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Unprecedented

Colin Wright
Colin Wright
Unprecedented
We’re living through a moment of unprecedented change and uncertainty.
This has almost certainly been said before, at different moments and in different places throughout human history and around the world. And in most cases we don’t really know if that sense proved to be the case until afterward, when the true changes and stakes could be objectively assessed.
That said, the upended expectations and shifting variables resulting from a very deadly, global pandemic, combined with the ongoing and potential near-future consequences of human-amplified climate change, alone, obscure our future to a substantial enough degree that planning even ten years into the future necessitates broad projections and lots of hedging.
There’s abundant research linking stress and anxiety to uncertainty; this is true at the individual level—not knowing what’s going to happen next with family- or relationship-scale drama, for instance—but it’s also true of uncertainty related to what’s happening in the world around us.
Many people cite reading the news as a source of stress, in part because of how the news tends to be delivered (often focusing on things that are unusual or extraordinary in some way) and in part because the trickle of news our grandparents would have received has turned into a deluge in the 21st century.
We’re more aware of what’s happening in the world than any other chronological cross-section of humanity, and that’s positive in some ways, but also incredibly intimidating and anxiety-inducing, in others.
Most of the issues we face, civilizationally, are not human-scale issues: I can’t wake up one day and decide to stop the influx of extreme weather events, any more than I can hit pause on a war twelve timezones away.
What is human-scale, though, is our ability to become more malleable, versatile versions of ourselves. A more-uncertain world means, among other things, that we can’t know how we’ll be living, what sorts of work will be necessary (and well-compensated), and who we might become in the wake of myriad possible civilizational, ecological, and interpersonal shifts.
Such malleability is generally attained by increasing the scope of our interests and explorations, and by internally relabeling ourselves to make future adjustments less of a psychological hurdle.
Increasing our range, in this context, means opening ourselves up to more facets of life, more possible professions, more bodies of knowledge, and more perspectives from which to view things.
It means picking up books not directly relevant to what we’re doing today, experiencing new things for the sake of having new experiences, and digging a little deeper into every topic we encounter; clicking some additional links and asking some additional questions, just to see where we end up.
Changing our labels means redefining ourselves as people who learn and who at any given moment will be doing some type of work to make a living, but possibly not forever; and possibly not exclusively that work.
It’s wonderful to be able to say you’re a chemist or a musician or a computer programmer or a convenience store manager, but even better—according to this malleability metric—to be able to say you’re a lifelong learner who currently does one of those things for work, but who also has hobbies and side-projects and potential next steps in progress, on the back-burner, and/or almost ready to be subbed in.
It’s a lot easier to pivot away from coal mining and start working as an engineer for renewable energy projects when you think of yourself as someone who works in the energy industry more broadly; someone who is capable of learning anything they might want or need to learn.
Coal mining isn’t the only career that’s fading away as the world changes underneath our feet; like buggy whip makers and telegraph operators, all careers are built upon shifting foundations, and if we become too beholden to a single title or path, we leave ourselves vulnerable to infrastructural jolts and ructions.
The more we explore, the more capable of exploration we become.
The more we learn, the more primed for future learning we’ll be.
The more change-capable (or even change-aligned) our self-perception, the less psychological struggle and remorse we’ll encounter as the world evolves around us: we’ll evolve as it evolves.
We’ll be part of the change, not victims of it.
And the more practice we get with all of these things, now, the easier future transitions and iterations (personally, societally, and globally) will be.
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Colin Wright
Colin Wright @colinismyname

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