Sep 21




Reflections on the Future of Work

This is Part 1 of the Mindful Earning series of articles.

On the surface, the labor market appears to be undergoing a crisis that is especially hard on young adults at the beginning of their careers. But if we examine the drivers of what is really happening, we start seeing with fresh eyes and discover a goldmine of opportunity to design our work and our lives that gives us the freedom to flourish and find fulfilling work.

How meaningful do we find our jobs?

I was not surprised to read In a recent study of 180 million employees in Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, that 87% of workers are "not engaged” or “actively disengaged" in their jobs. That is a whopping 7 in 8 people waking up everyday, to spend majority of their lives doing something they do not find meaningful. As a society, we have been schooled into a scarcity mindset and a pessimistic approach to work - with the assumption that we do it only because we have to. But what does that do to our well-being and quality of life?

So many people are trapped in jobs with no meaning, but if we get to know the surprising science of motivation (clue: we are not money-driven by nature), we understand that there are more important elements that contribute to our motivation and well-being like:​
  • Autonomy - the desire to direct the direction of our own lives
  • Mastery - the desire to improve at tasks that we care about
  • Purpose - the desire to be in service to something larger than ourselves
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While the rise of “mindfulness” and “give-back” programs in corporate organizations are a great start, the real work is in actually showing up at our work from a place of service, and designing our work environments that make us a better person through our work.

What guides you in your choice of work?

How long will our jobs exist?

There is a video I really like by CGP Grey called “Humans Need Not Apply”, that went viral for painting an alarming future where people will be unemployed by no fault of their own. As we are getting to a point where computers would teach themselves how to learn, it is a matter of exponential time that machines will be able to replace not only our physical labor like stacking boxes, but also our mental routine work like writing, analysis and decision-making, that are prized even in our professionals. Living in Silicon Valley, it is already a reality to find yourself beside a self-driving car, or getting better cancer treatment outcomes recommended by data rather than a doctor.

This naturally creates a fear, seeing that your job may first be off-shored, and then automated. However, if we take a closer look, we realize this is but a shift in the nature of skills that will be valued in the future. When mental and physical routines can be automated, it allows for jobs to be reconfigured towards a deeper level of customer-centric care and focus, away from just the application of specialized knowledge. If you looked at this list of whether your job will be done by a machine, we realize that jobs that cannot be replaced are those that require humanizing qualities of empathy and originality, and emerging jobs will call for greater creative and social intelligence, exactly the kind of traits young people are great at, and that make us as human beings come alive.

Therein lies that we all have our job, and then we have our work. Our job may be to stack bricks (who likes stacking bricks?), but the real work is in building our church, and no one can take away our work.

What is your job? And what is your work?

What is your individual career lattice?

Global youth unemployment is rising, a discouraging fact in itself. This is forcing youth to look harder at what they really want to do, instead of following a standardized path. Those who have successfully navigated these waters see a new approach to the job market. With unbounded energy, idealism and a search for meaning, more young people are creating their own opportunities through service, entrepreneurship, or the gig economy, re-thinking the secure job as a merely a backup option.

Our careers are becoming non-linear and are moving from a ladder to a lattice structure. This also means that success is no longer defined by seniority, but by doing what personally matters to each individual in terms of meaning and mastery. And when we change how we work, we change how we live, and new ideas like the "quarter-life crisis", taking mini-retirements, and living a new life every 7 years are becoming increasingly popular, painting a new picture of what work actually is and what we understand by work.

Why do you work? What is work anyway?

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The Secret to finding fulfilling work

This is Part 2 of the Mindful Earning series of articles.

What is work anyway?

Our beliefs about work are so embedded in our culture that we often forget to pause and examine our understanding of work. How we view our work gives us our story of why we work, what good do we work for, and when we should work, and gives us the very reason to work in a way that is meaningful.

The old story of work has always been bleak. It was the understanding of some religions that viewed work as a punishment for sin. In classical times, greek thinkers started to view work as the lack of leisure, popularized by Aristotle’s “we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends”. This history has taken to our modern day context by Adam Smith, the father of industrial capitalism, who supposed that people were lazy by nature and would work only for money when he wrote in The Wealth of Nations that “It is in the interest of every man to live as much at ease as he can”. And then our economy and company was designed on that assumption.

How do we “earn” money?

We realize that “having no choice but to work hard for money” may now be a view that is rooted in outdated models of human nature, and in the story of scarcity. This is starting to be challenged with the new science of motivation in a world that is so interconnected, so resource- imbalanced, and yet generating so much waste - not only in material and food waste, but also the tragic waste of human potential.

What we might actually be seeing is a crack into an opening of a systemic shift in the way our society thinks about value creation and allocation. Because at the heart of earning money, is being in an exchange with someone for our ability to create value for them. Some of us may be financially rewarded, and others might be rewarded in so many other ways (link to 8 forms).

Today, even our language has evolved to reflect the sacrifice of this exchange. When we think of “compensation”, are we compensated for our sacrifice, or for the value we create? If we choose to return to the original spirit of earning money as a way of giving expression to how we choose to create value, we suddenly see a way to integrate our work and our life, and expand the opportunities we create for ourselves.

Where are the opportunities?

Schools have it backwards when they try to prepare our children based on an attempt to forecast the skills and jobs that would be most in-demand. The context is always changing, and will be changing at an exponential pace going forward. How then can we cultivate our ability to be resilient, stay relevant, and learn the art of seeking opportunities to create value no matter the context and environment?

There is actually one surprisingly simple answer - and that is the practice of compassion. Compassion is a deep empathy for another’s suffering that comes from understanding and caring, along with a strong desire and responsibility to ease their distress. When we become conscious of the responsibility towards another human being who is affectionately waiting for you, we find the “why” for our existence, we realize our creativity and unique gifts in easing their burning pain, and we find the resilience in us to go through any struggle.
There is an excellent lecture by Tong Yee at the School of Thought, that deconstructs the common advice of what “following your passion” really entails, in light of the economic context that young people are in Singapore:

From the root word, to be in passion is to suffer, and compassion is to suffer with. Could our new story of work be one of service and co-creation? By committing to a story of how things can be, by mastering the way we passionately choose to suffer, and by cultivating our compassion towards others, we can begin to find opportunities to find meaning our work has to offer.

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