How to Future-Proof Yourself

Skills, behaviors & mindsets to adopt today for uncertain tomorrow.

You’ve probably read the headlines:

“Artificial Intelligence is taking over.”

“A job for life doesn’t exist anymore”

“Most of us will be freelancers by 2025.”

But what does that really mean for us? And what can we do today to future-proof ourselves for tomorrow?

For the last four years, I’ve studied this topic whilst helping people navigate career transitions. Most people want to quit a job, start a business, or change careers so that they can pursue work that has more meaning — for themselves and ideally the world. But seismic shifts are happening on the macro level too. What it means to be a worker has drastically evolved since most of us entered the workforce.

I’m not in a position to predict the future. Honestly, I’m not sure who is. Likewise, I can’t predict which specific jobs or skills will keep you employable in 2020, 2030 or 2050.

My aim instead is to suggest principles that, if adopted, will help us better adapt to an unknown future. Here are 3 principles I’m exploring right now.

Hugh MacLeod, Gaping Void

1. Become Indispensable.

“What can I become quite good at that’s really difficult for a computer to do one day soon? How can I become so resilient, so human and such a linchpin that shifts in technology won’t be able to catch up? It was always important, but now it’s urgent.” – Seth Godin

Seth Godin equates indispensability to being a lynchpin: “The linchpin is the essential element, the person who holds part of the operation together. Without the linchpin, the thing falls apart.”

Tim Ferriss has highlighted in many of his podcasts that being a leader in a “category of one” is more advantageous than trying to top an already existing crowded category — one that might become obsolete in the near future. Like Hugh MacLeod’s cartoon above says: “Be the only one in the world who does what you do.”

How do you do that? Scott Adams (Dilbert creator) suggests that instead of becoming the top 1% in a particular field, aim to become very good (top 25%) at 2 or more things. For Adams, it’s humor + drawing + in-depth knowledge of corporate America humdrum. That wonderful combination gave us Dilbert.

“Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more ‘pretty goods’ until no one else has your mix.” — Scott Adams
Scott Adams, Dilbert

2. Prioritize Self-Knowledge.

“To be mature you have to realize what you value most. It is extraordinary to discover that comparatively few people reach this level of maturity. They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own. Perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession or job, of their community or their neighbors, of their parents or family. Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Self-knowledge is understanding things like:

  • Workview: What’s your philosophy of work? What’s the point of working?
  • Lifeview: What’s your philosophy on life? What makes life worth living?
  • Values: What matters to you? What has meaning for you?
  • Strengths: What are you naturally good or talented at?
  • Success: What’s success for you? Who does a successful person look like?
  • Happiness: What makes you happy? What makes you feel good?
  • Energy: What gives you energy? What drains it?
  • Needs: What do you need to live? Financially, physically, emotionally?
  • Desire: What do you honestly and deeply desire? What do you dream of?

Make no mistake, this stuff is hard. “To know what one really wants,” Abraham Maslow muses “is a considerable psychological achievement.”

Here’s what makes so-called self-knowledge doubly tough: what we know today might change tomorrow. Psychologist Dan Gilbert highlights the frustrating truth:

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”

Like the world and future of work — we’re constantly evolving.

Self-knowledge is asking ourselves the right questions, taking the time to explore our answers (with ourselves, with others, and through our actions), and cultivating the ability to listen to and trust what we hear.

It’s like going to the gym. You don’t go once and — BOOM! — instantly you’re fit forever. Same with self-knowledge. It’s a lifelong inquiry.

3. Learn How to Learn.

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” –Eric Hoffer

Despite what we thought growing up — learning doesn’t stop after school. No longer can we sit pretty using the skills we learned at 16 or 18 or 22. This is challenging the value of university. Spending 3–5 years and multi-thousands of dollars to earn a university degree is no longer the fast track to relevance and wellbeing it once was.

In his book The Inevitable, technologist Kevin Kelly says “learning how to learn” is the uber meta skill that sits above any other skill. His advice: instead of trying to predict the next big thing, become insanely good at learning how to learn whatever new technology or skill becomes interesting and important.

Luckily it’s never been an easier or cheaper time to learn.

  • CreativeLive helps you learn real life skills to build a business or freelance portfolio, and everything that entails.
  • Udemy is a platform for anyone to teach anything they know.
  • With Khan Academy you can basically learn anything else.
  • Coursera offers free courses from places like Stanford and Wharton — and even has a course called Learning How to Learn!

Learning, unlearning, relearning, and learning how to learn are perhaps the most important skills in adapting to a forever-changing world.

An inconvenient truth if that sounds like a chore. Great news if it sounds like fun.

“Most of what people learn in school or in college will probably be irrelevant by the time they are 40 or 50. If they want to continue to have a job, and to understand the world, and be relevant to what is happening, people will have to reinvent themselves again and again, and faster and faster.” — Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and Homo Deus

More thoughts.

I’m still compiling my thoughts, but here are others I’m exploring:

4. Solve Problems (think creatively, add value)
5. Be More Human (foster empathy, kindness, compassion)
6. Projects vs. Jobs (knowledge in practice — paid or not)
7. Show vs. Tell
8. Give First vs. Ask For
9. Hunt and Farm (scan for opportunities, plant new seeds)
10. Build Assets (assets > projects > jobs)
11. Diversify Your Everything
12. Build Mental Resilience

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What do you think?

What skills, traits, behaviors, or mindsets will we need to adopt today for an uncertain tomorrow? Share below 👇