The Accelerating Change Survival Guide

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Just when you’ve gotten used to the idea that change is here to stay, along comes the news that change isn’t just constant, it’s accelerating. How can we cope?

Authors, futurists, and pundits including Buckminster Fuller, Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil have all made the case that both our technology and our culture are not only changing, but the rate of change is speeding up. Most of us enjoy this trend when it comes to the latest generation of smartphones or game consoles. But what about our careers and lifestyles? Given how long it takes to get fully competent at a profession, what happens when that competence begins to become obsolete sooner and sooner?

Some Things Never Change…

Sometimes it seems like everything is changing all the time. Any competent CBT practitioner will remind you that sentences including “always” and “everything” tend to be not only inaccurate, but also unnecessarily dispiriting. The truth is that even as we lose track of the current iPhone version (I think it’s five, right?), there are many parts of our lives that are not under constant change, in which we can invest, and whose dividends can be relied on from generation to generation. I’d like to propose a very incomplete list of exactly such resources.

The more therapy I do, the less I value independence. I mean, in the sense that it’s not a good idea to begin any serious undertaking without ample support. No matter the times, having people who know you, who like you, and who are willing to lend a helping hand are invaluable. By maintaining and expanding your circle of visibility and influence, you’ll not only insulate yourself from shocks to the system, but also acquire a wider view of what’s going on around you.

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Traditionally, this support network included family, a religious community, and perhaps friends. In recent times, social networking is beginning to get serious, as platforms such as Twitter, usually seen as frivolous distractions, are becoming deadly-serious tools for business communications, political activism, and even artistic expression. Meanwhile, more serious venues, notably LinkedIn, serve as full-time business connection-makers. Interest-specific online hangouts also allow like-minded individual to connect without the usual impediments of distance. While networking or connection may be perennial, the means by which we connect continue to evolve and offer the opportunity for genuine, meaningful interaction.

At any moment, lots of wonderful things are happening, and at the very same moment, lots of horrible things are also going on. The optimists among us tend to see mostly the former while pessimists see mostly the latter. Research shows that while pessimists are better at predicting outcomes, optimists outperform them, despite their inaccurate perceptions. When change seems to press in, optimists not only feel better about the wild ride, but are more alert to opportunities. While the hazard detection afforded to pessimists also has its uses, optimists are more pleasant to be around and thus they are more able to maintain and capitalize on the important social connections I mentioned earlier.

Given the outrageous behavior in the banking and real estate sectors over the past few years, it’s easy to begin to question the value of integrity. Aside from the expected moralistic and you’ll-sleep-better-at night arguments, if I could make only one claim for the value of transparency over guile, it is that trickery allows one to fleece a victim once, but honesty continues to reward both parties the longer it lasts.

In new and uncertain situations, a natural inclination is to hold back and watch from the sidelines. But every change holds the potential for a new gold rush, and the hesitant are far more prone to miss out on the opportunities that appear on the horizon. If change in the world is inevitable, then we’ll have to change ourselves as well, and there’s little point in putting it off. Initiative is the willingness to take action in the face of risk and uncertainty, which has always been of use, and will become more so as the rate of change increases.

…and Some Things Do

So far, you could be forgiven for thinking I myself have changed up on you. I started by talking about constant and relentless change, then switched to traits and skills that are always of value. So let me address the areas of greatest churn in our careers, and what to do about them.

Looking at job requirements is a great way to get discouraged. Job ads are often festooned with lists of required skills or kinds of experience. Add to this the insistence that a person has a certain number of years in a given area. This kind of talk is bad enough by itself, but considering that the kinds of experience that are valued change faster and faster, what can we do?

The first thing to realize when a giant job requirement smacks you in the face is that employers give out that laundry list without any real hope that they’ll find a person with everything they say is “required,” so always read that word in scare quotes when you see it, and don’t hesitate to apply if you are at all qualified. Second, because technologies turn over at an ever-increasing rate, you’ll get more opportunities to get in on the ‘ground floor’ with one or a few of them. I once read of a programmer who had authored a particular software going in for an interview. The interviewer, not knowing his background, asked the programmer how many years of experience he had in the system he had created. “All of them,” he answered.

The final area of change that dogs most of us is the economic cycle. Unlike other trends, the repeated boom and bust cycle of the economy shows little sign of speeding up, in fact the recession that started in 2008 seems to drag along and only recently has shown any signs of relenting. Economic cycles cause us grief for two reasons. The first is that, despite perfectly good evidence to the contrary, when times are prosperous we tend to get giddy and act as if the good times will never end. And when they do, many of us are caught unprepared. Conversely, in the depths of a recession, we’re so far down emotionally, we have trouble summoning any optimism that a new boom may be around the corner.

In addition to realizing that good times and bad times all come with expiration dates, handling our finances separately from our emotions can keep us out of trouble. In boom times, it’s hard to save when opportunities to grow our money seem all around, and yet keeping some cash close at hand protects us from the worst of the inevitable slowdown or crash. Meanwhile, when the economy is ice-cold, the impulse is to hold on to every penny until conditions improve. And yet, this is exactly the moment when assets are going for fire-sale prices. Being able to save in a boom in order to be able to buy through a bust requires not only emotional fortitude and wisdom, but also a long-term view that can see us through the ups and downs that plague not only the stock market, but our personal lives as well.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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