The art and science of history
History is an art as much as it is a science, a mixture of myth and legend and the truth, and then distilling them together to produce the mostly accurate version of what really happened—depending on who’s telling the story. Take, for example, the concept of Manifest Destiny in the United States. Based on the notion that an Almighty God desired that the new nation extend from its moorings near the Atlantic Ocean to fill the remainder of the North American continent, the need for expansion wasn’t driven so much for the need for more elbow room per se, but the idea that the riches and bounty of the American continent truly—and exclusively– belonged to the United States, and that the richness of those national resources would always be in abundant supply.
The thought that they might not be, that they could be depleted by overuse, or a willful or ignorant lack of conservation efforts, simply never occurred to those early westward explorers.
The term for this type of myopia is the “myth of superabundance.” First coined by United States Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall in his 1964 book, The Quiet Crisis, the theory describes a state of disbelief that the planet would not have enough resources for those consuming them. The expectation was that the world’s resources, both plant and animal, did not have to be husbanded and preserved; that we, as humans, were simply able to do as we chose and that nature would always be available and able to meet any need or desire we had.
Belief in myths such as these can be dangerous, whether that belief is intentional or just a lack of understanding the realities of the world around them. They give us a false sense of security in a world that never really existed, and, when that nonexistent world collapses, we may not be adequately be prepared for the first day of the rest of our lives.
That belief in the myth of superabundance has echoes in the fiscal, as well as the natural, world.
For many, it was an accepted fact that the pathway to success was rote and proven: go to school, get good grades; get good grades, go to a good college; go to a good college, get a successful career; get a successful career, earn more than your parents did, even adjusting for inflation between your earning peak and theirs. And for many, no harm befell them by believing in that myth—that formula worked for them.
They followed those exact steps, and success was theirs for the taking.
According to an NPR report, that formula for success have been more outlier than indicator, however. Reporting on the Equality of Opportunity Project’s latest findings, it appears the chance of children out earning their parents—especially those in middle class families– is now no better than a 50/50 coin flip. While this stands in stark contrast to what the economic forecast looked like for children born in the post-World War II, when the chance of doing so was over 90 percent, the researchers found that it was especially problematic for children, born in recent years, living in the Rust-Belt states of the United States Midwest.
Their research indicated two general points of hope
Moving from a harsher economic climate to a more promising one proved to allow for a possibility of an increase in earning power, with moving earlier in childhood being more effective than moving later in life. The researchers identified common characteristics of effective climates for economic recovery in their news release, identifying cities with “lower levels of residential segregation, a larger middle class, stronger families, greater social capital, and higher quality public schools,” as key indicators for success.
Raj Chetty, a Stanford economist who served as the spokesman for the group, noted that “[t]he finding of this study implies that if we want to revive the American dream of increasing living standards across generations, then we’ll need policies that foster more broadly shared growth.”
There are implications, and then there are implications.
Just as correlation doesn’t lead to automatic causation, it’s not wise to accept Chetty’s position on the first step in the revival of the American Dream without a need for a broader discussion. While a discussion on how to create more pathways for additional Americans to join and stay in a middle class earnings bracket– with stability– is vital to our nation’s future, there are some assumptions that must first be challenged as a part of that conversation.
As we look back to the myth of superabundance, one thing is clear; nothing lasts forever.
Whether it be the natural resources around us, or the fiscal climate of the nation, things change, and we must be prepared to change with them, realizing that there are periods of boom and bust, of drought and plenty that enhance or encumber even our best efforts. Plainly said, we shouldn’t expect things to continue on an upward trend just because we wish it, and certainly not because we’re special.
As the world changes, we must be prepared to adapt to the new normal, or suffer the consequences.The boom period of percentage of children earning more than their parents would have been in the early 1960’s, cresting the second wave of post-World War II consumer purchasing power. Jobs, especially those in the manufacturing sectors for both large and small consumer goods, were local, accessible with a high school diploma or good technical training, and paid comparatively well to norms allowing for access to the middle class.
That’s just not how it is anymore, and we know it.
The nature of America’s workforce has shifted, and the old patterns of attainment are no longer a guarantee of success. We must not immediately look to a recreation of policies, but to ourselves. We have to identify new skill sets that the market finds to be remunerative as well as we find to be personally rewarding. As the world moves towards globalization and automation, no career field is inured from innovation. Such innovation is often disruptive, and messy, and dealing with its aftermath isn’t always pleasant.
But it still remains to be dealt with.So we have to understand that we’re a work in progress as professionals. The world around us moves, and we have to join it, finding the niche that appeals to us and that is compensated at a price point that we can live with. If we stop the work of re-calibration or reinvention, we can’t be surprised nor upset when the world doesn’t agree with our professional place in it. We can’t afford to stay stagnant, nor for those who are looking for talent, can we afford to stay silent.
Your local schools, public, charter, and private, are likely doing a fantastic job of their work in the face of conditions that make that harder than it ought to be.
However, for many, the only voices that they hear from are the parents of the children who attend the schools.
A vital audience to be sure, a necessary one, but by no means the only one that is crucial. Feel free to reach out to your local district’s superintendent of schools and board of trustees, and let them know the skill sets that would help students who are applicants to your business stand out from the competition, and thrive once they get there. They’ll care, but then also be open to actively supporting them as they work collaboratively with you in the business community to provide students with pathways to the skills that they need.
Things are never secure, and we’re now in an environment that seems rife with uncertainty more than ever before. We now live in a world in which we’ve gone from a large employer such as IBM offering their employees a job for a lifetime to them offering lifetime employability. The change in mindset is subtle, but it’s there: they can no longer afford to say that you will have a job with them, but they can say that they will give you the skill set to always be able to find a job, somewhere, doing something.
And that’s the most realistic promise that they can make.
Minimalism doesn’t have to happen overnight
(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Minimalism doesn’t have to mean throwing out everything this instant – you can get similar benefits from starting on smaller spaces.
Minimalism. This trend has reared its head in many forms, from Instagram-worthy shots of near empty homes to Marie Kondo making a splash on Netflix with Tidying Up with Marie Kondo in 2019. If you’re anything like me, the concept of minimalism is tempting, but the execution seems out of reach. Paring down a closet to fit into a single basket or getting rid of beloved objects can sometimes seem too difficult, and I get it! Luckily, minimalism doesn’t have to be quite so extreme.
Not ready to purge your home yet? That’s fine! Start on your digital devices. Chances are, there are plenty of easy ways to clean up the storage space on your computer or phone. When it comes to low stakes minimalism, try clearing out your email inbox or deleting apps you no longer use. It’ll increase your storage space and make upkeep much more manageable on a daily basis.
It’s also worth taking a look through your photos. With our phones so readily available, plenty of us have pictures that we don’t really need. Clearing out the excess and subpar pictures will also have the added bonus of making your good pictures easily accessible!
Now, if this task seems more daunting, consider starting by simply deleting duplicate photos. You know the ones, where someone snaps a dozen pics of the same group pose? Pick your favorite (whittle it down if you have to) and delete the rest! It’s an easy way to get started with minimizing your digital photo collection.
Minimalism doesn’t have to happen all at once. If you’re hesitant about taking the plunge, try dipping your toe in the water first. There’s no shame in taking your time with this process. For instance, rather than immediately emptying your wardrobe, start small by just removing articles of clothing that are not wearable anymore. Things that are damaged, for instance, or just don’t fit.
Another way to start slow is to set a number. Take a look at your bookshelf and resolve to get rid of just two books. This way, you can hold yourself accountable for minimizing while not pushing too far. Besides, chances are, you do have two books on your shelf that are just collecting dust.
Finally, it’s also possible to take things slow by doing them over time. Observe your closet over the course of six months, for instance, to see if there are articles of clothing that remain unworn. Keep an eye on your kitchen supplies to get a feel for what you’re using and what you’re not. Sure, that egg separator you got for your wedding looks useful, but if you haven’t picked it up, it probably has to go.
Sometimes, minimalism is pitched as all or nothing (pun intended), but it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because I want to purge my closet doesn’t mean I’m beholden to purging my kitchen too. And that’s okay!
Instead of getting overwhelmed by everything that needs to be reduced, just pick one aspect of your life to declutter. Clear out your wardrobe and hang onto your books. Cut down on decorations but keep your clothes. Maybe even minimize a few aspects of your life while holding onto one or two.
Or, don’t go too extreme in any direction and work to cut down on the stuff in your life in general. Minimizing doesn’t have to mean getting rid of everything – it can mean simply stepping back. For instance, you can minimize just by avoiding buying more things. Or maybe you set a maximum number of clothes you want, which means purchasing a new shirt might mean getting rid of an old one.
The point is, there are plenty of ways to start on the minimalist lifestyle without pushing yourself too far outside your comfort zone. So, what are you waiting for? Try decluttering your life soon!
Why tech talent is in the process of abandoning Austin
(AUSTIN TECH) There is no single reason Austin tech talent is packing their bags, but a handful of factors have collided to create a tenuous situation.
“Nothing’s keeping me here” is a phrase we keep hearing around town. Being in the center of the tech space, we’ve been able to keep my finger on the pulse, and what we thought was primarily housing that is driving folks out of town turns out to be far more insurmountable than we could have ever imagined.
A perfect storm is brewing as the housing market collides with a dramatically transformed workforce that has become accustomed to working remotely and shifted priorities.
Last time Austin was bleeding talent, the year was 2011 and most investments were focused on early stage startups and there weren’t enough open roles that were senior level, so we started losing people to competitive markets. In response, we built a massive employment hub (the Austin Digital Jobs Group (ADJ)) and volunteered hundreds of hours to help make Austin a magnet for high quality employers.
This time around, we expressed to the Group of over 55K members that we were frustrated that people were confiding in us that they were leaving (or considering it). Some are even people that we all imagined to be part of the very fabric of Austin tech. We feel helpless this time.
Many of these talented people said that the soaring housing prices in Austin had them eyeballing smaller towns in Texas, or worse, their hometowns outside of the state. There are only so many times you can try to buy a house, get rejected, or get outbid on 22 homes before you start looking at other places. Only so many people will accept a billion percent rent increase at renewal time before thinking that going back home to Louisiana’s lookin’ pretty good.
This week, Austin CultureMap reported that Austin now ranks number two among the most overvalued home markets in America.
Tesla is getting ready to open their Gigafactory, Oracle is moving their headquarters to Austin, and Samsung is currently trying to get buy-in from city officials in Taylor so they can build their mega plant near Austin. Home investors and firms from all over are salivating.
It all feels both exciting, yet overwhelming when you’re going to buy a house here, only to get outbid by $150K over asking price from an investor in California. It’s been demoralizing for so many.
Because we also own a massive real estate publication, we’re firmly in touch with that sector, and brokers in Austin are telling us that the summer was out of control and overheated, but they’re already seeing that hyper-activity slow a bit.
Housing alone isn’t enough of a reason for an entire sector to be packing up or dreaming of leaving. So what gives?
At last count, a thread in ADJ on this topic is at 806 comments, and I personally received several hundred more via direct message with people in tech explaining why they’re leaving or considering leaving.
There are challenges within the city limits of Austin that have bubbled over like crime and separately, the contentious issue of houselessness – it’s an ongoing and very serious issue that has people leaving downtown, but not necessarily leaving the surrounding areas.
So if housing isn’t the exclusive driving force, how has that problem combined with the employment market shifts? How has the job market changed in such a way that talent is ready to hit the eject button on this town? It boils down to a changing talent pool, fractures in the hiring process, a shift in priorities, and a lingering brokenness in the entire process that is exacerbating all other conditions.
Let’s dig into that further.
Because of the global pandemic, remote work has become a staple in the tech industry, teams adjusted and realized the office is more of a luxury than a requirement, and many large brands swear that they’ll never require their employees to come into the office again.
For that reason, tech workers’ expectations have been forever changed. Fully remote options will drive the market for years to come, and hybrid options or flex work hours will also be how large tech firms attract and retain talent – ping pong tables and chill vibes will be less of an appealing sales pitch.
The pandemic has also shifted the talent pool to include everyone in America – if all workers are remote, employers no longer have to look just to the local workforce. This talent pool expansion is a double-edged sword – if an Austin tech company can look to Nebraska for workers, then remote workers can look outside of Austin to other budding tech hubs, potentially shifting the entire environment. That’s the main driver for Austin brands continuing to hire in Austin, lest the entire ecosystem fail.
All that said, a disconnect in the job market in Austin tech remains. Holdouts from attitudes and old systems of the past linger on.
A theme we continue to hear from high quality candidates is that employers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. You already know the stereotype of job listings that say they’re entry level but require a decade of work experience. But as budgets tightened in the face of uncertainty, Austin tech companies are becoming phenomenally great at hiring someone to do three jobs that pay less than one. One of our Group members asserted that employers are looking for turnkey employees. It used to be that employer job descriptions were a realistic wish list and that if you hit over 60% of them, you might get an interview. Now people believe that the requirements are becoming unrealistic and if you meet less than 100% of them, there is zero chance of an interview. Many have complained that hiring managers and recruiters continue to not be aligned, slowing the process repeatedly.
The timing of the acceleration of unrealistic expectations has locals feeling like the pandemic created conditions that allowed for employers to take advantage of job seekers who must be desperate since the world is upside down. I don’t personally believe this has anything to do with the pandemic, rather it is a continuation of an ongoing trend.
If you think this is an exaggeration, just this week a job seeker let me know that a recruiter sent them a job description that required the “ability to code in any language.” WTF. The recruiter was serious. Try telling me this isn’t out of control and I will laugh right in your face, friend.
Another serious point of contention in Austin is that salary levels are not increasing anywhere near the skyrocketing living expenses.
Many believe the salary levels are a decade old and simply can’t keep up with the market conditions in Austin and while we’ll leave the “you are a remote worker, you shouldn’t earn as much since you moved to a less expensive locale” debate to another day, we will firmly assert that this problem will hold back the tech innovation and the overall economy in Austin.
In that massive thread in our Group, one member asked, “So I guess a question is: do we accept the idea that Austin is now only for those making 6 figures??”
What is so disheartening about the salary conditions is that changing this couldn’t possibly be done overnight – it requires time and structural changes, and the bigger a company is, the slower it is to turn the proverbial ship.
Meanwhile, numerous people retired early during the pandemic, or began freelancing or consulting full time. Many of these people aren’t likely to return to the workforce under current conditions, and they feel like they have less roots in Austin – they can live anywhere now. See how remote work has caused a ripple effect?
Do you remember when some tech executives in Austin reluctantly sent employees home as the pandemic hit, flippantly warning that it wouldn’t be a coronacation!? Bad behaviors like this and other employee treatment during the pandemic haven’t and will not be forgotten – the memories will remain as fresh as the time you got shoved by that bully in elementary school. You may have forgiven, but you’ll never forget. Trust has been broken.
Trust was also broken during the pandemic when people lost what they believed to be stable jobs. It has created a certain trepidation in the marketplace.
The pandemic has forever altered all of our lives as individuals. Thousands died from COVID-19, and those of us left behind lost loved ones. We were all sent home with no job security. Many of us became homeschool teachers and somehow also had to keep up with our careers. We were forced to share spaces with our partners, our children, our parents, our family.
Some would think all of this is a recipe for resentment, but in the majority of cases, what has happened is a serious shift in priorities to favor the family, to appreciate quality time, to find solace in more quiet time and a less full calendar.
People tell us they don’t intend on going out for drinks after work when they’re called back into the office – it turns out we actually like our kids or partners now that we’ve gotten to know them, or that we value our newfound connection to old hobbies. The priorities aren’t fleeting – this pandemic has changed us.
Because of this fundamental change in who we are, ongoing problems in the employment market are now magnified.
“Isms” still plague the hiring process. Ageism continues to be a very serious problem in Austin tech, for example. People tell us that they’re still experiencing sexism, racism, ableism, and every other sort of discrimination. In 2021. It’s unbelievable. You can say all of that is simply perception, but in this scenario, perception truly is reality. And because our priorities have shifted, our giveashitters are pretty low when it comes to tolerating bad actors.
That same shift has also lowered tolerance levels for burnout. One member in the Group pointed out that after the market crash in 2008, resource levels were depleted – and here we are in 2021, they haven’t been restored. People were burned out before the pandemic, and now they’re moving to the country to work remotely and begin healing this burnout that is coming to a head.
It’s difficult to deal with ghosting (be it computer-aided or overworked recruiters) when you’re already burned out and thinking you’re the only one. It’s giving this sector a terrible reputation that is spreading.
Resources aren’t the only factor here that is stuck in 2008. Companies were so used to getting a flood of applications for every single job listing, their ATS (applicant tracking system) filters were implemented accordingly. The volume of applications has dropped, yet the filters remain overly restrictive. They put their ATS on auto-pilot once upon a time, and it remains that way, yet they continue to reach out to us in confusion, asking us where all the applicants are.
In the eyes of tech talent, the hiring process has deteriorated. Simultaneously, in the eyes of companies hiring, the process has been improved. Enhanced.
The disconnect here is not in the unrealistic expectations previously outlined, or the rising opacity in salaries, but in the actual mechanics of the hiring process. Even smaller companies have added additional rounds of interviews and ridiculous red tape in what is an effort in vain to compete with the Googles of the world. There’s a lot of what I would call “playing office” going on, with non-technical hiring managers hiring for technical roles, or unrelated staff being roped into panel interviews to weigh in on whether or not someone is a “culture fit.”
The process has become lengthy and demanding with endless personality tests, whiteboard tests, Zoom calls, questionnaires, more phone and video calls, aptitude tests, and so forth. Most people have come to accept these as hoops to jump through, but the practice of having job seekers do extensive unpaid projects as part of their job application is creating deep resentment and a growing resistance. No one expects to shake a hand and get a job today, but doing a 12 hour assignment that is due in 24 hours is unreasonable, especially unpaid and with no promise of their intellectual property being protected.
It started off as a way to aide candidates into demonstrating their true skills and it was simple. But over time, the practice has “evolved.” It feels to some like every Austin tech recruiter and hiring manager went to some evil underground conference a few years ago and were brainwashed into thinking that if they ALL assign abusive tasks, no one in the sector will notice because they’ll just accept that it’s “how things are done now.” But that’s not happening and the overly complicated process combined with other market factors is driving seriously qualified tech talent out of Austin.
The hiring process has continued to degrade and for no good reason. We actually built ADJ in a way that would directly connect hiring manager and job seeker, promoting the concept of simplifying the hiring process. Yet here we are.
The final nail in the coffin is that candidates and employers are blaming each other for a power imbalance, and thinking that their situation is unique. A feeling of isolation is growing due to peoples’ inability to openly discuss this process – both hiring folks and job seekers.
The bottom line is that numerous market conditions have converged to create a scenario where people are tired and simply won’t settle anymore. Expectations have changed. And we have changed as people.
We will inevitably get hate mail because of this editorial and folks will say that the very publication of this piece will push people out of town, but we would argue that if no one makes an effort to diagnose the growing illness, it will metastasize.
Coping tactics for exhausted working parents living with pandemic life side effects
(EDITORIAL) Exhausted working parents have been forced into wearing too many hats by the pandemic – here are some coping tactics that can help.
The last 18 months have been undeniably difficult for many people, but families have encountered some of the more exhausting side effects of the pandemic – from isolation affecting small children to an inability to rest effectively. HBR’s Daisy Dowling has some tips to help anyone, but especially working family members, start to find some value in themselves again after being wiped out for so long.
Dowling’s first technique involves making a list of all of the positive things you have done for your job or your family. It’s an expansive list, to be sure – she mentions things like cooking for your family each day and keeping your cool in Zoom meetings in which coworkers are being annoying. Keeping a tally of your accomplishments in the last year and a half may give you a much-needed confidence boost.
It’s also a good way to check in on things like special skills and job experience for your resume, though Dowling warns against using your more official hiring documents as a lens for this activity.
Another step is more of a spiritual one: It involves labeling each distinct phase of the pandemic – Dowling encourages the reader to be “serious or flippant, basic or unique” at their discretion – and separating them with lines, saving your current phase for last. This is a less-active, arguably less-productive task than the last one, but it can help you close a lot of mental doors (or tabs, if you prefer) and allow you to move on to the next “phase” of this collective experience.
Finding your “point of control” is another notion posited by Dowling, and it centers around figuring out what you can actually control in your life. For most of us, there isn’t much that fits this description; Dowling assures that this is fine, and that finding any point (no matter how small) where you feel entirely in control is sufficient.
Possible contenders include anything from your wake-up routine to the shape in which you keep your house.
You don’t need to focus on work or your family for this exercise, either. As important as those two arenas are, finding your point of control should involve your desires and nothing else. In this case, it’s all about you – and, if your familial pandemic experience has been anything like everyone else’s, you could probably use some you time.
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Dowling recommends taking some time to focus on your career – and nothing else.
Even if it’s just a tiny chunk of time per week (she mentions that 15 minutes or so is fine), part of reintegrating into the workforce involves conscious planning and thought about your job. It’s hard to wear the parent hat, the employee hat, and the at-home-personality hat all at once; this is your chance to take off all but one of them for a while.
Finally, using your experience to mentor or tutor a colleague or prospective employee can do wonders for your self-esteem, especially because it can help remind you about your true skill set and how much you actually know about your job. Nothing makes your expertise more apparent than working with someone who needs things broken down into basic components, and you’re doing your field a service along the way.
Dowling concludes by acknowledging that not all of these techniques will work for everyone, but the key is trying for now. “Whatever the case, you’ve just taken a critical, proactive step forward,” she says of anyone who has attempted something on this list. “You’re finding new ways to be a committed professional, a loving parent, and yourself at the same time.”
Even if you aren’t a parent, take a shot at some of these techniques – you may find yourself coming out of a pit you didn’t even know you were occupying.
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