What are the material markers of a successful life?

  • A steady job?
  • A high salary?
  • Owning a house?

What do you need to do to achieve these? Traditionally, the pathway to this golden future would be an academic success at school, leading to a place at a good university and then on to a high-flying job in a big company. But will that still be the case in the future? Is it even the case now?

The future World of Work

In his new book, ‘Beyond Nine to Five‘, Ade McCormack writes that the old industrial models of work are dying out and being replaced by models that are more collaborative, flexible, highly creative and entrepreneurial.

Over time, if your job can be done by a robot, it will be done by a robot

-Ade McCormack

We now live in a digital economy, and McCormack believes that this new economy only needs ‘leaders’ and ‘doers’. The hierarchical organisation of old, with the boss at the top, managers in the middle and lowly workers at the bottom has a soon-to-be-reached expiration date.

In the digital economy, people do not have to have just one career. Now more than ever, there are a variety of different career frameworks to choose from (permanent employment, freelancing, hybrid, entrepreneurial), and a person can move between these different modes throughout their life, and even run some of them in parallel.

The future world of work will be shaped by certain key drivers, writes McCormack: globalisation, an economic power shift to the East and South, technology advances, energy security and talent shortage. The nature of work is being reshaped and we must recognise that if we are to thrive.

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Be aware of your tone
How well is school preparing our children for the world of work? Photo Source: Unsplash

The Industrial Model of Education

Unfortunately, McCormack goes on to say that schooling has not yet caught up with this brave new world of work. According to him, our schools are simply continuing in the grand industrial-age tradition of converting free-thinking pre-schoolers into compliant cogs ready to slot into a system that no longer has a place for them. He isn’t alone in this harsh assessment.

The educationalist John Taylor Gatto said in his acceptance speech for the New York City Teacher of the Year Award back in 1990 that:

The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders.’

He didn’t blame teachers or a lack of money – Taylor Gatto felt it was simply that the school model made true education impossible.

McCormack believes that in order to equip young people with the skills to do well in the future world of work, our education system needs to encourage risk-taking, promote self-ownership of one’s life, develop artistry, provide students with the tools to help them find their true path and encourage students to defend their ideas whilst also being open to new information and experiences. There is no place for conformity and risk aversion in this new world.

What is Success?

But before we rush to tear down the old system and replace it with one we feel will help students achieve success in the future, we should ask ourselves some questions:

Are the old measures of success still valid? Are high salaries, steady jobs and home ownership achievable or even desirable?

Or could there be other measures of a successful life? If we replace the word ‘success’ with ‘wellbeing’, how might that change the discussion?

In ‘Top Five Regrets of the Dying‘, a news article that has received almost 180k shares on social media, it is telling that every one of the regrets people have relates to failures in relationships with themselves and with their friends and family.

Failure to make enough money, buy a house or climb to the top of the career ladder don’t get a look in.

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