On the Road To Individualism, we chart our own course. That is certainly the spirit of America. Our stories and traditions include the original pilgrims sailing from Leyden across a dangerous ocean to unknown lands; the founding fathers who crafted a local revolution against the dominant global military superpower of the time; and the settlers who poured westwards across a vast continent to establish new lives and find new opportunities.
We Are Steered Off Course By Authority.
But lately, the freedom to chart one’s own course has been increasingly narrowed. From the very beginning of our lives, we are directed to take paths dictated by authority. We attend state schools –often bussed there on yellow state school buses – and memorize what the state wants us to know, since we are unable to accept responsibility for our own learning. Some of us go on to state-shaped and state-subsidized colleges. Others take licenses and certifications dictated by state authorities and industry cartels. We accept jobs in hierarchical authoritarian corporations and climb the corporate ladder to complete our pre-planned career and accumulate the corporate pension. We comply with restrictions on our behavior in order to borrow money from a big bank or to pass through an airport or to drive an automobile. We take the drugs the FDA allows us to, and wear DOT-mandated helmets on our motorcycles.
Governments are trying to make charting one’s own course even harder. The Chinese government, for example, is developing the concept of “social credit”. Using advanced technologies including facial recognition, internet data analytics and artificial intelligence to feed an opaque rating system, the Chinese authorities can deem any individual to have high or low Social Credit. Low social credit can result in exclusion from “privileges” such as freedom of travel, or even in the ultimate loss of freedom in the form of detention and imprisonment.
Maybe our own government will not go that far. Yet, the more you think about it, the more you’ll realize the extent to which your course is not your own. And you might despair that your individual freedom is ebbing inexorably away.
Happily, there is hope.
Design Your Own Education.
Firstly, the time is rapidly approaching when we can design our own education. Education on demand via interactive, software-enabled online lessons and courses will transform both sides of the learning platform. New providers of knowledge will put content on the platform, and consumers of knowledge will have new choices and the benefit of unbiased peer reviews to guide their selection. We will be able to assemble and combine our own degrees, certifications, badges and qualifications, adjusting on the fly to the changing demands of the job marketplace.
Knowledge on demand will be our support throughout a lifetime of learning. We will be able to access what we need to know when we need to know it, whether in the form of a technical manual for a home device, turning us into repair experts, or a survey of legal precedents for the case we are working on. The qualification we earned years ago in some sanctified institution will no longer be relevant or needed.
Make Flexible Work Choices.
Thus armed and in charge of our own cognitive development, will be able to make flexible work choices based on our personal values and life stage. What is important to me? What is meaningful? Shall I experiment for a while with a new and unusual work activity? Shall I create a new work timetable, working when others don’t and enjoying recreation when others are working? Shall I embark on frequent job changes so as to accumulate a unique lived experience? Shall I take a project-based approach to employment, creating revenue streams from multiple clients? Or shall I try a start-up, knowing that I can always utilize whatever experience and learning it delivers?
You can take a variable life path instead of a fixed one. Instead of defining yourself as, say, a teacher, you can redefine yourself as an individual who is on a quest to solve humanity’s learning challenges. You are not an engineer, but someone who harnesses technology to solve problems and you’re constantly searching for new problems to solve.
Your Values Are What’s At Stake.
What’s at stake? Our parents used to tell us that we should demonstrate consistency because that is what authority values. But what’s at stake is not the blessing of authority. What’s at stake is the authentic, values-driven life. You are the stakeholder in your own future. You can take the winding path of creativity and achieve more fulfillment for yourself and do more good for society.
You can construct your own personal brand, establishing an iconic and influential presence with a peer group of your choice in a field of your choice. A definition of iconic that you might use is to be acknowledged for distinctive excellence. Distinctive is the same as individual, and excellence represents your performance in your chosen métier. Charting your own course is the path to distinctive excellence.