Once upon a time we lived in tribal groups that guided our lives and supplied us with our physical, social, and spiritual needs. As “civilization” emerged it may have been the Church or the State that assumed these roles; today, you may depend on the company for which you work for material security and a sense of belonging.
Yet history shows that every kind of institution and community eventually crumbles, and when it does the individual is exposed. This is forced change, and as the world speeds up the likelihood of its happening to you increases. Therefore you need to know more about yourself, be aware of how to manage change better, and have a plan for your life and that does not depend on an institution. Whether you want to change the world or just change yourself, you are right in suspecting that no one is going to do it for you. In the end, it is all up to you.
The other key pressure on us, strange as it may seem, is the expansion of choice. Most of us cherish freedom, but when we actually get the opportunity to make our own way it can be terrifying. Many of the works covered in this book, from Philip McGraw’s Life Strategies to Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, deal with the paradox that the more choices we have, the greater our need for focus. Anyone can get a job, but do you have a purpose?
The twentieth century was about fitting in to large organizational structures—by conforming well you became successful. Yet Richard Koch shows us in The 80/20 Principle that success now and in the future comes from being more yourself; if you are willing to express your uniqueness, you will inevitably contribute something of real value to the world. This has a moral dimension to it (Teilhard de Chardin referred to “the incommunicable singularity that each of us possess”), but also makes economic and scientific sense: Evolution happens by differentiation, not by matching up to some general standard, and therefore the rewards of life will always go to those who are not simply excellent but outstanding.
.“In the last analysis, the essential thing is the life of the individual. This alone makes history, here alone do the great transformations take place, and the whole future, the whole history of the world, ultimately springs as a gigantic summation from these hidden sources in individuals.” Carl Gustav Jung