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The Skill Satiation trap

Imagine a 22 year old fresh after graduation or a 24 year old after a contiguous master’s degree enrolling in one’s first job. This inflection point somehow suggests that the individual has all the skills one needs to get through one’s working life. Assuming that one will work in one form or another till one is at least 70 years old, the assumption that all necessary skills were acquired at 22 or 24 is extremely dangerous. And yet this continues to be the prevalent view.

I believe that a life cycle of professional work (as opposed to that of being an entrepreneur) is somewhat like this:

From 22 to 30 – work for at least 3 or more companies to get a feel of the work environment

From 30 to 40 – work for at least 2 companies to know the type of work you want to do for the balance 20+ years of your pre retirement working life. 

From 40 to 45 decide on the company you want to work for

From 45 to 60 pray that the company you choose, wants to retain you. 

I treat the period of 60 to 70 as the second innings where one wants to do different things that bring emotional satisfaction as opposed to only monetary gains. Incomes are necessary but the previous innings if done well would have created a nest egg to get through the rest of one’s life. The income between 60 and 70 therefore is essential to take care of basics and perhaps a little more towards healthcare and or travel. 

The problem I see is that the period between the ages of 30 and perhaps around 50 are spent in a sort of limbo. Expectations are for companies to carry individuals due to seniority in the same field with roughly the same annual output. Few are willing to experiment and even fewer get the opportunity to do so. The result is that more and more working professionals find themselves struggling to hold down jobs; younger more agile and cheaper (younger) individuals are lining up for the same number of jobs. 

With technology doubling output in lesser time, generative AI disrupting traditional jobs the situation for the middle years of one’s life are going to get tougher and not easier. Earlier when a 45-year-old competed with others roughly in the same age group, they will now find themselves competing with people almost half their age; the knowledge gap being taken up by technology. 

There are many ways to approach this problem and it all depends on the phase of life one is in today. There is however one sure shot answer that bridges across age groups – acquire one new skill every year. This could be a professional skill or leisure one. Learn to play the tabla or get a certification in some sort of new professional domain; each will have a role to play in the life you lead beyond the age of 50. 

The one skill though that I think one must acquire is the mindset to start from ZERO. In my personal life the late 20s and all of the 30s were the most trying time for me. During this period, I didn’t get a job. I went through multiple (I recall about 9) entrepreneurial ventures and all but the last failed. I wrote a novel, I removed scratches from CDs/DVDs, I designed and printed t-shirts and I even tried to grow mushrooms! The only ventures that made me some money was the one buffing CDs/DVDs and creating gift packs for corporate gifting in the Diwali season. 

The point isn’t about the ventures I undertook, it is all about failing and starting from scratch again and again. The issue was not just about generating money it was also being seen as a serial failure in the eyes of the family and community I was surrounded with. But each of these ventures taught me something valuable. It taught me how to view a business with the ability to scale it. I learnt to manage my capital investment frugally. But most of all I learnt that by constantly working on projects I was always moving the needle closer to success. 

There wasn’t a big bang in my life until I almost hit 40. Even then the first few years were a big struggle to keep the boat afloat. I was in a very hostile environment that for the nth time wanted me to fail. This time the stakes were higher and the reward equally too. 

As I near my 59th birthday, I am excited like I was when boarding the flight from New York to India to return to my country after being a successful young 23-year-old. I am thrilled at the adventure I have undertaken, and I am positive about its success. That’s the easy part. The tough part is revisiting the painful journey that lasted some 15 years. 

But the past is history,

The future a mystery, 

Today is a gift and that’s why it is called the Present.

Here is my mantra for success, for whatever its worth to you!
No matter what age you are, acquire a new skill every year. 
Be ready to go back to the basics and start from ZERO. 
The more you have failed in life the more you have acquired the one thing you cannot get from mere technology or AI, experience. 

Re-skilling and up-skilling will always keep you current even if the company you work for sinks. 

If age denies you a fresh opportunity to work, you will have the confidence and the experience to set sail on your own. 

Home based businesses have never had it better and as AI grows the world, the opportunity for micro and small businesses will only grow. 

The only question you will ever need to answer for yourself is, are you ready for it?

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