If You Can't Create, Someday Soon You Might Be Out Of A Job

When I was a kid, in a world before the internet, life was about finding a slot in the big machine, fitting in it, and clanking along for twenty-five years until you were done, dropped into a bucket for retirement. People entered schools predicated not on what they would do, but what the outcome of what that study might be. Not, “I want to be a doctor” but, “doctors make the most money”. At the time, this all made some sort of twisted sense.

Somewhere around the late 1990’s, the machine started to fall apart. It was slow at first. Companies plundered retirement funds, then fired everyone for good measure. Spending went overseas. Prosperity gathered into deep pools around a few industries, leaving great dry gaps without money or opportunity. It seemed whole new industries opened up, but that wasn’t really what was going on, it was that some industries died a hard death and everyone looked around to fill their slots in the machine. Focus was shifted to cover the gaps: the dot coms, the personal computer. Still, the machine spewed parts. 

Few noticed. The way people were taught to succeed never changed: find your slot, clank along, retire. The only problem was the machine wasn’t running properly now. Worse: many of the jobs that existed were antiquated, and their time was limited. People acted like the industries they know were eternal. Some almost were eternal, (but I wonder what journalists might have to say to you if you said you wanted to join their profession today?) 

Now, that machine is a ruin. It does not run, it rusts. Yet people line up at the mouth of it, waiting to be pulled along, and they act hurt and betrayed when they find themselves not moving along. Whose fault is that? Honestly. Think about that for a minute. You know the standard model: job>25 years>retire is a fiction, and you still look for it, train for it, line up for it?

After a point, I would argue, the fault is your own. Today, life is about making your own way. It requires the ability to change pace, change jobs, change outlooks on a yearly, sometimes monthly, basis. 

Very, very few people know how to do this and it’s because most people in America are taught exactly how not to succeed under these conditions. “Hold still”, I was taught, “look to others for instruction”, I was taught, “there is only one right answer”, I was taught. Obviously, all of these things are completely and utterly wrong in the world today. If you do any of these things, you are dead. 

Soon, being able to do something a limited set of someones can accomplish will be the entire measure of your ability to succeed in the world economy. The middle jobs which have persisted stubbornly out of some retarded version of “pride” will vanish. There will be few, if any “busy-work” jobs. Those will be outsourced or automated, leaving even larger deadlands of opportunity. 

A nice example of this thinning process is the telephone company. There are a lot of reasons it happened there first, but I won’t go into that.

Now, my dad was among the last batch of lifers at the telephone company. He began at Bell and after it was split up, continued as an executive at NYNEX, but he saw which way the wind was blowing. Once, NYNEX employed tens of thousands or phone personnel, file clerks, execs, engineers. Today, it is a small batch of executives>automation>a bunch of field techs. My dad was still a couple of years short of retirement, but they offered him an option to leave early, and he took it. Others who failed to grab at that slightly smaller brass ring, who continued to imagine that things could not change, were left with nothing. 

This, more than anything else in my life taught me that ANYTHING can change. Bell was a firmament when I was a child. It was indestructible, vast and unchangeable. Then, in five or six years it was shattered and evolved into something completely different. It was amazing to watch. If it could change, nothing was off the table. 

Now, on to me; I am lucky. I knew what I wanted to do before I could even read or write: I wanted to create. I was born with a predisposition towards art (we have a strong family history in the arts) and I was a voracious reader who became a writer through practice. I tacked on years of sequential art experience and bolted on RPG and card game design and finished the whole thing with a varnish of video game design for good measure.

If I had trained for any of these jobs singularly, I would be able to accomplish little of what I can do now. Instead, I discarded the normal mantra in school and rejected the system, whole cloth. It was clear to me it was broken when I was 5, was still broken when I was 15, and seeing the kids coming out of it into the workforce now at 40, it is even more clear.  

So, what would I call the path to success? What am I going to teach my children?

1) Detect Your Skill 

Everyone has something they are good at. Art, computers, music, writing, plumbing, electrical devices. This is not something you detect when you are 18 and need to choose a major. It’s something you feel when you are young and which stays with you. Find it, early and don’t let go of it. 

2) Cultivate Your Skill

Work tirelessly at improving natural proclivities towards said skill(s). The more the better. Like writing, write all the time. Art? Draw on the walls. Music? (wish I could do that) Make music!

3) Read all the Time

Books are the only real teachers I have ever known. They don’t judge you. They show you what they feel without trying to further an agenda outside the realm of their subject. They are free of cost, except time. 

4) Expand Your Abilities

Do you like game programming? Learn as much as you can about creating art for games that you can. Like music? Learn as much as you can about making music for movies. Find where your skill overlaps another and look into that crossover. That’s where the magic is. Never stop looking into things you might be able to learn how to do. 

5) Professional/Amateur

This only means: were you paid for your work? Whatever your skill, get out there and generate money with it as early and effectively as possible. There are no restrictions except your ego. Collect rejections and wear them as a badge; at least you tried. And one day, it will be an acceptance. 

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