Before early Americans reached our shores they were England refugees. The main competition to being free in the last two thousand years has been governments and often religions. People certainly sought religious freedom, but there was also the desire to live unshackled from elitist rules and taxation.
Up until the recent election, Americans and other Westernized countries have enjoyed diversity, religious freedom, and opportunity. One of the horses Republicans rode to election this time was the fact most people feel their opportunities are dwindling. Amazing that a Republican would be the knight in shining armor on this topic.
We feel suppressed. We have moved quickly from an era when it was not necessary to go to college to earn a living to an era when only the most advanced degrees will help you rise to the top in the burgeoning economic sector of technology. In a sense, progress has spotlighted one main sector that could be said to control all other sectors.
When I went to University, the subject matter of our degrees didn’t matter as much because there were plenty of opportunities to join an organization and work your way to the top by showing up, working hard, and being loyal. These guide lines of the past don’t hold water with the pressure of innovation forcing organizations to take risks and cut costs.
Efficiency has become the mantra of consumerism and people are not that efficient. Value is now measured in contribution. Everything has to pay its way. In the high tech sector where highly educated graduates compete to displace the stronghold of those in other organizations, fear is leading to 100 hour work weeks.
Many organizations are forcing the “happiness” attitude on their workers as Ruth Whippman says in her great book America the Anxious is not making them happy. Imagine feeling pressured or getting fired because you were not acting happy enough. This doesn’t feel that far from religious persecution when your emotions become an important foundation of your security. You not only have to put in 100 hour weeks and forgo family life, vacations, and health, but you have to show you are happy about it.
No wonder the roles of independents are growing every day. People want freedom from oppression. At the same time more of the population is accepting that wealth is not in their cards. The accumulation of earning power has acceded to those with capital and influence. The two have become the shining sword just like in the days when there was aristocracy and peasants.
There is still opportunity as one weapon not available to the peasants of the past has become ubiquitous thanks to the advance of technology. We can reach large audiences at no cost. This has taken many forms. We can thank Serge and Bren of Google for making information free. This is one facet that not only gives us power but threatens the stranglehold of traditional corporations. Now they have to have monopolies, patents, and licenses on what they produce or it will have no value.
Inversely, we, the people, can create expressions of our own inventiveness and find an audience. Little innovations like Uber and AirBNB working directly between inventor and benefactor can tear up established routes of trade. We can find an audience for virtually anything we produce that has value.
The choices are becoming quite clear. We can find jobs that will hire us at substandard wages. Even highly educated professionals are feeling the competition of both outsourcing and technology. Or we can create something that does an end run around established channels and reaches an audience that is doing the same. Amazon has certainly affected the bricks and mortar establishments.
Here we get to the next level of advice of so many authors and the subject of a multi-billion dollar industry of self-help. We can have a voice in our own freedom. The self-help gurus would say find your passions and express yourself. Stephen Covey is certainly one of the leading voices in his 8th Habit where he says it is our purpose to express ourselves and help others do the same.
I like Steven Kotler’s take in The Rise of Superman in which he chronicles extreme athletes risking death to find the feelings of unity that is more important to them than getting to the top of rocks or the bottom of ski slopes. The feelings we experience in pursuing our activities might be the ultimate freedom we seek. Pursuing our passions, risking our tranquility, challenging the norm, and seeking the limits of human potential. Were these the thoughts our forefathers slaving away under tyranny possessed before they jumped on huge ships and headed across the seas for a new life?
Do we have this same opportunity today to engage in our talents and find a way to contribute to the big picture? More people these days start out by doing things for free. There is some faith required as we get into what some call the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the exiting of the capitalistic model. We give away our expertise for free to find an audience that will pay us for more of our knowledge.
Social media, networks, and forums are filled with billions of communications a day. Some are talking about lunch and others are talking about their ideas. Some are offering their music, books, recipes, and fitness tips. There is a whole world of freedom waiting for us to participate. We can take the route of higher education if we are fortunate and blessed or we can take a route of creativity and contribution. Their is still freedom of choice.*
*I cannot speak for the unfortunate whose circumstances give them no choice. I hope that at some point Universal Income provided by governments will lift the bottom to the arena of choice.
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