I spoke with a lovely old lady today about how the world changed in the last few decades. She asked me what I think my grandchildren will do for a living. My grandchildren? I wonder sometimes what I will do for a living in another 10, 20, or 30 years, and the truth is, I haven’t the faintest idea. The job I will do then hasn’t likely been invented yet.

These days I teach people how to build their own websites. Up until a few years ago you couldn’t really build a website without coding, so almost everyone usually hired a developer instead of trying to create one themselves. But even coding websites now is very different than it was a decade or two ago. And 30 years ago websites didn’t exist at all…

This is impossible for our grandparents to understand. Especially in the Eastern block where everyone was hired by the government, most people only ever had a single job. One of my grandparents was a farmer, the other one was a railwayman, and that was it. They never had to worry if they’ll be able to stay competitive enough to keep the job, if their skills will still remain relevant, or if the industry they’re working in will still exist.

In Poland it changed after the collapse of communism, when unprofitable factories were shut down, government office jobs were reduced, and several other reforms followed. Many people, my parents included, had to completely reinvent themselves at the age of 40 or more. Luckily for my parents, they’re both the kind of people who enjoy learning new things, and even now in their sixties they don’t seem to slow down. But the transition from government-guaranteed jobs to free markets was devastating to many.

In the West the transformation was less severe, but similar in many ways. With many jobs being automated or outsourced offshore, no one can expect anymore to do the same thing they did just a few years ago. The factory your parents worked for all their lives has likely moved to China or Taiwan. Any skill you’ve learned at school might be irrelevant in a few years from now.

My peers and I belong to the first generation that grew up immersed in the change. We know we’ll need to keep learning forever, and are actually looking forward to it. If there’s one skill you need to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century, it’s learning, unlearning, and re-learning forever. It’s understanding where common knowledge comes from, and how to evaluate yourself if it’s still relevant. It’s asking great questions without ever getting attached to a single answer. Until the schooling system adapts to such open-ended model, it’s up to you to keep educating yourself.

2 thoughts on “The only skill you’ll ever need

  1. Have to give it to our generation – we assimilate all the time and very quickly. Reinvent the whole wheel. Every single day this is happening. Stagnation happens in our heads.

  2. I’ve long considered my ability to learn my greatest asset but I had never extended it out to these perspectives on humanity’s progress before – AWESOME!

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