A middle-aged salesman of oil equipment was faced with a shrinking market.
He thought that all he knew was about oil equipment. Then he discovered that in the process of traveling back and forth over his territory hundreds of times he had become intimately, though almost subconsciously, knowledgeable about the commercial real estate market in his area.
He discovered a new pathway to success imbedded in him.
To discover your future it is useful to listen to others -- but it is essential that you listen to yourself.
Seek to discover what makes you different and cherish your uniqueness. The world of change requires that we learn and experiment to find new ways to apply what we already know, what we do best, what we are driven to do.
It is important for us to listen or read about geoscientists who have become patent attorneys, park rangers or environmental specialists. But the major value is not to learn how to be a lawyer, but how to find the courage within ourselves to take the risk to experiment, to dare to be different, to pursue our own unique pathway.
Everyone I talk to is pressured by immediate demands.
The uncertainty of today imposes near-term requirements that demand our attention. We are critical of leaders who seem completely focused on short-term issues -- yet we find ourselves doing the same thing.
As career self-managers we must not fall into the short-term trap. We are not going to be taken over in a billion-dollar deal and we don't have inside information on the company stock fortunes. We have to fend for ourselves.
We are used to having companies outlast individual careers. But that is no longer the case. We must know what we are going to do after this company or this job or this career, because it is likely that we will outlast them all.
The company may not have a future -- but we do.
We must develop our own long-term thinking, our own strategic plan. So we have to balance concerns about the present with concerns about the future. It is critical that we make decisions and take actions that will position us for the future even as we are concerned about professional and financial survival in the present.
And this is true of every professional of every age, no matter what his or her current employment status may be.
The times in which we live set the stage for what comes next. We need to take the time to reflect on the changes we see going on and imagine what they mean for our future. This is a watershed for all of us. Companies are merging, but not getting much bigger in terms of manpower. They are shedding experience that they will need at some time, but we do not know exactly when.
The age of fossil fuels may be ending, but not in our lifetime -- nor that of our children. Technology is still the dominant force for change in our society, and as long as we stay on the leading edge of that technology we maintain some sense of control over our destinies.
We all have strengths and experiences that have value. The key is the way we relate what we know to what is needed.
The personal problem is to adjust to the changes of today and at the same time plan for a very uncertain future. The strategies for short-term survival need to lay the groundwork for long-term success.
You need to spend some time thinking about "what happens after what comes next." And that is a tall order for anyone.
The difficulty is that there are no universal solutions.
In the mid-1980's there was a growing environmental field that could and did absorb numbers of petroleum geoscientists. For many that option did not pan out -- and today that option is not there, anyway.
Some people are touting secondary education as a field that could provide employment for significant numbers of geoscientists. But that world is a changed place, too, in which no large markets exist.
We also find ourselves immersed in a corporate culture dominated by herd instinct. The mavericks and the independent misfits are among the first casualties of large-scale firings. The rest of the world is not that way. The real world rewards the first person to break new ground, create a new product, or open a new field.
The solution is for each individual to analyze themselves and discover their unique combination of strengths, motivations, skills and abilities. The competitive edge is in discovering the differences that make each of us unique, not the universal talents that make us all alike.
It is in the uniqueness that we discover our futures.
We do not need to know what field will hire a thousand of us if we can somehow transform ourselves into what they want, but rather, we need to discover the one or two unique pathways that are suited to our talents.
If there are universal skills we need to work on they are almost certainly in communication, marketing, working with others and business/economics -- but that, too, is a generalization that does not apply to everyone in every situation.
Up to this point our talents have been focused to meet the needs of a particular (generally a corporate) employer. This presumed that what was good for the company was good for you.
From now on that assumption needs to be challenged over and over. The issue is to discover how to package and repackage our marketable skills and abilities -- and connect with the people who need them.
Walt Disney described creativity as "The invention of the new and the rearrangement of the old in new ways."
We are all in the process of reinventing ourselves continuously for the future. This requires that we take our skills and abilities apart from their present arrangement and rearrange them in new ways, look at them from a different perspective and discover new applications better suited to a changing climate.
It makes no difference if the future is a world of companies as big as most countries or a world in which most companies are small entities that form fluctuating alliances to achieve big things. The individuals who succeed will still be those who know how to market their unique skills to the needs of a project.
The indispensable need will always be for the brainpower of the individual. The culture of every organization will center on the ability to adapt and innovate to changing conditions.
These scenarios may be played within the closed context of a huge company or in the spotlight of an alliance of many small companies, but the demands on the individual will likely be the same.
The bridge from the present to the future for each individual is the discovery of existing talents -- and the ability to learn, experiment and continuously reinvent ourselves to be different on a daily basis.