How to Cope with Anxiety about the Future

February 27, 2017

The Future: Next ExitI’m continuing to ask almost everyone I talk to these four “simple” questions:

  1. What aspects of the future of work are you most excited about?
  2. What are you most uneasy about?
  3. What technology do you think will have the biggest impact on the way we work and live in the next five to ten years?
  4. If you could change one thing about the way you work right now, what would it be?

I’m just getting started, but I can already report – sadly – that my interviewees are generally more uncomfortable with the future than they are excited about it.

Here are a few responses to the second question:

What aspects of the future of work are you most uneasy about?

Because the question is focused on work, I didn’t really expect this:  Almost everyone I’ve spoken with or heard from mentioned (without prompting from me) the current political environment in the United States. Some were more explicit than others, but the general tone is one of pessimism leaning towards downright depression (often accompanied by anger, frustration, and active resistance). If you think about it, that’s really not at all surprising; I should have expected it.

The simple fact that the U.S. presidency changed hands just a few weeks ago certainly contributes to this mindset. But I believe the dramatic nature of that transition – driven by the current administration’s bluster, bullying, and blatant disregard for the truth – is a major reason why so many people are nervous, angry, living in fear, and feeling incredibly vulnerable.

But there are plenty of other reasons to feel uneasy about the future. One of the most frequent sources of discomfort that I hear is awareness of how highly dependent on technology we are, and thus we’re extremely vulnerable to hacking, identity theft, and fraud.

Bob Leek, an IT specialist with Multnomah County, Oregon, commented:

Cybersecurity will be the number one threat to a safe and secure future. The first time there is a successful hack or exploit of one of the main platforms – Salesforce, Workday, Facebook, Instagram, etc., that results in a universal condemnation of the safety and integrity of someone’s online presence will usher in the beginning in the next phase of over-reaction and battening-down that organizations will have to do to ensure that what people use a service that can be done in a safe way.

Struggling to survive

Many people are also going beyond the fear of technology alone to foresee a future that is rather dark and dystopian.

For example, Rick Fullerton wrote:

[I’m concerned about] technological power outpacing or [becoming] divorced from face-to-face human values of compassion, virtue, good will, generosity, honesty. We need to increase our internal capacity to match or exceed our ability to influence the external world. Failure to consider the future consequences of actions – e.g. climate crisis, resource depletion, pollution, wars. …. The pace of change may overwhelm individual, team, or organizational capacity to cope/learn. Will we have the will or ability to slow down? – or will ‘change’ accelerate until the system self-destructs?

I’m convinced that finding ways to restore a sense of control – not just optimistic confidence that the future will be improve our lives, but a more basic belief in our ability to determine and to realize our own future state – is fundamental to both individual and organizational health.

And, as I have said so many times in the past, the best way to take charge of tomorrow is to forget about predicting a specific, definitive future and be willing to explore a whole range of possibilities finally settling for a sense of the probabilities.

When you open your eyes to a variety of possible tomorrows, you won’t be knocked off your feet when the “real” tomorrow actually arrives.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist about the future of work? Why? I’d love to hear from you.

Don’t face the future alone. Jim Ware is a workplace futurist, author, and meeting design specialist who has invested his entire career equipping organizations to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Contact Jim today at +1 510.558.1434 to learn how his workshops, keynote presentations, and expertise in orchestrating powerful conversations about the future can put you back in control.

© 2017 by The Future of Work…unlimited. All rights reserved.

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