The Art of the Pivot

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” 

This is a question almost every child is asked. We set them up early to understand the importance of their contribution to our economy. We emphasize that their utilitarian value is the most significant aspect of their life. It is so important that we place them in education systems that are supposed to guarantee their ability to get a job–if they only devote their time and energy to doing what they are told. Sadly, it’s not working for the vast majority–at any socio-economic level. Our linear education system has trained them for a linear life that does not exist. They do not learn one of the most essential skills they will need, the art of the pivot. 

By pivot, I mean the ability to look around and change course. This could be upskilling to a new aspect of current work or changing directions to pursue other work that is more meaningful. It applies to their personal lives as well. As they progress through life’s stages and encounter different people and experiences, their perspectives, values, and priorities will change. They will need to change course to respond to these shifts. 

Pivoting is happening all around us as our global economy is undergoing a dramatic transformation driven by technology. New types of training programs are emerging and the opportunity to work remotely has expanded where people can choose to live. Living as a cog on a bureaucratic wheel in our industrialized system is no longer acceptable to many. Millions of people are reprioritizing what they value in life. The Great Resignation is underway. 

I call it the “art” of the pivot because there are no set rules. Decisions are unique to the individual and the situations they find themselves in. Unfortunately, we have trained our children to comply and conform to structured programs rather than having them learn to navigate their own way. This will keep them stuck.

To know when to pivot requires that our children learn to listen to their conscience and cultivate a network of people they can turn to for support. New industries are forming as fast as others are dying. The average full-time job for those under 34 is 2.8 years. According to LinkedIn, 85% of all work is found through other people, not job postings. 

Throughout their lives, our children’s generation will likely have multiple types of work both under corporate umbrellas and as freelancers. Taking tests and studying content while confined to school buildings will do little, if anything, to expand their social network of supportive adults nor will it help them learn when to pivot. They need real-life experiences. 

How do they get these experiences? The first step lies in freeing up their time to be out in the community–volunteering, working or meeting people in areas they are interested in. This can be challenging as the demands of homework, standardized testing, sports, and extracurriculars are strong counter pulls.

I understand this because I lived it with my own children and often felt like a salmon swimming upstream. I prioritized dinner, family, friendships, volunteering, and part-time jobs over homework, test prep, and sports. Not one of my three children, all now young adults, had a 4.0-grade point average or high test scores. Yet, they were all able to end up where they hoped they would be and have learned to change course when necessary to pursue what is important to them.

The next step requires us to allow our children the freedom to make choices about what to try and the permission to pivot when it doesn’t work out for them the way they hoped. We often discount many interests as being unable to provide long-term work or a career, but long-term is an illusion and new types of jobs are continually emerging. 

The old white-collar/blue-collar society model has been redefined and well-paying new collar industries have been added to the mix. We have to refrain from filtering everything through the lens of what we understood to be true in the past. This hinders our children’s ability to move forward into this new era. 

Learning the art of the pivot requires agency, interest, and relationships. It happens in communities with supportive adults committed to sharing their interests with young people and peers looking to share their experiences and explorations with each other. It involves looking at our children as unique individuals rather than whether they fit into a standardized mold. Are we ready for a cultural pivot? 

Note: I am helping to launch a new initiative called B-Unbound, a community-based platform that connects youth (ages 14-24) with supportive adults and peers navigating their way through shared interests. It is youth-driven, adult supported, and operates in parallel to school systems. B-Unbound is operated by Big Picture Learning, in collaboration with Straight Up Impact. Our pilots have just started and I will be discussing more about B-Unbound in upcoming blogs.

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