment will be largely automated, it can feel like an automaton army is waiting outside the door of your home office to storm the place. Of course we want to defend ourselves.

While logical, this is as futile as someone standing with a bucket and mop attempting to soak up the Pacific Ocean. The massive shifts that technology is bringing to work can’t be stopped. The pandemic accelerated changes that were already on the horizon like hybrid and a-synchronous working dynamics, adoption of service robots in the hotel and medical fields and leaving traditional corporate structures in favor of more flexible, entrepreneurial opportunities.

So, rather than make feeble attempts to fend off the inevitable, it is much more powerful and empowering to future-prepare.

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Adjust your mindset

Getting your head in the right place about change and its dynamics is the first step to successfully future-preparing. First, there is the critical choice of whether you will be captive to increasingly tumultuous circumstances or captain of your professional destiny. The captive asks some derivative of the question, “Why is this happening to me?” The gaze is outward, and the posture cedes power to external circumstances. The captain employs the much more useful inquiry, “Given that I’m here and this is happening, what do I want to create?” They acknowledge the shifts and get about the business of proactively designing outcomes that serve their professional success.

Take a few steps back and look at the big shifts that are happening around you in your role, company and industry. If you can see them and understand how they work, you can move from an industry that is becoming obsolete to one that is growing or learn a critical skill that will help you thrive in a new environment. Concretely, read the data on what jobs and industries are most susceptible to computerization. Is your industry among them? What jobs and fields are growing, and what skills do they require? See if your current employer can help pay for training in these new skills. Ask to join projects that are future-focused to develop your new skills.

Rethink your career strategy

Once your head is in the right spot, it’s time to rethink your career strategy. Since the world is moving from linear to exponential, our careers should, too. However, most of us have been taught to think about our careers in terms of a ladder. Sometime early on in our careers, we make a choice, join an industry, learn a function and keep climbing upward in opportunities that are more sophisticated versions of where we started. The question that drives this career strategy is, “What can I logically do with what I’ve already done and already know?”

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But what happens if your industry or your job path is on the chopping block? The old strategy isn’t nimble enough. So, you switch to a more agile strategy like the Mosaic Career model I developed after leaving the corporate world.

The strategy for Mosaic Career design is rooted in the things you value, the kinds of contributions you would like to make in the world and an examination of how your skill set could be brought to bear regardless of industry. Once again, you take a few steps back and ask yourself, “If I were totally free of constraints, what would I create? Who would I be? How would I use my life?” From this initial picture, you can get a sense both of what you’d like to be doing and the things you find most important in a professional environment. This allows you to approach opportunities in the market with much more clarity.

Use the right tactics and tools

To put your strategy into action and finish future-preparing your career, you’ve got to connect with others. However, don’t go the traditional networking route. This, too, has gotten an upgrade for the exponential age. Instead of networking, which is fundamentally rooted in what we can get others to give us—the slimy, icky, business card hawking of yesteryear—seek to build a community. Professional community building is about discovering the kind of value you can add or bring to others. Make outreach and connection a routine part of your work. If you are interested in learning about a burgeoning market sector, reach out and connect with someone whose work you admire in that space. Once you’ve connected, look for ways to lend that person a hand or provide value in some capacity.

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Finally, in the face of all of this change, we are all receiving an invitation to become subject matter students. Even if we think we know everything about a thing, the world is changing so quickly that that is, in fact, impossible. The more we can employ curiosity to learn what is changing, how it is changing, and what it means, the better we and our careers will be prepared to thrive, no matter what happens in the marketplace.


Elatia Abate is a futurist, educator, and consultant.


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