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September 2011

I'm sorry

Sometimes I can be really insensitive.  In my quest to speak my mind and present what I consider the unfiltered truth, sometimes I don't respect others enough.  Sometimes I come across as a know-it-all blowhard, so convinced that my ideas are right that I don't even consider the feelings of others.  Too often I don't take seriously conflicting ideals and values.  I don't validate the fact that each of our lives are very different.  What I sometimes forget is that ideas aren't everything.  Feelings and relationships are sometimes more important.  Intangible things like kindness and understanding are usually more important and cherished than abstract ideas.

Who am I to ever come even close to condemning your values and your behaviors?  Am I infallible?  No.  Here I am, spending hours of my life putting out sensitive music intended to comfort you...to make you feel.  Anyone can see that I am seeking a sort of tenderness and connection with others (beyond that wonderful relationship which I already have with my wife and daughter).  Yet when I get going on some political or idealistic idea, I end up alienating you by telling you that you're an idiot because you do believe in God, you do pay attention to sports, or you enjoy going to the mall.  You could just as easily say that I'm an idiot for spending so much time during my productive years making music that will never be commercially successful.  You could laugh at me for putting out ideas that are so far outside the mainstream that I only succeed in eventually alienating everybody even if, inside my own bubble, I firmly believe that I am right.

If, for example, believing in God is your way of experiencing beauty, if watching football is your way of coping with things, and if you happen to be struggling with some of the things that I have managed to overcome...then the only appropriate thing for me to say is that I do understand where you are coming from.  Furthermore, I've been there.  In the future I will do better to come down off my pedestal and acknowledge this. 

This project has been a challenge for me.  I am a great believer in art and ideas.  I hold myself to a high standard and am willing to consider any idea, to put in a great amount of effort, even if it causes me a lot of pain in the short-term.  But that doesn't mean I should project this standard onto others.  Of course I will go on sharing ideas -- some easy to swallow and some that inevitably end up striking a painful nerve.  I will also continue to be sometimes wrong and sometimes right.  

We are all a journey and sometimes we have to stumble around in the dark for a bit to find the light.  I will keep looking for the light, but I will try to do so with a lot more humility and sensitivity.  I'm sorry if I haven't always lived up to that standard.

Mark Manney is the founder of “I am” by Infobeing (www.infobeing.com) (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

Making debt illegal (Podcast Episode)

In my first video podcast, I discuss the question recently posed to me about saving humanity from self-destruction.  Read this blog entry for a more detailed analysis.

View the podcast here or download the audio version on iTunes, Feedburner, or wherever you usually get podcasts.

Mark Manney is the founder of “I am” by Infobeing (www.infobeing.com) (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

Saving the world

I was asked to write a chapter for a new book on saving humanity from self-destruction.  Specifically, the book's author asked me to address the following topics:

1. What is wrong with the world today?

2. What can be done to prevent the self-destruction of humanity?

Sometimes the simplest questions can catch you off-guard.  I stepped away from my computer and felt myself getting a bit frustrated.  I've been talking a lot about the Silent Crash, the disruptive change happening in our lives, and what it all means to us as individuals...but I haven't said much about what can be done to prevent the large-scale self-destruction of humanity.  

I like that the question is phrased as "what can be done" because I want to believe that this isn't just one more naive, futile attempt to ask "what can we do".  There is an important distinction here, because we cannot truly do anything to prevent the self-destruction of humanity.  We are not in control.  We are not the ruling elite who have designed and who manage the functioning of the systems that are destroying the world.  Therefore, we are not going to be given the power to do anything on a large enough scale, as individuals, to change the world in any drastic way.  It doesn't matter how good our ideas are or how well-meaning we may be.

Yet the question is still staring at me.  I am just one tiny, insignificant part of the we.  Would it not be my moral duty to provide an answer if I have one?  Would it not be selfish and lazy if I were to decline to address such a topic because it is based on what appears to be an impossible premise?  How do I even begin to present my analysis, my solutions, if I have no power to influence the ruling elite anyway?  In doing so, would I not be banging my head against the wall in an empty room where nobody even notices?

After several days of thought, I realized that it is my duty to try to answer this question, yes, but also to do so in a realistic way.  So let's start with the first question:

1. What is wrong with the world today?

This is a simple, high-level question that deserves a high-level answer.  Humans are animals on planet Earth.  By any measure, any "right" way of living that will ensure our survival must be compatible with the laws of nature that govern planet Earth.  We know that planet Earth contains a biosphere in which life can exist.  Within this biosphere, the principles of evolution govern everything that life is and what life does.  Evolution describes all behaviors and changes within all of life's ecosystems and systems.  It is such a simple concept, really.  Whether we are talking about an ecosystem in the jungle, an economic system, an industry, our agricultural system, or anything else that life does...I believe it is all part of the same thing.  Evolution, as a concept, illuminates so much more than just the way that species change over time (the part that scientists tend to focus on).  

In nature, species often die out.  This happens when an ecosystem breaks down.  Perhaps a predator eats too much of its prey (causing the prey to first go extinct, and then next the predators well because there's nothing to eat).  Sometimes the entire ecosystem vanishes (species vanish when humans slash and burn the jungle, for example).  So the question about what can be done to prevent the self-destruction of humanity is a question about nature and of evolution.  Because it is a question of evolution, we must return to the idea of systems.  

Which systems (man-made or otherwise) risk threatening the survival of human beings on Earth?  How do our man-made systems undermine or destroy the natural eco-systems we depend upon for survival?  It is difficult to know where to begin, but here's a short list:

  • Our entire lifestyle is built on a system that depends upon a massive amount of power (some non-renewable fuels, some nuclear, all destructive and devastating).
  • Our economic systems are only concerned with economic growth...even if at the expense of the destruction of nature and life.
  • Our monetary system incentivizes us to do terrible things we would otherwise not do because we have been made slaves to money
  • Our religious institutions teach us that man has dominion over the Earth
  • Our way of mass-producing food damages the soil and uses up non-renewable resources unnecessarily (both threatening our ability to continue producing food at the current volume)
  • The world's militaries, together with corporations selling to them, have built weapons that could easily destroy humanity
  • The legal system puts property above all else and provides corporations with the mandate that their only concern is profitability.  The real-world result is oftentimes as catastrophic as an oil-spill that can destroy an entire ecosystem.
  • Bankers provide debt that fuels and accelerates all of the systems described above.  Hold-on to that thought for now because I will return to it.

These are only some of the fundamental problems with the world today.  These are the systems that threaten the ecosystem and threaten the survival of humanity.  These are the systems that justify and legitimize our tendency to do ridiculous, harmful, destructive things in such a rational, cool manner.

We could get into a conversation about who created these systems and why, but that's beyond the scope of this topic.  The more important question concerns those who have the actual power to actually change or improve these destructive systems.  The question that matters is this: what exactly do the ruling elite stand to lose or gain if these systems are changed?

Indeed, any discussion concerned with changing the world has to start by considering how to sell the idea to the ruling elite -- those few who have the power to truly change or improve the systems that govern our lives.  Nothing I, as an individual, can do or say will have any real impact.  The only chance I have would be doing something or saying something that might persuade the ruling elite to somehow behave differently.  We need to persuade them that their power, influence, and lifestyle would improve by implementing our idea.  Whatever change I'm suggesting cannot be a threat to them.  Therefore, I cannot demand through protest (they will easily ignore it), I cannot vote for change (the most destructive systems are governed outside of the charade we call democracy these days), and so even if I could write something so brilliant that it persuaded 1 billion people, the idea would have absolutely no impact if it did not pursued the ruling elite.

So we need an idea that 1) helps prevent destructive behavior in the real world, and 2) convinces the ruling elite that it will improve their lives as well.  

To be intellectually fair, I should also mention that there is only one other way to change the world: through violent revolution.  An angry and violent mob, if large enough and out-of-control enough, could smash everything and kill everyone responsible for the systems undermining our ability to survive as a species.  The problem with this, and the reason this doesn't seem to happen, is that taking part in such a movement would threaten our individual survival.  We might die in the battle.  Even if we did succeed, even if we did destroy all the destructive systems, we might be left standing in a chaotic world where we end up dying from starvation and lawlessness.

This brings up another interesting point: in nature, individual survival always trumps that of the species.  So, to convince anyone of anything, you have to convince them that their life will be better than it is today.  Nature has designed all of its creatures primarily to look after their own survival and self-interests.  Just as the ruling elite will not give up everything they hold dear, neither will any of us.  So, to put it into evolutionary terms, we are an over-populated species competing for an ever-shrinking supply of food.  We will continue to become faster, stronger, and better at catching our prey regardless of the long-term consequences our actions might have our species.  Indeed, we're just an over-populated species.  We get bigger and bigger, consume more and more, until one day we all might just consume everything that supports our ability to survive at all.  

But what caused us to get to this state and what can be done to prevent the self-destruction of humanity?  I already provided a very high-level answer (that we should pursued those in power to change).  But this is probably quite useless without a specific idea or example.  Now I'll get to that.  

The goal, unlike what some environmentalists would have us believe, isn't for man to have "zero-impact".  The Earth can certainly handle a lot of impact.  Just look at what we've done to it and how beautiful it still is!  We all have a right to exist, to eat, to burn some wood, and to make a mess now and then.  The natural environment can certainly absorb this, just as it has throughout the centuries.  So what exactly has accelerated our economic activity to the point that is completely destructive and out-of-control?  My answer is this: easy access to credit or, in a word, debt.

Debt allows us to conduct economic activity right away -- without having to first earn the right to do so by saving money.  How much of our economic activity in the past decades has been fueled by debt?  How many expenditures would not have occurred without debt?  Debt fuels shopping sprees, construction of houses, purchasing of cars, vacations, etc., etc.  Not everything we do is fueled by debt, some of us do spend the money we earn.  But a huge percentage of economic activity is made possible through easy access to credit.  How many plastic toys made in China would not have been sold if not for credit cards?  Go even further; how much of the destruction our government causes is funded by debt?

How would the world change if all governments would agree to make all debt illegal?  "Impossible!", you might say, "there's no way to get all the world's governments to agree on anything."  Really?  What about slavery?  Where exactly is slavery legal?  And how exactly is debt different from slavery?

Debt is, indeed, a form of slavery.  Under slavery, the slave-holder provides food and shelter and, in return, the slave is forced to work for free.  Similarly, in debt, the banker provides the loan for food and shelter and the debtor works to pay the banker's interest.  The difference between debt and slavery is only a matter of degree.  It is only a legalistic distinction.  

So the elimination of debt would slow our economic activity enough that, perhaps, we might get it back to the level that the Earth can support.  But, to my previous point, any idea to prevent the destruction of humanity is not practical or realistic unless it persuades the ruling elite that it is in their own best interest.  See, the beauty of this idea is that, right now, debt is the number one problem threatening the global economic status quo.  Consumer debt is undermining consumer spending, national debt is making it impossible for governments to provide basic services, and the issuance of bad loans are making it impossible for many banks to avoid bankruptcy.  For the past decade, and especially since 2007, the answer has always been to solve debt problems by adding more debt.  But this cycle cannot go on forever because new loans cannot be repaid.  Many economic foresters believe that what we will be left with is a painful, 10-year cycle of deleveraging.  At the end of this process, without fundamental change, so many lives will be destroyed and we'll still only be left with the same conditions that led to these problems to begin with.  To make debt illegal would solve the problem immediately and for good.

It should also be said that, regardless of whether or not debt is made illegal, the economic depression ahead will be good for the environment and good for the the long-term viability of human life on Earth.  Even if conditions were to worsen to the point that a very large percentage of humans died, this would also go a long way toward preventing the self-destruction of humanity as a whole.  Yet none of us want our species to be saved through catastrophe.  All of us, ruling elite or otherwise, want a life worth living...a life of happiness, comfort, and plenty.  Oh, and ideally, we would prefer not to destroy the world in the process if at all possible.

So here's my answer: world leaders should erase all debt overnight and make any future debt illegal.  If you have a mortgage on a home, the debt is gone and you get to keep the house.  Of course the value of your home will plummet because, going forward, homes will only be bought with cash that has actually been saved.  But that's fine, because at least you own it and don't owe anybody anything.  You can start spending your paycheck instead of giving it to the bank.  If you have a credit card, the debt is gone but you can no longer use it.  If you have a car-payment, you get to keep the car but owe nothing.  Your lifestyle improves short-term, which should give you enough time to understand the new economic paradigm and adjust to the new reality: if you want something, save money and then buy it.

What about those who do not own a home, who paid for their car with cash, and who don't have any debt?  Your benefit (aside from helping to save humanity) is that everything will get cheaper.  The cash you've saved will go further.  What would house prices be if houses could only be bought with  cash?  What about car prices?  If you've saved some money, you're in very good shape and will enjoy this new future.  You will no longer be competing with all those debtors for goods and services.

What about the bankers?  Why should they lose out on all the payments coming to them on loans they made?  This is probably the most important question.  I'm not sure I can answer this.  Perhaps many of them may not mind so much either because the debts they own to other institutions have become a huge threat to their survival.  Didn't we just bail them out?  So I'm assuming they had some debts that they couldn't pay?  Banks do have a lot of cash.  They'd get to keep it.  Moving forward, they could continue to provide financial services like deposit accounts, debit cards, etc...but no loans.

The elite bankers are, however, the ruling elite.  Their world is confusing, murky, and invisible to us.  I don't know for sure how the banking elite would feel about this idea.  Probably not great, since it ruins their whole business model.  But if this economic crisis gets bad enough, might they consider supporting the idea that debt is illegal?  Perhaps some of them would.  I don't know.  The bankers are the slave-holders in this scenario.  Slave-holders typically don't like freeing slaves.  But the times are changing and somebody may be forced to change.  Are there enough other ruling elite we could reach with this idea, or are the people in charge all bankers?

Those in government would breath a huge sigh of relief on the day debt was made illegal and wiped-0ut.  National debts would be gone.  Everybody defaults at once.  China is screwed, but what are they going to do if the whole world has made this decision?  From that moment on, all government services would  have to be paid for with money actually collected through taxes.  The decision about whether or not to raise or lower taxes would be based on something tangible -- based in reality.  Also, future tax-payers would no longer be forced to pay for the spending of previous generations.  We could start building again (hopefully the right kinds of systems this time) and never get into this mess again.

So much of the systematic destruction of our world today is funded by debt.  Bankers issue as many loans as they can in order to control our behavior and extract natural resources from countries (if you can't pay us we'll simply demand that you sell your iron, gold, or oil so that you can).  All of this debt has led to wide-spread, systematic behavior that is starting to threaten the survival of the human species.  Debt certainly isn't the only problem.  It maybe isn't even the core of the problem.  But making debt illegal would probably solve the problem in a simple, elegant way that produces minimum pain.  

Today, we work in jobs selling plastic devices made in sweatshops in order to pay for the mortgage on a house that costs 10x more than it would if not for the widespread practice of using mortgages to buy homes.  We buy cars on credit to transport ourselves to that job and pay for gas and lunch on credit cards.  This very example shows widespread, unnecessary destruction at each step and yet, in the end, most people taking part in this lifestyle never even seem to get ahead.  They stay locked in this cycle.  For what?  These days, even the ruling elite don't know what to do to avoid the impending crash and 10-year deleveraging cycle.  I know this sounds radical.  But this could be a real answer.

What would making debt illegal do for jobs?  Obviously decreased economic activity might lead to a decrease in jobs.  But, since government debt would be wiped-out, there's be a lot more tax money left to spend on social programs to help the poor.  If we are going to survive as a species, then full-employment and never-ending economic growth cannot be our measure of success.  We have to get real.  What about a Hybrid Economy that provides the economic freedom of Capitalism (without the debt and without all the destruction) and the social safety net of Socialism (without all the restrictions on freedom and red-tape)?  More on this in future posts.

With the enactment of one simple idea -- making all debt illegal -- we can enter a new, post-debt era and begin building a future in which we are happier, healthier, and more free.  Most importantly, this new future would cause far less destruction to planet Earth.  We can begin living within our means, both as individuals and as a species, and can do so without being asked to make any impossible sacrifices.  The bankers, who have been driving off a cliff, are starting to lose all control.  It is time for the competing elites to consider a new idea.  I wonder how we can reach any of them.

Mark Manney is the founder of “I am” by Infobeing (www.infobeing.com) (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

The silent crash

Once upon a time, there was the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, the Velvet Revolution, and many other events so important and disruptive that they each were given their own, unique names in history.  Now there is what I will call the Silent Crash.  

This crash is silent because the collective will not hear it, will not discuss it, and will not experience it as a group.  We, as a collective, will not know and will not remember on which day it actually occured.  Instead, each of us as individuals will go through our own slow processes until we realize it has already happened.

Just as currency, commodity, real estate, asset, and population bubbles begin to burst...our great fictional bubbles of belief systems and mental models are also bursting...one by one...until we are eventually left with only the truth of our real lives, our inner voices, and the beautiful reality that actually does surround each of us.

Politicians go through the spectacle of elections, yet democracy does not exist.  Corporations run the government to their advantage, yet we defend them with irrelevant free-market ideas from years ago.  Soldiers, full of the best intentions, dedicate their lives to their country...while Corporations, working through the government they control, use them only to loot and plunder the world.   Just as Priests have done for centuries, our "leaders" are desperately trying to prop-up a fictional belief system.  

Some people see through the fiction, but nobody really hears the sound of a crash.   

Meanwhile, we go on eating what they feed us, while this Corporate food is making us sick and miserable.  We go to Corporate doctor to get better, while the cost of health care only makes us even sicker with worry and makes us slaves to jobs that are slowly killing us.  We give the best years of our lives to a company, yet are discarded one unsuspecting Friday morning because we are no longer useful.  We watch this happen to our friends, relatives, and to ourselves.

Still nobody really hears the sound of a crash.  

Comodity prices plunge, but few know or care.  Currencies are destroyed, but only the upper-middle-class cares.  Real estate prices collapse, yet we only blame ourselves and try to cope.  Oil begins to run out, so we complain more loudly about gas prices.  Bankers rob us by looting the treasury, but nobody really understands it or does anything about it.  Billionairres silently sneak out, through the back door, to their safe islands while letting the world we know crumble.  The puppet-masters are too untouchable to pay much attention to.  

Nobody can hear the sound of a crash.  Why?

We can barely hear even the most obvious truths over the sound of all that content, all those iPhone apps, MP3 players, TV Shows, advertisements, Corporate-controlled news and debate, video games, and new promises brought to us each day from the world of Retail and Entertainment.  These industries clammor so loudly for our attention -- so desperately begging and pleading with us to listen -- that the occassional voices of truth just can't seem to find a place to be heard.  We are living in an era that is as fake as the MTV Music Video Awards.  Let's just all shout really fucking loud, bleep out all the cursing, dance like nobody has ever danced before, and laugh whether anything is funny or not.  

This party is getting boring, so let's just turn up the volume so nobody can hear the crash outside.

This is the Silent Crash.  It is the systematic destruction of anything systemic that we used to believe in.  We are each alone in this.  We are each forced to confront our own delusions on our own terms.  Our survival and happiness actually depends upon our ability to see and hear the world around us as it actually is.  

There is a simple truth in all of this: we cannot and must not trust or believe in the man-made institutions and systems that govern our lives.  If given our trust and faith, these systems only exploit us.  Even the ones that benefit us are the same ones that are collapsing or being threatened with austerity measures! 

So what do we do?  We can't avoid interacting with the world around us.  So we must understand that to take part in today's institutions is only to play a game.  We can learn to play the game reasonably well, for our own personal reasons, and with a specific and meaningful goal or purpose.  But let's not forget that it is all a game.  Play the game well and you win some comfort, piece of mind, nutritous food, time to enjoy your life, and so much more.  But none of this flows from faith in the system.  Those with blind faith in the illusion will crash under the weight of their own bad choices...they will go down with the ship!

What exactly can we believe in if the systems, rules, imagery, and institutions around us are either unsustainable or are built on lies?  Actually, there is so much that is real that we can believe in!  We can believe in ourselves.  We can believe in love...real love, not the convenient "how big is your wedding ring" and "how well does your spouse behave" kind of love brought to us by the media.  We can believe in the pursuit of truth...truth at any cost!  We can believe in kindness, empathy, and compassion.  We can believe in doing what's right just because it is right.  We can believe in pleasure...the kind of pleasure found on a beach, or in the backyard listening to the wind blow through the trees, or whatever excites us!  We can believe in freedom!  We can believe that our own inner-voices are, indeed, the voices of truth!  Let the crash be silent so we can hear these voices.

What exactly is there to be afraid of when so much that is corrupt, destructive, and harmful is silently crashing?  When we find the courage to jump ship and live on our own terms...when we live our dreams...when we do this all while playing the games required for our survival...then the future is bright.  

The Silent Crash is our opportunity to clarify our minds and listen to our hearts.      

Mark Manney is the founder of “I am” by Infobeing (www.infobeing.com) (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

Positioning yourself for a dynamic future

As I said on the most recent Abscondo Podcast, the world is in the early stages of a large-scale, dramatic, disruptive period of change.  I also promised to get specific about what this means in our lives.  Let's start with the question of work and income because this aspect of adult life so often (and so unfortunately) tends to dominate others.

Telling you about my experiences will give my points more credibility.  I spent a number of years on the professional straight-and-narrow.  I spent 6 years going through University and ultimately earning my MBA.  During the last 4 of those years, I also worked full-time in sales for small technology companies.  As you can imagine, this made for very long days (8:00 am until 10:00 pm most weekdays).  When I graduated, I went on to work for a few hot software companies in Seattle.  This phase lasted about 6 years.  What I remember of my professional life during those years are a lot of tired mornings, very long days in a gray cube staring at my computer in silence, not enough to do to fill my entire workday, and still leaving the office at the end of the day with a sense of guilt because I wasn't the last out.  Conforming sucks.  I also remember (and miss) some of the people I met, some of the good times we had at lunch, and some of the discussions we had in the office.  But the negative aspects far-outweighed the positive.  I wanted to live, to feel, to smell and taste the world around me.  I wanted to be free.

By 2005, I had had enough.  I was living for the weekends.  Living for my once-a-year vacation.  The person I was in my head was not the person I was in reality.  Unfortunately, when you spend 9 hours of each day in the workplace, you have little time or energy left to truly become everything that you can be.  My decision to enter a more "dynamic future" was not so much a reaction to the world changing around me (although leaving Bush's America certainly was not hard to do).  It was a reaction to me not wanting to waste my life in an attempt to be financially secure.  And what security was I being offered?  In just 5 years, I had been through two acquisitions and many layoffs (one in which I lost a job).  So the realization that my "secure future" was just an illusion -- this definitely played a role in my willingness to risk it all.

Many people today want to make a similar move either by choice or because they have no other choice.  Jobs are even harder to come by than they were then, the pay is certainly no better, and conditions have only deteriorated since the year 2000.  My prediction is that, over the next few years, the entire notion of the "employment model" will drastically shift.  Of course companies will still need talent and they will still be willing to pay what that talent is worth.  But why should any company hire you, take care of you, pay for your health care (in the US), provide a place for you to work, provide equipment, train you, pay for your vacation, and keep you on staff indefinitely even if you aren't producing any measurable results? 

During good times, companies need more people and they'll hire anyone who's qualified.  It is enough to do what you're told, to fit-in, and to lie low...to essentially position yourself as a commodity.  But during difficult times (declining economic times), the first people to be let go and the last people to be hired are the people who have positioned themselves as commodities. 

So the first survival tip is this: position yourself as unique.  I'm not telling you to "just be yourself."  Absolutely not.  Not in the workplace.  You need to develop a professional persona that demonstrates your unique value.  More specifically, the only way to position yourself as the last person to be let go is to be the one that clearly makes the company money.  Start asking yourself, with each decision you make each day, "How does this make the company money?"  If you are being asked to do something that doesn't have any measurable value, then don't do it.  Stand out by suggesting something else you could do, instead, that does.  If you simply follow, you will be led astray by incompetent leaders.  Stand up proudly and clearly state your opinion when you're right, even if that makes you a target.  With this strategy, the real decision-makers will notice.  They will keep you around even as your boss is let go.  But be sure you're right.  Always be right.  Don't assume that upper-management is stupid, they probably just have reasons you don't know about or understand.  Only take stands you are 100% sure about and don't do it all the time.

My biggest fear back in 2005, when I decided to move to Eastern Europe while trying to hold on to the same job I had in Seattle, was that I could no longer pretend to be "normal."  I no longer fit in at all.  I no longer had the luxury to do so even if I had wanted to.  Now after 6 years of working on multiple teams for 2 different companies, I can tell you that the best thing you can do at work is to position yourself as a freak (a freak that is focused on making the company money). 

By doing something as ridiculous as telling my VP that I wanted to do the job from Europe...that I was not asking, I was telling, and if it doesn't work out then I'll resign...that very act changed his level of respect for me.  This, combined with my past performance, led to the opportunity to make my dream a reality.  I became a contractor, making the same income as in Seattle, but living in Eastern Europe (or Cannes, or Paris, or London, or from wherever I happened to be at the moment and for however long I wanted to be there).  All I needed was broadband and my VoIP phone and I was (sort of) free.

It took a long time to become comfortable in my professional freakishness, but I eventually learned to wear it on my sleeve.  Yet, for many years, I worried that I'd lose that job.  Then what would I do?  Who would hire me over here?  I feared that I'd have to leave the life that I had built abroad.  Then it happened.  It was announced that my company would be acquired by the second largest software company in the world.  I was offered a position (with less pay), but turned it down because I got the impression that my individuality (freakishness) would not be accepted.  This approach I'm describing works far better when working with smaller companies who are looking for more value out of fewer employees.  So I declined the job and, to my pleasant surprise, secured a different contract (with a Canadian company) within 2 weeks!  This job is even better than the one I left.

I should mention that I work between 10 - 15 hours per week for full-time pay (have been for many years now).  I have time for writing, recording music, having a band, traveling, family, and relaxation.  I work from home on my own terms.  When I am asked to go to the office, I get to take a trip and spend time in nice hotels eating great food. 

I believe this is exactly the sort of thing that is possible in this new era.  What exactly are we supposed to be afraid of?

Of course this is only one person's story.  It certainly doesn't apply to everyone.  Of course you need some valuable skills that are useful to somebody (you need to make somebody else money or at least offer the promise that you will).  Sales is a good profession for these times because companies will never stop trying to sell and will never stop investing in anyone or anything that will help them sell.  Jobs relating to digital content and services will also be hot during these times (innovation in these areas will continue no matter how bad things get).  These are just a few examples.

Another (even better) option is to not "work for" a company at all.  Start your own company selling something on-line to consumers or businesses.  I'd highly recommend reading Tim Ferriss' 4-Hour Workweek for specific ideas and advice here.  I've not done this yet but will be going in that direction soon. 

There is likely an enormous distance between where you are today and where you will need to be in order to position yourself for a successful, dynamic future in disruptive times.  Start by increasing your skills, saving money (if you have a source of income today), and start taking every action and decision seriously (are you actually being productive or just busy?).  Start positioning yourself as uniquely valuable, even if others on your team judge you harshly for it.  Develop a professional persona that will enable your success.  Stop talking about your personal life, your hobbies, and your ideals at work.  When times get hard, when money gets tight, they will not keep paying for your lifestyle because they like you.  More likely, "being yourself" at work will make you less impressive, less mysterious, and less valuable.   Get a personal life for this.  Establish an online persona to express this side of you.  Use your professional persona at work.

Your professional life is a game.  In fast-changing, disruptive times, the stakes are going to get higher and higher.  Time to start playing the game to your advantage.  Take company money to design the life that you want.  Let others complain that it isn't fair.  Of course it isn't fair.  What about this fucked-up world is fair?  Have you seen the living conditions in most of Africa, Russia, China, India, etc., etc.?  You've heard that we are destroying the world in everything we do?  It's true, and having a more passive attitude at work isn't going to change the way the world is.  Don't allow yourself the luxury of such a silly false dilemma.

But you can find meaning, you can change the world in your own way, and you can even help others even as you do take care of your own sources of income.  How are are you supposed to do this if you are struggling and someone else is always being forced to help you?  I'm certainly not advocating that you do anything professionally that is squarely against your values, but let me ask you this: what job in the world is consistent with any values worth having?  Teaching?  Perhaps, but then again your students are only going to take what you've taught them and put it to use in jobs that do the world no good.  In reality, when you think about it, the only reason anybody will give you any money is because doing so will make them more money than they give you. 

See my point?  Time to change the game.

 

Mark Manney is the founder of “I am” by Infobeing (www.infobeing.com) (mark.manney@infobeing.com).