When Is It Time for You Adapt to Something New?

I saw the movie Nashville this past weekend. Somehow, I missed it when it came out back in 1975.

The movie’s premise is:

  • It’s difficult to live an authentic, congruent life.
  • Beware of people selling easy solutions. There are no easy solutions.
  • We may have to change to get what we really want.

I often wonder when it’s time to change what I do, how I do it. I bet you do, too.

Do you remember when you used a travel agent to book a flight? I haven’t used one for domestic flights in years. I sometimes use a travel agent for international travel when I have several stops along the way. Automation and consumer access to the same information disrupted travel agent work (and the entire travel industry) back in the 90s. Travel agents had to change what they did to provide value. Many of them had to find new work. They had to learn something new.

In this election (as in the last few), the Presidential candidates are bemoaning the loss of “good manufacturing” jobs overseas. I’ll do a little prediction here:

  • Jobs that do not require knowledge work will always be a commodity. Commodity jobs go to the cheapest labor force. That’s because those jobs need no adaptation.
  • At some point, we (the people in software) will automate commodity jobs.

You don’t need to have a commodity job for this to happen to you.

In my life, I have seen the systems I helped develop (embedded systems, image processing systems, operating systems) become obsolete. Someone came along and created better versions of those systems. Sometimes, with better hardware. Sometimes, we can abstract some of the platform or applications into “services” for lack of a better term.

Our tools become obsolete and change. I know that my knowledge increases over time. I bet yours does, also. Our knowledge is what’s most valuable about us. Sure, our tool knowledge is important. And, once you know how to use one kind of a tool, you can learn another.

Many years ago, I gave a talk about searching for a job. One of the people came up to me later. She said, “I’m a Cobol programmer.” I asked, “You mean programmer, right? You can learn another language anytime, right?”

She blinked. She sighed. “I’m a Cobol programmer. I don’t want to learn another language. I like Cobol.”

I asked, “How’s your job search going? Are you finding Cobol jobs?”

She sighed again. “No. Is my wishing going to help me?”

I smiled and reached for her hand. “No. Wishing isn’t going to make that happen. You can’t turn back time. You can only go forward. Can you say, ‘Cobol has been good to me. It’s time for something else,’ and learn a new language?”

She gripped my hand. “I haven’t had to learn something new in a long time. I’m not sure I know how.”

I know how she felt. I get that feeling in my stomach when I’m afraid of something, often something new. I want it to go away, to keep doing what I know I can do.

Life is about change. Sure, we might have thought we would have one career when we started in our 20s (or earlier). As far as I can see, life doesn’t work that way. It might have before the Information Revolution, but it sure doesn’t now.

We can try to hold onto the past. We can try to continue the way we have been, until now. If we don’t want to become obsolete, if we want to live an authentic vibrant life, we may have to adapt to something new.

Learning something new, adapting to the current situation, whatever you have to change, challenges us. That challenge requires courage. Adapting means we are vulnerable. We make choices—and they might not be the “right” choice at the start. It’s a problem.

That is the question of the week: When is it time for you adapt to something new?

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