Many scientists believe that evolution is the single greatest observable force in the universe. Everything from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest galaxies, even the universe itself is evolving. Unsurprisingly work is also evolving. Because we were born directly into the generation that we are in, it’s hard to think about work in a way that’s outside of what we experience and what we see experienced by those around us.
The model for work that you and I grew up in is fairly new to humanity, but to us it’s the way it has always been because as far back as we can remember we can’t think of it being any different. Work up until a couple hundred years ago looked very different. The pre-industrial economy was made up mostly of farmers and tradespeople. There usually were no large companies and the concept of working for an employer was relatively new. A higher percentage of families were land owners that grew their own food and their job was to take care of the land every day. Others held trades like a blacksmiths, apothecaries, and saddlers. Stores were very small and usually run by the store owners.
Nearly everyone was what we consider today to be an entrepreneur and if someone did happen to work for the local store they usually worked directly for the person who owned it, not a complex corporation with thousands of employees and layers of organizational hierarchy. Jobs as we know them today did not exist. Human civilization, or at least loosely organized humanity has been around for 50,000 years. Of those 50,000 years, the concept of employer/employee has only existed for four tenths of a percent of that time.
How did we get here?
How does such a revolutionary work model so quickly dominate the entire world? Many believe it began with the industrial revolution and our current day education system. Instead of having to work on thirty acres of land seven days a week and deal with droughts and bad crop harvests, we could go to a place called a factory that would give us a guaranteed amount of money every week. The amount of money never went down, as a matter of fact each year it went up by a small percentage. And not only that, we could show up Monday through Friday at 8am, then leave at 5pm and we had two full days of not working every single week. Not only that, we didn’t have to stress or worry about keeping up with overhead expenses or learning new things – we could just stand in one place all day and hammer a part onto a widget.
When we go home on Friday we can do whatever we want for the next two days and we don’t have to think about work until we go back on Monday morning. And when we have kids we don’t have to worry about them while we’re at work because we’ll just send them to school, where they’ll sit in a class with other little children lined up in very straight rows.
They’ll be instructed to stay quiet and pay attention to what they’re boss, aka teacher says. And they’ll learn that they need to show up on time to school just like they would at a company and if they don’t show up on time they’ll be penalized just like they would at a company and if they aren’t working when their boss, I mean teacher says they should be working they’ll be penalized and if they talk with their friends or don’t have a pass to leave class or skip a day because they’re sick or they don’t want to sit still for 6 hours every day, they’ll be penalized.
They’ll learn what it is to be a grown up which is waking up at a certain time and showing up somewhere Monday through Friday on time and doing what we’re told when we get there. Getting good grades and making our boss, I mean teacher happy is what matters. Follow the rules. Dress like everyone else. Behave like everyone else. Discipline. Structure. And if we follow the rules and get good grades we’ll get something called a diploma which will make it easier to get a job.
And every year employment-ready students were pumped out by the millions ready to follow the rules and please their boss and do what they’re told. That’s what the last couple centuries have looked like. And for a short period of time in human history working for one employer our entire lives, retiring with a pension and job security was a real possibility. That’s the world our parents and even our grandparents knew. That’s what most of us were taught and that’s the path that many of us followed.
And then it all changed.
Today the average job lasts just 4.5 years. That means the average person will have 10 employers over their career. And that’s just the beginning. Automation, artificial intelligence, and online shopping are all but sure to continue killing brick and mortar businesses and making job security a relic of the past.
So what are people doing?
They’re waking up. Waking up to the idea that job changes don’t need to be scary as long as we’re prepared. They’re waking up to the idea that relying on our employers to provide our only income is often risky, so they’re starting side hustles. They are waking up to the idea that they don’t have to settle for work they hate as long as they’re willing to view the world a little differently. And they’re waking up to opportunities that our grandparents, even our parents would have never imagined possible. The world has changed. And the world of work has changed with it. You and I now live in the time of The Aworkening.
But there is a catch. It’s my one warning. Once your eyes are opened to the opportunities of the aworkening, you might find it hard to continue working a job that sucks. Why? You might discover that you simply no longer have to. You may find yourself ruined for miserable work forever. Like any exploration of new territories, we’re going to discover some scary and interesting things. But we might find comfort in the fact that though our careers, our society, and even our universe is evolving, you and I can evolve with it. We can open our eyes to a new way of thinking about work and explore these options for ourselves.