Meet Janus

(This is from Edition 24 of The Upleveler, our weekly smartletter)


Janus is the Roman God of transitions, doorways, beginnings, and ends. The most famous thing named after him? The month of January. 

Now, Janus is depicted as having two faces - one looking into the past, and one into the future. Makes sense, right?

Janus was also thought to preside over the beginning and ending of conflict. Historically speaking, we live in extremely peaceful times (so say experts who take a long view of things). But increasingly, there's one conflict that plagues all of us: the battle for future relevance.

Paradigms of work change over time

It's fair to say that such a conflict is new to the world of work and life. The biggest challenge for an earlier generation of white-collar workers was 'entry' - finding a job from among a limited pool of options. The environment was largely stable, so your education and skills stayed 'relevant' for a long time. If you survived to the finish line, retirement benefits awaited you.

Today, companies and individuals go out of date fairly easily. Even experts are in danger. All because a tech-powered, status quo-defying environment brings little and big seismic shocks all the time.

So what do we do to stay relevant? One strategy is to become Janus-like.

So look to the past...

The battle for future relevance doesn't mean the past is irrelevant. Ask yourself: what is it that was true in the past and is likely to remain true in the future too? For instance:

Humans are likely to exhibit the same old strengths and weaknesses: we will remain adaptable, cooperate with others, be moved by art and babies. But we will also be tempted, get distracted, do anything to quench immediate hunger and other basic needs, and hit out at others in times of fear.

The good news is that you have access to every bit of wisdom that's come from the annals of human experience. The bad news is that you need to invest time and effort soaking them in. Building habits of reflection and knowledge consumption, a right curiosity diet, and the ability to find practice grounds are crucial.

The past is our ally if we can pick the right lessons.

...while placing bets on the future

None of us really knows what will happen in the future, which technologies will survive, which roles and jobs will go extinct, and what happiness will look like fifty years from now. What we can do is figure out the landscape and place more informed bets. Take the bitcoin debate, for instance: is it a bubble? is it a genuine alternative to a state-controlled monetary system? Or is it safer to say that bitcoin may die, but the idea of a blockchain will be the real 'lambi race ka ghoda'?

To answer this well, you need to draw on all your knowledge and cognitive resources, drawing from past wisdom, applying a variety of mental models, using your network to mash in different opinions, and then reaching a conclusion. (While preparing to be wrong.)

In general, what Janus would advise you to do is to look at both the past and the future to help you make your next move in the present. It won't be easy, but the first step is to build an environment around you that is resilient, purposeful, and enables you to take charge. 

For now, think about this: what's holding you back from taking charge?

Take charge and subscribe to The Upleveler for more such posts.