How to Survive in the 21st Century

If you are my age (47-ish), you will have been raised with the idea of a lifelong job. Your parents probably had stable and well-paying jobs, held onto them for as long as they could and retired comfortably at 65. And I bet every month they set aside a little money and saved diligently until they were able to buy their own house.

In the past, this model did work like a charm. My own father started working for Shell at a young age and climbed his way up through the ranks to a management position. When he finally retired, he received a very nice pension. His career was an example for me and my brother to follow.

But then the 21st century came along and ruined everything.

The challenges of our age

Our century started with a double-whammy with the DotCom bubble bursting in 2003, and the Global Financial Crisis starting in 2009. The world economy has been sluggish ever since, with only a tiny 2.2% growth in 2016. Employment rose by 10 million jobs from 2005–2015, but economists at Harvard discovered that 94% of those are temp jobs. And these jobs are not paying very well. In 2015, over 50% of Americans made less than $15 per hour.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the robots are coming for our jobs. A recent study by PWC found that 38% of all current jobs will be automated by 2030. The first sector to experience this disruption is the transportation industry, with 2.5 million jobs expected to disappear in the next 15 years.

So we have a problem. The job market has grown, but almost all that growth went into the gig economy. Gig jobs are temp jobs with no job security, and they often pay too little to survive. Gig jobs are also highly vulnerable to automation. When self-driving cars become ubiquitous, you can bet that Uber will immediately sack all its drivers. And when parcel-delivering drones are commonplace, Deliveroo will no longer need its bike couriers.

In 15 years, an unemployment rate of 40% will be the norm. How are you preparing for that future?

Well, here’s five things you can do.

#1: Find your strength

The author Malcolm Gladwell studied the lives of extremely successful people to find out how they achieved success. He found a clear relationship between hours of practice and achievement. Anyone who spends roughly ten thousand hours of practice at something will achieve mastery in that field.

Is there anything you’ve spent at least 10,000 hours in your life doing?

Now decide if you’re passionate about this field that you’ve mastered. Do you jump out of bed every day, thinking “Wow, I can’t wait to start working”? If you don’t, then see if you can find elements in your work that you do love. How would you feel about only doing those things, and discarding everything else?

Finally, look for marketability. Is there a market for the skills you’ve mastered and are passionate about? Could you sell your services to a global audience? How much do you think people would pay? Enough to earn a living?

You will find your personal strength at the intersection of mastery, passion, and marketability, and it will become the foundation for a new career.

#2: Brand yourself

Once you’ve identified your personal strength, it’s time to tell the world. You need to create a personal brand that clearly communicates the thing you’re passionate about. Try to express it in a single sentence. Are you active on social media? Then make sure your Facebook and Twitter profiles clearly communicate your brand.

For bonus points, buy a domain and create a personal branding website. Wordpress has made the creation of websites incredibly easy, there’s no reason not to have a website in this day and age. My personal favorite is the Enfold Wordpress theme which makes it super-easy to build a branding website.

All these activities increase your online visibility and improve the odds of people finding you and reaching out to you to hire your services.

#3: Embrace globalization

You’re at home, relaxing on a Sunday afternoon, with your social media profiles up to date and your personal brand message strong and focused. Suddenly the phone rings. It’s a company in Dubai and they want to hire you for a 2-year project. What do you do?

Let’s face it, you have no control over where your customers live, and it’s perfectly possible that the market for your skills just happens to be on the other side of the planet. You can’t afford to dismiss these opportunities out of hand. Working in another country is hard but if you pull it off, the rewards are huge — the entire world becomes your playground.

Now is the time to embrace globalization. Look to other countries for work, and structure your life around the possibility of being abroad for 1–2 years.

#4: Find passive income

Traditional jobs are a form of active income, where you only get paid when you’re actually working. So if you take unpaid leave or get fired, your income immediately drops to zero. You have to keep working to retain your income.

But now consider book publishing. Let’s say you can write a book in a month, and each book earns $300 in monthly royalties. You spend a year writing 12 books. Where are you at?

You’re now making $3,600 per month, without actually working anymore. You’re in a position where nobody can fire you, and your income is completely independent of the local job market.

A passive income will protect you from the insecurities of the modern job market, and I urge you to start looking for passive income sources today. Think about what can you do. Write a book? Create a course? Do a paid webinar? Write premium blog posts and put them behind a paywall? Start gaming on Twitch? Create a Youtube channel? The possibilities are endless.

#5: Diversify

What would you say if I told you I had a $50k investment portfolio, and all of the money was invested in Facebook stock? You’d probably be a little worried about me, and try to teach me about diversification, spreading my risk, and not putting all my eggs in one basket.

But in terms of income, we all have our eggs in one basket. Most of us have only a single source of income, and we’re one pink slip away from having our income drop to zero.

What you really want is to have at least 5 independent income sources. If something happened to one of them, you’d only lose 20% of your total income and could easily survive on the remaining 80%.

Start thinking about how you can add another source of income. What else could you do on the side?

In summary

The 21st century has turned conventional wisdom on its head. The old recipe for a secure and stable career no longer works, we’re going to have to find new solutions to handle today’s volatile job market.

To survive in this new era, you will need to identify your personal strength and brand it so that others can find you. When a potential client calls from the other side of the planet, you need to be ready to move.

And a passive income on the side will protect you from getting downsized. Ideally, you want to have at least 5 independent income sources, so any calamity can only take 20% off your monthly income.

So that’s my personal survival plan for this century. What’s yours?