The basic life path is changing, and we should address that

I got this idea from here. Let’s look at the “standard first-world life path:”

Standard First-World Life Path

Pretty simple, yes? You start in a “safety net” — meaning your parents are economically responsible for you, then you learn (K-12, college), and then you leave the “learn” stage and can contribute. This leads you to a job/career. You do that for decades, and then you eventually fall back to “safety net,” which is your retirement savings. This has been the conventional model for about 100 years, but definitely since WW2. However, it’s changed quite a bit in the last 10-20 years. Now it probably looks a bit more like this:

The New Standard First-World Life Path

Indeed, it’s all over the place. Sometimes you’re contributing, sometimes you’re back in the safety net, and learning has to happen pretty much at all stages. It’s much more about “adaptability” than it ever was before.

This has an insane amount of off-shoots for the very structure of society, including:

Now, obviously every person’s path through life is very different. (“We’re all snowflakes, baby!”) But … we almost need a full-scale re-evaluation of how we think about the progression of learning, career, and retirement. It’s not linear anymore. It’s very much that second graphic.

Here’s an idea from the writer of that Forbes article up top:

It can also broaden our skills away from becoming specialized in one thing until we decide to. We become Neo-Generalists, revolving our insight and experience across from multiple domains to solve new challenges. I would also postulate that we try working on multiple things in parallel, and reduce the dependency on a single job.

And here’s a speech from the same guy, Rawn Shah:

I like his ideas, but I worry they represent too big a change from how our brains are ultimately wired, you know? People are very comfortable with linear paths and ideas they understand; it takes a really long time for people to become comfortable with an opposite idea. For example, IMHO, no one should be going to a four-year, $60K/year college anymore. It’s ludicrous, especially with a mid-level job market on the back end. But for middle-class white people, do you know how ridiculous it is in most families to say “Eh, I don’t want to go to college?” It’s hopefully getting easier, but it’s not there yet by any means (best I can tell). Most of us like ideas and people that are familiar to us, and that’s exacerbated by “the algorithm bubble.” It’s hard for us to think of “insight and experience across multiple domains.” Most people would rather say “I’m a finance guy!” or whatever. That’s how I see it.

But maybe we’ll just absolutely need to evolve our thinking on learning, development, career and retirement over time.

Ted Bauer


  1. Being multi-talented, a jack-of-many-trades is fine when it’s a choice, but this idea of having to “wear many hats” is becoming more of a necessity because employers are increasingly expecting to pay one worker for the duties of multiple jobs. Workers are just supposed to go along with it and act like they just love cramming every waking hour into some time of job.

    A good example of what I mean in today’s job market is the job description post asking for a programmer/analyst. That’s like asking for a dentist/plumber. At first glance, it’s easy to think that a programmer is an analyst and that an analyst can easily be a programmer…which is true. But the real jobs involve coding and then being expected to provide reporting/dashboards/KPIs/etc. Employers are forcing the reasonable requirements of different jobs into one, and then every time there’s an employment survey they complain about a skills gap. Gee, I wonder why?

    • “A good example of what I mean in today’s job market is the job description post asking for a programmer/analyst. That’s like asking for a dentist/plumber.”

      But….they both use things with the hoses! 😉

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