Finding yourself

Are you ready to be an orphan?

For most of you in the 八十年代 (“post-1980 generation” of young people born after China’s institution of the one-child policy in 1979), the concept of being an orphan is foreign indeed. With two parents and four grandparents around, not to mention the many teachers and school administrators you’ve impressed along the way, you’ve not lacked for guidance in all areas of your life.

In my last post, I challenged you to take charge of your career.  Frankly, this is much easier said than done, and not all of you will succeed.  Doing so will require a huge shift in your mindset as you transition from school to work.

That’s because the world is changing radically. How well you fare in the 21st century will be determined by how well you master the new rules of the game.

What does the new world look like?

Bill Drayton, the pioneering  social entrepreneur, offers this description:

We are on the cusp of a fundamental change — a worldwide change in the skills everyone needs to succeed, in the nature of organizations, and in how businesses must be led…

We are transitioning from a world in which a small elite runs everything to a world in which everyone needs to be a player.

Fifty years ago, Detroit was the symbol of American ingenuity and prosperity. Henry Ford and his small group of managers did all the thinking and told everyone else what to do. This command-and-control approach works in a relatively static world where most tasks are repetitive — such as building cars on an assembly line. It does not work in today’s fast-paced, change-is-the-name-of-the-game world; and it will not work tomorrow.

Compare once-powerful Detroit to Silicon Valley. There, people recognize that the most powerful thing in this new world is a good idea in the hands of a capable entrepreneur. Companies like Google and Apple are attracting great thinkers and doers — not because they promise to tell their employees what to do but precisely because they pledge to give them the autonomy to do what they are best at and to act as critical players no matter their position in the organizational structure. There, anyone and everyone can be a changemaker. ..

To be effective in this new world, you will need to master the skills of empathy and teamwork, as well as leadership and driving change. You will need to know how to function in a world that is not a hierarchy but a kaleidoscopic global team of teams, with no boundaries between sectors and change that happens at an escalating pace.

What does this mean for you?

In this world of rapidly accelerating change, you  have the opportunity to be a change-maker. You are part of a tiny elite of people who can speak Chinese and English and can move in both Chinese and Western societies.  You may feel hesitant about your English, but it’s far better than that of many others.

So, you’re well-positioned for the new world order that Bill Drayton evocatively describes. Most likely, your parents and grandparents gave selflessly in order to set you up to be a change-maker, and for that, you can and should be grateful.

What got you here will not get you there

From here on out, however, nobody is going to take care of your career for you. There will be no 单位(“danwei,” government department) to train you in the skills you’ll need to succeed. General Motors won’t extend itself to ensure that your career develops in a way that uses your skills well.

Throughout your life, you’ve always been part of the small fraction of students who’ve excelled. You got the best scores, grades, opportunities, outstripping the majority of your peers at every step. To get yourself to where you are now, you learned to excel at obeying, following instructions, doing as you’re told, deflecting attention from yourself.

Now it’s time to unlearn some of those skills in order to survive and thrive in the new world order. And that’s hard.  A lot harder than just taking instruction, responding to employer ads, going with the crowd.

Create your own future

Taking initiative means putting yourself out there, facing rejection, falling and picking yourself back up, and developing new skills. All the things I talk about on this blog are the things you need to do to succeed. Only you can determine that you’ll take charge of your own life.

Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest of the species that survive nor the most intelligent, but those most adaptive to change.”

The faster change accelerates, the further separated will be those who do take initiative over their lives from those who don’t.

Are you ready to create your own future?

You certainly have the potential to!


I welcome your comments, in Chinese or English, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.