More important than ever to deliberately disrupt yourself

On my morning run a few weeks ago, what seemed like a powerful realization suddenly bolted into my consciousness. I have for a while been writing about the merit of ‘sticking to your knitting’, focusing on what you know and do best, your competitive strengths.

Still, as I was running and kept passing other joggers, some of them half my age or younger still, with seemingly no effort, it downed on me that I’m a pretty good runner, particularly for my age. I started running fairly late in life. In school growing up, I absolutely hated ‘PE’, and did whatever I could to avoid doing all the running laps that we were assigned at the beginning of class. It was only when I reached middle age that I started running and developed a taste for it…now I’m pretty good at it!

In the last couple of years, with more time on my hands than when I was working full time in a corporate setting, I have been reading more than ever in my life. While much of my reading is still (at least somewhat) market related, I have been straying ever further away from finance and economics.

What I only recently came to realize is that you can indeed become reasonably good at (and perhaps even a bit of an expert on) new fields. I continue to for the most part believe one should try not to lose focus on what one knows and does best. Still, that does not mean one should not try new things…even very different things. Actually, one should probably make a deliberate effort to dedicate a certain percentage of one’s times to new endeavors.

This line of thinking reminded me of the two most recent books someone whom I much admire most recently wrote. I am talking of Whitney Johnson. Many of ideas she discusses in Disrupt Yourself and Build an A Team suddenly popped back into my consciousness. I increasingly believe the art of disrupting oneself is something more of us should be pursuing on a deliberate basis.

The future is bringing ever more change, raising your need for self-disruption

As Whitney powerfully argues, self-disruption has long been a recipe for long-term individual success. However, increasingly rapid technological advances bringing about better healthcare and longer lives, but also automation, robots, artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, etc., will cause a lot of disruption to most of us.

It is time for each of us to very seriously take charge of our own disruption to improve our chances of a longer, healthier and happier life. The future needs not be a scary place. It can be full of promise and exciting developments, but each of us must consciously prepare for it. Start devoting as much of your spare time as you can to learn about yourself, and try to assess what new tasks you may excel at. Read as much and as broadly as you possibly can make time for.

I was lucky to self-disrupt only by accident. Most must try harder!

In my own case, self-disruption has been a way of life, although I never set out to do it, and learned the terminology only when I first read Whitney’s book. For most people, it must be a more deliberate effort, and the further we move into the future, the more essential it is likely to become.

I was born and raised in Mexico City. I moved to the US to go to college, and first studied Hotel and Restaurant Administration with Foreign Languages and Literatures as a second major. I thought I would always work in the hospitality industry. The first eight years of my professional working life were indeed at a restaurant company. However, I did realize that my passion was researching investing opportunities in the stock market.

Thus, I pursued my MBA, and two years after that, I joined the financial industry. To do that, I had to significantly disrupt myself. I moved back to Mexico City to work at a brokerage firm, but soon after that I received an offer at a financial institution in New York. After a pretty successful 20-year-plus career in professional financial services (in three major metropolitan areas in the US), I retired from the corporate world at the end of 2013.

Since then, I’ve been reading ever more broadly, wrote my own book and recently moved to Berlin, Germany from Boston. The more I read, the more I continue to learn. However, just moving to my third major country and having to deal with life in a new city using a new language makes for a major case of self-disruption. My wife is taking Italian courses. For her, Berlin is not as much as of a new city, and neither is the German language, given that she was born and raised here.

We are both keeping our minds alert and exercising the plasticity of our brains by continuing to learn new things. The human brain is a truly amazing thing. It has incredible plasticity (ability to keep changing), and we utilize only a tiny portion of its capabilities. I am now more deliberately exercising self-disruption, but I increasingly realize we will all have to keep at it as the future gets ever more complex.

To wrap it all up, the world of work is starting to change dramatically. Major disruptive technologies are taking hold, including automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning. A growing number of workers in all fields face a growing risk of being replaced by robots.

At the same time, technological developments in healthcare promise increasingly longer lives in the future. People will be forced to ‘reinvent themselves’ more than once along what used to be the time for a single career. Maybe a reasonable first step for many to attempt self disruption will have to be to take personal aptitude, skills and general personality tests in order to find new fields they’ve never thought they could eventually master.sel

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