“The only people who really look forward to a change are babies.”
Change is a topic most of us even hate to talk about let alone deal with, and yet we are being bombarded with it every day in some way, shape or form. Seems like it’s occurring all around us as we are called upon to deal with it whether we want to or not. We can’t ignore it, especially those changes we have no control over. Do I need to give examples here? Okay, the one we hear most about, at least here in Canada, is climate change. Second to that one would be our aging population and what this means for all us Canadians, and the third might be the changes which are constantly occurring in the technology field. These are the big ones to my mind which then can be broken down into a myriad of smaller components such as, how our political system must change… possibly our concept of democracy… our social systems, our approach to immigration … the list can go forever. I sense that almost everything needs to be changed. We are becoming aware that we must replace all our old ways of thinking and acting for something new. The big question is how do we go about making the changes we know we must?
I should give credit for the quote about ‘babies’ to a workshop leader I met in the mid ’90’s. He got me thinking about change and how it can affect us in our lives for better or worse. At the time, I was working for a non-profit agency. Ontario’s economy had been dealt a huge blow putting them into a recession which was brought on by the change of an industrial based economy to the ‘age of technology’ or computers. Jobs which people had worked at for years were being wiped out….never to come back. The thousands who witnessed their jobs disappearing faced the choice of either learning how to use these machines or end up serving coffee at Tim Horton’s for the rest of their work days.
At first, I was excited to be a part of Ontario’s launch to help these displaced workers to either get another job or some training for the new age besetting them. Here was an opportunity for me to help these unfortunate people with my teaching and counselling skills. This would be the perfect job for me, for hadn’t I recently been through the same ordeal after losing a lucrative position as a sales rep? Set adrift with no immediate prospects or outplacement help from my company, I happened upon Richard Boyle’s “What Colour is Your Parachute?” This book became my Bible in helping me make my career switch from sales into counselling. If I could do this on my own, then couldn’t these displaced workers do the same with a little help from me?
How naive of me to think I could save all those poor souls who were experiencing just what I had gone through. My agency was responsible for getting older, experienced workers either job ready or trained in something that could get them back into the workforce…quickly! It didn’t take me long to realize that it was an impossible task to do this in just three weeks.
Upon reflection, I can honestly say my five years working with the unemployed offered me challenges I had never faced before. On the other hand, they handed me an incredible learning experience. You may think it strange that I say this, but didn’t some great sage…was it Plato or Socrates… reveal that we inevitably end up teaching what we need to learn the most? My greatest awakening was accepting that not all people will handle change in the same manner or time frame. In other words, the idea of a three week program was doomed to failure. Only a few breezed through the program with any kind of flying colours. Those who did manage to finish it either found a job or went on for some short-term training in computers. We also turned out many truck and fork lift drivers. Sadly, there were some who couldn’t overcome their job loss before their EI (employment insurance) ran out so ended up on welfare. Of those who did find employment, none got anywhere near the salary they earned at their old jobs. Most ended up working on contract or an hourly basis with little in the way of benefits or pensions. My guess is that some never worked again due to depression resulting from their loss. One of my clients even tried to take his life and ended up in the Clarke Institute, a mental hospital in Toronto.
Everyone handles change in a different way depending on their past experiences, their outlook on life’s challenges, and their emotional development. Change is mostly good as far as I am concerned, and I hope that some of my clients did get that message. Having the experience of working with them, I concluded that the more change we have in our lives, the better we get at handling it. Again I was judging from my own experience. I had to deal with many changes in my growing up years at home…moving around and living with various relatives because my parents weren’t up to the task. This could have had negative results, but instead I unknowingly developed some resilience. Although this helped me through my job loss, it took a toll on my confidence which I had to work hard at rebuilding. My work with older workers helped as did further internal work over the years. Again, I prejudged my clients by thinking that if I could do it why couldn’t they? There was a difference. Many of them had grown up in stable homes, worked their entire work life at the same job, and were the sole breadwinners. They had the toughest time dealing with their job loss for they had not only lost the only work they had ever known, they had lost their self-worth. Our programs didn’t give enough credence to their emotional states. To rebuild a man’s self-worth by probing into his past calls for an inward approach that most of these men were afraid to address. Our life skills classes only touched the surface of such a necessary journey and fell short of helping them to come back out on top to eagerly pursue new possibilities for the challenges ahead.
In the ’90’s we had the older workers who had their jobs disappear with the advent of new technology. Today we have the young workers trying to find jobs in our new economy who are discovering they are woefully lacking in the skills needed for today’s work world. Alvin Tofler, author of “Power Shift”, warned us that this would happen. Whenever, I told my clients that the future would require workers who would need more than a high school education, be willing to learn new skills all through their work life, and count on having several careers, I would be met with disbelief and laughter. They looked at me as some kind of Pollyanna who was not to be taken seriously. Thirty years have passed, and we are still figuring out how to deal with the fast pace of our technology. We haven’t planned for the future and are now scrambling to get people trained to do the jobs which are now here and will be coming. Just think about the jobs which will be required to deal with climate change!
But now back to the present. Every day the media is talking about the changes we must make in practically every facet of our life. Sometimes it seems we must change just about everything, and we must do it now. This is frightening news for most people because it’s so overwhelming. However, there is a growing movement of young people who are products of the computer age and good parenting who will be the movers and shakers we’ll need. I meet some of them in my travels. They are the ‘digital nomads’ who don’t call any one place as home but travel this earth using their computers to conduct whatever business they are interested in. They teach English, they write, they sell, they do volunteer work, or they set up their own business. They are totally independent and know they’ll never work for some large company for any length of time. They are constantly learning, they’re creative, and they are open to helping this planet in any way they can. They are the hope for our future because they are resilient, and they aren’t afraid to take the challenge that comes with uncertainty and change. They have a totally different mind-set from our workers of the 90’s.
For those of us who are older and don’t have such an adventurous spirit as our ‘digital nomads’, what can we do to prepare ourselves for the changes which are so inevitably coming? How do we prepare ourselves, our children, and grandchildren? How do we even get them to listen and get involved in being part of the solution for dealing with the changes we must make rather than be part of the problem? My work with the displaced workers of the ’90’s taught me that change imposed on us by outside forces can be devastating if we aren’t prepared. The best way we can prepare for external change is by changing ourselves. Then we can help others. This is the part that will take work and daring because we will be forced to take a long hard look at the truth about ourselves and the state of the world. This is the starting point. From there we can use our skills and knowledge to help our ailing world. What other choice do we have?