As the Nature of Work Changes, So Must We

The daily dose of vulgarity continues to distract us all from very real solutions to our very real problems. We stand at one of those fundamental turning points in history. How people live and work are changing rapidly. This process is creating quite a few casualties, but the biggest may be the casualty of thought.

Twenty-two million American workers characterize themselves as "underemployed." Of course people are afraid. Of course we have social unrest. However, political leaders on both sides of the fence have failed America by not having the courage to tell us we need to do to fix this.

I will repeat: We need to fix the world.

No politician or political party has the power to do that. They can help, but only we, as individuals, have the power to change the game. For example, each one of us sees a problem to solve that no one else sees. No one can tell us how to solve our unique problems. When we buy our political leaders' promises to rescue us, we will not take action for ourselves. We further infantilize many people who are barely getting by. We need leaders telling us it is time to learn how to change, to reinvent ourselves, to become active learners, and to become part of the solution.

Waiting for coal jobs? Pining for J.C. Penney to come back? We are wasting precious time. As the rate of change accelerates, we're being left in the dust.

I am alarmed that at the very moment all of us could be engaging in the right actions, so many of us simply stare aghast at our screens. Every single one of us has something we can do to change the world for the better.

Underneath the tumult of change, technology isn't taking our jobs. It is taking tasks. As we remove these tasks, new freedoms emerge. Unfortunately, the human animal, after years of being tethered to work stations and cubicles, responds to freedom with terror.

So many underemployed workers are focused on the benefits of the past being taken away. Make no mistake, underemployment is the scourge of our current culture. However, poverty of thought is our greatest enemy standing in the way of positive change.

Someone who works in a program filled with people struggling to get back to work called me this week.

"These people cannot afford your programs," she said. "What do you suggest they do instead?"

I suggested they buy and read one top-selling book related to work, careers, change, and education each month.

She countered, "They can't afford that."

There could be no sugarcoating. I responded, "Then you are perpetuating the problem."

If someone has $50, they should spend $10 on education. If you have a computer, the information you need to make a change is at your fingertips. If we fixate on lack instead of opportunity, we will not invest in ourselves or grow out of the problem. The solution, at its core, is learning how to change oneself.

The revolution that is upon us offers active learners an opportunity to work, play, and contribute in ways we could never have anticipated. However, we will not find our places if we keep looking back to see what is lost. The Industrial Revolution handed virtually every obsolete worker a pink slip, but work didn't go away. It moved and changed. That is happening again.

Now is the time for us to change. We are the solution. It is time to stop seeking refuge in our cynicism and contempt. What I love most about our country is its talent. No other country on earth attracts more brilliance. We give people the opportunity to shine. Time and time again, the talent embedded in America has triumphed over crisis and darkness. We need that talent now more than ever.

Perhaps it is time for all of us to give this country a good swift kick out of its adolescence. We have so much to accomplish. Taking our angst out on each other is a waste of time.

The answer is in front of you, because you are the answer.

David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.