This week, the day job asked me to talk to a group of interns about my career path. No big deal; I’ve done this kind of thing before, and it’s always a fun look back at where I came from and how I’ve gotten to where I am. It reminds me that yes, actually, I am at least a moderate success.
To prepare, I thought through all the topics I might be asked to speak about. One possible question lead to a minor freakout: what advice do you have for for finding success in the future?
Now in a vacuum, that’s not a hard question to answer. Work hard. Find a niche that you enjoy filling and fill it. Keep your eyes open for opportunities and remain flexible so you can take advantage of them. Easy, right? Sure–as long as you think the future is going to look something like the present and the recent past.
Spoiler alert: I don’t. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the world has gone absolutely banana pancakes the last few years. Large swathes of the population have made ignoring reality their primary mission in life. Fascist bullshit is clogging all the pipes. Income inequality is getting worse by the second. The cost of housing continues to skyrocket as more and more real estate gets bought up by big investors. The infrastructure and services designed to keep us all safe and happy and consuming are looking shakier than your mom when she gets a look at my beautiful feet. Add a big honkin’ chunk of climate change to that volatile mix, stir thoroughly, pour into a well-greased baking pan, roast at 450 for an hour, and we’re well on our way to a gooey WTF casserole of epic proportions.
So the thought of spitting out the usual to a bunch of kids just starting to find their way felt disingenuous at best and downright irresponsible at worst.
Luckily, I wasn’t actually asked to provide advice on the future, so in the moment I didn’t have to decide between lying about how everything’s going to be totally fine and trying to communicate something useful without sounding like I’ve joined some batshit doomsday cult. In the days after, however, I was able to come up with something I think might actually be useful in the face of what I think we’re going to have to deal with.
As our environment shifts and our political and commercial systems fail to support us, one thing will become important above all: community. That’s right, folks, the introverted writer who loves drinking alone thinks we all need to make more connections with the people around us. You know what’s not going to make things better in the face of our upcoming challenges? The government. Not because government inherently can’t, but because we’ve let too may dipshits into too many positions of power for it to be what the little people like us need it to be.
This isn’t just some touchy-feely “work together!” bullshit, although let’s not ignore the mental health benefits of such an approach. You have certain skills and resources your neighbor lacks. Your neighbor has certain skills and resources you lack. Combining forces to build a small network of local support helps you both. Your lazy ass isn’t going to survive a climate-apocalypse-fueled fascist dystopia with just the help of your frickin’ cat.
If you’re looking for examples, Cory Doctorow’s “Walkaway” comes to mind. In that novel, groups of people flee a socially and economically collapsing society to build small communities in the wilderness based on sharing and cooperation. I also think about mutual aid networks, which I learned about through Robert Evans’s podcasts. And I think about DIY projects like this heater anarchists are distributing to aid the unhoused. These are extreme examples, sure, but they’re important in that they suggest ways to think outside the box to create new, decentralized infrastructure that works on a local level. In a worst case scenario, that’s the kind of thing we’ll need to do.
Translating that ideal into real life is not hard. It can be as simple as making sure you stay tight with your friends and family. You could work with a mutual aid network or volunteer for any organization that needs it. If you’re planning to stay where you’re living for a while, make connections in that area.
“But Scott Colby! Sure, shit’s gonna keep getting weirder, but everything’s going to be all right and society’s going to just keep chugging away just like it always has!” Maybe you’re right. So what? Even if you’re right and I’m wrong, my advice here will get you some new pals and maybe help a few people along the way.
So that’s my advice to all the interns and young people out there looking for advice about the future. If things go sideways, all the degrees and certifications and hours of cubicle time won’t mean jack squat if you don’t have a community. Get you one.