Today’s post is a guest post from visionary Skinner Layne, who is the founder of Exosphere, an alternative learning platform for entrepreneurship and technology. When he approached me about this post, I had not really thought of the idea of “uncareering”. However, after some consideration, I think this movement that is shifting too and the next generation of business leaders out on the leading edge can very well be the self-directed learners and thinkers we are raising in the unschooling movement today.
“There are two root causes of most unnecessary suffering in life:
Doing work that is out of alignment with your calling.
Broken relationships with other people. “
Unschooling + Uncareering
The unschooling and alternative education movements will not reach critical mass until something changes dramatically in the expectations of employers with regard to how they classify candidates for jobs. The number of people who will become entrepreneurs is naturally limited by personality traits and capital–not everybody can or should be an entrepreneur in the traditional sense.
Whether working for an entrepreneur or a larger, bureaucratic organization like a Fortune 500 company, people planning careers as employees must grapple with the intractable nature of hiring practices. Not having a college degree or a high school diploma, is all but a death knell for a job applicant.
While part of the answer to this problem lies in changing the mindsets of employers about what the real value of formal education is, it will take many years, maybe decades, for the tidal change necessary to make unschooling an economically viable option for the masses.
There is, however, one other alternative: Uncareering.
Since the end of the Second World War and the advent of the “Company Man,” there has been a commonly accepted idea of the career trajectory–a very modernist idea in and of itself–a linear path sloping upward, from one promotion to the next, seeing each step as a movement upward in a hierarchy of preferability. At the beginning, educational credentials helped set a person apart from their competitors for the next promotion. Then there was a credentialing arms race and the credential requirements went from being a unique feather in the cap to being a necessary prerequisite to even apply for many jobs or promotions. Then the next degree became the distinguisher, and the cycle repeated itself over and over.
Educational institutions responded to this by raising prices and competing with each other for prestige (rather than for good outcomes for their students) so they could be the distinguishing factor. The degree stopped mattering as much as where the degree was earned.
Even as the Company Man has been replaced by the mercenary who changes jobs more frequently than he changes socks, the trend has only intensified. At least in the era of the Company Man, a person’s performance record mattered because the hirer could check them out by picking up the phone and talking to somebody else inside the company. Now, having no other substantive basis by which to judge candidates for a job, educational credentials have become even more important. Past jobs matter, of course, but it’s more about the title and stated duties listed on the Resume than on any real performance record.
But the credentialing system is imperfect, just like any marketplace, there are opportunities for arbitrage. A person pursuing an uncareer, an approach to taking jobs not based on an upward sloping linear pathway, could fill jobs for which they were overqualified or willing to accept less pay (which is much easier without student loan burdens), using each move as an chance to learn a new skill, become acquainted with a new industry, and build a broad network. Over time, the diversity of knowledge and relationships the uncareerer builds up would present non-linear growth opportunities–some unexpected promotion inside of a firm, an executive job offer somewhere else, or the right circumstances to make the jump to entrepreneurship.
The possibilities in life multiply when one accepts all of the combinations and permutations presented to us in our chaotic existence rather than being focused on a well-worn and predictable path with predictable rules. Indeed, once we get it out of our head that a credential will lead to a stable path with an expected outcome in our work life (which it doesn’t), we can broaden our minds to explore many different avenues for ourselves.
The question is not whether to trade stability for uncertainty, but whether to accept that there is no stability and prepare ourselves for the uncertainty in a more anti-fragile way.
About the author:
Skinner Layne has founded both successful and failed start-ups. He comes from Arkansas and now lives in Santiago de Chile. He is passionate about education and entrepreneurship, and is now Founder and Chairman of Exosphere: www.exosphe.re