The Only Thing That's Permanent is Change

Imagine you're a candle maker in the late 1800s. Thanks to your willingness to embrace new technology, your paraffin wax candles smell better and are more efficient than the once-popular tallow candles (made from rendered beef or mutton fat). Demand is high. Your future looks bright...right up until some inventor named Edison changes everything with his improvements to the filament light bulb. Things change, and some changes are likely to affect your career plans.

With that in mind, a 2012 Bloomberg/Business Week article about a travel agent for space tourism might be interesting food for thought. We periodically see these overviews touting future-oriented jobs (such as this recent Marketplace article) featuring biotech organ designer as a job that will see booming demand. While any claims to predict the future should be taken with a grain of salt, is it out of the question that you may someday be interviewing for a position as a space pilot or organ designer? Plenty of jobs people are doing right now didn't exist at all just a few decades (or even a few years) ago.

One good habit of mind is to think broadly about skill sets that aren't industry-specific. Creativity, lateral thinking, and problem-solving skills are going to be very important in the changing workplace, argues Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind. For example, a journalism degree used to lead directly to working as a print journalist. These days, the newspaper and magazine industries are undergoing rapid change, and writers must adapt their skills to new media in new ways. Knowing how to work in the newspaper industry doesn't offer the job security it once did, but the fast-changing world of communication does need people who are good writers and good thinkers.

That approach might apply to any number of fields. Another way of thinking about this topic is to look into the fast-changing fields from which new markets are likely to emerge. If you'd been a computer programmer when that occupation was young, you'd have tremendous bargaining power. Why? Because demand for your skills was high, and supply was low. What fields of study are going to lead to amazing new careers in bioengineering, green technology, new approaches to education, or international trade in a fast-shrinking world?

Along these lines, here are some more questions for your consideration: Do you think physical textbooks will continue to dominate the education market? Fifty years from now, will most people still be commuting to work in vehicles that burn fossil fuels? In the way that vinyl records and cassette tapes were largely replaced by CDs, which have been largely replaced by digital downloads, what massive changes are coming next in the world of media? Where will you fit in to the new reality as it emerges?