The path of least resistance
Led to Hollywood and Vine
I tried to go the distance
But they just keep moving the line
(Bombshell: They Just Keep Moving the Line)
Coming up against a sudden "no" is an unpleasant - yet common part of life's journey. Whether you have been working in a particular profession for a long time, and suddenly your skills are surplus to requirement, or perhaps you've been told "If you do X, then we'll see about Y" and once X has been achieved, Y mysterious disappears from the table. The breach of the psychological contract (Rousseau, 1989*) is damaging to morale, and to the relationships based on it.
The business environment is getting more and more unpredictable. Gone are the "five year plans", now replaced by "three year plans", and sometimes even "well, we can plan, but we also need to see what happens." The most successful businesses - and managers/leaders/people - are able to remain flexible and adaptable to the environment. They are aware that the world is changing very fast and not only continue to improve their skills, but expand them as well (for example, the more successful people in the automotive industry were those who learned to progamme and work with the technology rather than fight it).
However, as we get older, it becomes harder to learn - unless we are very practised at it, especially when the "new" seems such a departure from the old, rather than an extension of it. An upgraded smartphone is easy to come to grips with, but moving from the original mobile to any form of computerised handset often proves more of a challenge. It is no wonder that experienced people feel disgruntled, invalidated and unappreciated.
It doesn't even need to be those who have given a good part of their life to the company, it can be changes within the industry that give us cause for frustration. Lawyers who are now not only practicing advocacy, but having to market their services. Teachers who are playing social worker, substitute parent, counsellor and interpretor as well as delivering skills in English, Maths and Science. Medical professionals doing all of their adminstration as well as saving lives.
Perhaps this is part of cutting costs or "downsizing"; perhaps it is an attempt to streamline a service - but whatever it is, it doesn't look like we are being offered an respite.
So what can we do?
Fighting advance - especially technological - is not going to help you. At some point you may still become obselete. However, there is always the chance you can learn to work with the technology. Learn to programme it, learn to consult so that the machine can be endowed with your hard-earned experiences. Learn the peripheral services you can offer to enhance the value of the automation.
It's not necessarily what we like to hear - but if "they" keep moving the line, we need to too - depnding on what our priorities are of course. (There is no shame in saying "I'll take early retirement/retrain elsewhere if the package is right").
If we take a leaf out of "positive psychology" we might begin to feel a little more empowered...if not better about the inevitable. Until Martin Seligman pioneered the movement as head of the American Psychological Association in the 80s, psychology - according to Seligman - was "half baked". All it did was look at disorders and treat them to "normality". A person was either "normal" or "mentally ill". Positive psychology wanted to push the person's wellbeing beyond normal. It wanted to help you manage your disorder long term - to thrive, even if there wasn't anything more that medicine or science could do.
Perhaps this is how we should look at continued learning.
The world will change, but learning is not an endpoint - there is always something more we can do once one skills is mastered. If we continue to expand our knowledge, and have a vague idea of what may be happening in the future of our industry we might even be able to direct our new skills to suit. Life is dynamic, but then, so are we.
* Rousseau, D. M. (1989). Psychological and implied contracts in organizations. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 2: 121-139.