Friday, July 30, 2004

Choosing a College Lifestyle

College Prowler uses student-driven surveys and quotes to assemble rankings and guides to the top 100 colleges in the U.S., which isn't so revolutionary, but they do have an interesting business model. What really rings true for me was that they do their college rankings with actual lifestyle concerns like the attractiveness, ratio and approachability of the girls on campus (and guys too, of course).

They've got some of the usual stuff (academics and sports) you'd see in all of the other college data sites out there, but they've clued in to how kids will increasingly make their college selections -- by trying to envision what kind of lifestyle they'd be able to have there. They want trustworthy first-person accounts of the weather, drug scene (in a all-drugs-are-bad sort of way, but I'm sure you could read it both ways), nightlife, and the local atmosphere around the campus, along with piles of other lifestyle factors that kids will actually care about.

So maybe prospective college students are getting smarter about aligning their choice of college with their desired if only more of them could figure out why they were going to college in the first place.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Envisioning Your Future

I don't think that most of us have a very good relationship with our future. We might have a vague sense of the stuff we want, or things we'd like to accomplish, or relationships we hope to develop, but very few people can actually articulate what they think their life will look like five or more years down the road.

I'm all about living in the moment and going with the flow, but I'm starting to figure out that if I want something to happen, I need to articulate it and then start working toward it. This isn't that hard when you're planning to buy a new bike -- you start saving cash, do the research, and eventually make the purchase, but what about more holistic planning for your whole life? Why not create a view of how your work, learning and the rest of your lifestyle fit together?

These are obviously leading questions, right? I've been working on a tool for an online career development application that helps people create a view of their future lifestyle. It's called the Career Plan Builder -- I take the blame for the boring name. Here's an example a future lifestyle I wish I would have pursued...and probably still could:

These are obviously focused on the aspirations of high school students, but I'm seeing potential in this simple way of representing anyone's future goals. One thing I like about it is that it expands the idea of lifestyle to include all kinds of things that may be important to you.

More speculation on these possibilities in my instructional design and technology blog...

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Pat Kane Interview

Pat Kane In Conversation With R.U. Sirius
Pat Kane is ridiculously smart. A fair bit of this interview goes right over my head, but there's some wisdom here for even us normal people:
"My hope is that the book will allow a discussion about how to get beyond work as the defining concept of a purposeful, productive and creative life. If “player” becomes an optional identity for the mainstream of people in information societies over the next few years, then I hope to be able to enrich and support the networks that will be needed for this to happen."

ACVE Research and Lifestylism

You might not expect to find much of interest in the Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, but I found some great stuff in their research digests that relate to my emerging sense of lifestylism. These are mostly focused on work and how people fit their careers into the rest of their lives. The beauty of these digests is that they summarize and synthesize, then include links and resources for further digging.

The Balancing Act of Adult Life
This idea pops into my head every time I see the phrase "work-life" balance. I could try to explain my objections to the phrase, but this quote does a better job:
"'Balance' of life roles may be an illusive pursuit and defining what it means is highly individual. Secretan asserts that it isn’t balance that we need, but integration. Balance implies either/or, that investing in one role requires taking something away from another. 'Creative people use their brains and deploy their gifts whenever and wherever they feel the urge….Balancing is what we do to our checkbooks; integration is the happy confluence and merging of all of the activities in our lives'."
Changing Career Patterns gives a few nice examples of people unjobbing, mostly leaving big companies to start entrepreneurial ventures for lifestyle reasons and ambition. It's closely related to this article on Career Mobility talking about how "boredom, mismatched values, and conflicts with other life roles can create personal unrest and trigger job movement--upward, downward, lateral, and outward."

Career Development for Meaningful Life Work
I like this concept of aligning work with your "core self", and I like it even more when matched up beside the idea of possible selves.
"Achieving meaningful life work is a process that involves aligning one's work with one's true essence or core self. It is an ongoing process that involves self-reflection to discover the deep passions within and then exploring how to bring those passions or interests to bear in meaningful ways in work."
Career Development of Free Agent Workers
I've included this link as a reminder to myself that not everyone is going to become a "free agent" and start creating their own consulting and contracting companies, even if they acknowledge that it might be great to enjoy the freedom and control.
"For the most part, free agent workers are well educated and possess high levels of skills that are in demand; they have chosen a free agent lifestyle because it frees them from organizational politics, provides them opportunities to learn, gives them more control of their time, and provides 30% to 200% more income than their counterparts in traditional jobs earn."

Monday, July 19, 2004

Lifestylism Reading List

My recent soul-searching about my instructional design and technology blog has coincided with starting to work out some possible thesis topics for my masters, so I've been trying to identify the ideas, people and topics that really interest me.

So what am I interested in? I decided to look back and try to find the commonalities between the most influential books I've read in the past couple of years. If there is one common thread, it is figuring out how people approach their self-actualization. They've all fed my emerging fascination with lifestyle choices and values:

The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Every amateur urban planner has probably read this one at some point. It totally changed the way I look at cities, particularly inner cities and older neighbourhoods. Self-actualization is reflected in where people choose to live (and why), the opportunities provided by those places, and how their location fits into their chosen lifestyle (work, relationships, leisure, consumer values, creativity).

The Clustered World: How We Live, What We Buy, and What It All Means about Who We Are
This book rocked my world. At first it seems like the grossest generalization to claim that everyone in the continent could be slotted into a set number of predefined lifestyle clusters. Nobody likes to be typecast, and it’s hard to like the idea that someone could predict your political views, the kind of coffee you’re likely to drink, what kind of vehicle you drive, and a host of other lifestyle factors based on your zip code, which has been associated with one of these 67 clusters. But the arguments are convincing, and you start to see the power of the data. It simplifies the bewildering web of people’s choices (location, beliefs, what they buy) into something that rings true, without losing the details that you need to derive real meaning.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community
I can’t believe the amount of data in this book showing how people’s values have changed over the last generation. It’s an amazing illustration of how individual choices and values seem to coalesce into a sort of collective consciousness. I wonder how today’s young people will view their roles as part of families, communities, and cities.

Becoming Adult: How Teenagers Prepare for the World of Work
This one is most closely related to my work, offering a fascinating glimpse into the aspirations of teenagers over a five-year longitudinal study. It’s a testament to the power of the American Dream, with the vast majority of high school students expecting to earn four-year degrees, get professional careers, and enjoying an upper-middle-class lifestyle. But they have no clue how to go about it, and often have unrealistic expectations of their potential paths.

I've already shared some the impact The End of Work had on me recently. I think Rifkin should have called it The End of the Job instead. I don't see much evidence that people won't be finding and creating their own paid work and integrating that function seamlessly into the rest of their lifestyle, rather than selling half of their waking life to the same organization for years at a time.

Two more books certainly fit the mold as well, although I haven’t read them yet. I've been enjoying Richard Florida's Creative Class site, so I should probably read his book as well. Along similar lines, Pat Kane’s site has entertained me for the past year, and I’m looking forward to seeing his book in fall -- The Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living. Pat also recently linked to this one about the culture of overwork that looks to be worth tracking down.

So, self-actualization is one of the common threads. These books are all popularized social science, mostly based on original research into how people choose and arrange their lifestyles. There’s an important sub-theme centered on work and how people view their work in the context of their lives, balanced (or fully integrated) with creative pursuits, leisure and relationships. If you have suggestions for further reading in any of these areas, please let me know.

Update: Speaking of self-actualization, I've been exploring Maslow again, and I just finished re-reading Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (overview/review here) -- it should have been on this list originally because it was influential in my thinking years before, but I apparently forgot it. Flow a powerful theory that can be applied in all areas of life, and with special attention on meaningful work:
"Yet we can't blame family, society, or history if our work is meaningless, dull, or stressful. Admittedly, there are few options when we realize that our job is useless or actually harmful. Perhaps the only choice is to quit as quickly as possible, even at the cost of severe financial hardship. In terms of the bottom line of one's life, it is always better to do something one feels good about than something that may make us materially comfortable but emotionally miserable. Such decisions are notoriously difficult and require great honesty with oneself."

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Young Entrepreneurs...True Lifestylists

I was critical of Jeremy Rifkin in a previous post because he discounted the value of people creating their own work, taking temporary jobs, contracts, consulting gigs and setting up their own one-person shops. He did talk quite a lot about the rising number of temp workers, but only in negative terms, implying that people would only go that route out of dire necessity. I think the next generation is unlikely to feel the same way, particularly in creative and tech fields. Will Pate's post about The Entrepreneurial Generation got me thinking about that again, and the post he linked to had a great quote:
"What all of these guys have in common, besides the fact that I'm insanely jealous of them, is that they see life as an entrepreneurial endeavor. The whole concept of work/life balance is unnecessary, because the two have merged."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

College Aspirations on the Rise

I find this chart fascinating. First of all the trend is significant -- the post-secondary-education aspirations of high school students is definitely on the rise, and has been for 15 years. These kids and their parents believe that getting degrees is the ticket to prosperity. The difference between poor kids and more well-off ones isn't surprising, but it sure is interesting. One concern I share with the authors of the report is that although educational aspirations are rising, it's getting more difficult for students to actually finish their degrees:
"Many high school students hold high expectations that are not realized by subsequent attainment. Ten years after these 1990 10th graders stated their expectations, 46 percent had some postsecondary experience but less than a bachelor’s degree (compared with 30 percent who had expected that level), 26 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree (versus 32 percent), and 3 percent had earned a graduate degree (versus 27 percent)."

The End of Work

The End of Work has been rocking my world this week. It's a great introduction to the history of work, especially the effects of the industrial revolution and the Depression on average working people. But Rifkin is also a futurist, predicting that technology will displace most of the global labour force in the coming decades. As production rises with fewer workers required, the trend seems pretty clear. Some of it seems a bit overwrought, and in the nine years since the book was published, the predicted collapse of the demand for workers hasn't really materialized.

He did offer a short update in 2000 -- The End of Work — Five Years Later -- but it doesn't really offer any further insight. He reiterates the spectre of rising consumer debt as the primary mechanism propping up the economy in the U.S., which is probably somewhat true. If everyone is borrowing to support higher standards of living, there will likely be an eventual breaking point where families are just one lay-off away from financial ruin.

One thing that did ring true in his analysis was the growing split between what used to be called white-collar and blue-collar work. Much of the recent employment growth in North America has been in low-paying, often part-time jobs with little opportunity for advancement or personal fulfillment. Meanwhile, middle-class parents are pushing their kids into colleges and universities so they can compete for a dwindling pool of "good jobs" in finance, law, medicine, entertainment, design, etc. If even some of what Rifkin predicts comes true, most of those students will emerge from college with their degree, at least $20,000 debt and limited job prospects.

I was also reminded of the ongoing discussion about the outsourcing of white-collar jobs to countries like India. If North American companies were already shedding middle managers and low-level jobs (through the use of new labour-saving technology, re-engineering and downsizing), and then they also export most of their production (software, data, infrastructure), which jobs remain? You could be left with a polarized organization lacking the mid-level middle-class postions: an elite group of executives, strategists and designers who make the decisions, and low-paying front-line workers doing customer service, shipping, and the remaining administrative work.

Rifkin seems to discount the trend toward free agency in work -- it's as if he assumes that all consultants, small-scale entrepreneurs, freelancers, and contract workers would always prefer full-time work with one company for years. I don't think this is the case. In an age of unjobbing, people will have to take more responsibility for creating their own opportunities for paid work, and many will embrace this process as an essential part of lifestylism. Their work will be a single cog in the system of their whole lifestyle, potentially fitting in better than any nine-to-fiver ever could.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Wooing Counsellors

Are guidance counsellors really this influential? Apparently colleges are flying high school counsellors out to their campuses, then wining and dining them in an effort to make a good impression. The premise is that the counsellors will realize how great the school is and send more graduating students their way. Aside from the obvious ethical problems, I'd be really surprised to find out that the counsellors in most schools have much impact on the future plans of students. We keep hearing about student-to-teacher ratios of 600:1 or higher -- how could any counsellor get to know students well enough to offer meaningful advice to each one, never mind get more kids to choose the college that bribed them?

What is Lifestylism?

I'm co-opting the word lifestylism for the title of this project. I wanted to start looking at how people envision their future lifestyles and move toward those visions (or not). I've thought about how people figure out their careers and education choices, but it seems too limiting -- we do not base our present or future identities solely on our work. When we project identities out into the future, we see lifestyles -- and I'm using the broadest definition of lifestyle -- encompassing work, learning, travel, relationships, community, leisure, spirituality, things we buy and pretty much anything manifested in the way people live.

The word lifestylism seems to have found its roots in anarchist literature. I've also seen it used in reference to eco-consumerism, libertarianism, discrimination based on lifestyle choices, a medical doctrine related to healthy living and finally, the sense that it is somehow related to identity politics, loosely defined as basing your political stance on some slice of your identity (feminist, gay rights, etc.), but of the 374 Google results for the word, most focus on the connections to the anarchy movement.

In a nutshell, true anarchists believe that lifestylists (adherents of lifestylism) are politically aware, but don't actually have the guts to be activists in any arena except their own lifestyle choices...which basically makes them a bunch of poseurs and cowards. If your goal was to overthrow capitalism and stick it to the man, focusing on changes in your day-to-day life doesn't seem to go far enough. This view seemed to be articulated well in this quote:
"In this manner, we reject lifestylists, because what they seek -- narcissistic autonomy -- is impossible in our interconnected society, and is not anarchistic, because it disdains class struggle and organization in favor of turning inward and abandoning human solidarity. The methodological basis for our rejection of lifestylism is that it liberates no one, including the lifestylist, and is thus no threat to illegitimate authority whatsoever. The 'temporary autonomous zone' is a pipe dream, as it leaves the prime source of oppression -- the State -- untouched, unchallenged, and intact."
This one has a friendlier tone, but says pretty much the same thing:
"There is nothing wrong with trying to be a nicer person or growing your own organic vegetables but it won't get rid of capitalism, and until we can overthrow capitalism we are stuck with authoritarianism, poverty, unemployment, wars, and all the other things that are part and parcel of it."
Apparently there's even a well established conflict between lifestylism and social activism in anarchist circles -- I appreciated this author's attempt to reconcile them by pointing out the absurdity of one without the other:
"...which brings me to that touchy subject: one's lifestyle. While the debate about 'lifestylism vs. social activism' has been raging all around us, many people have missed the simple fact that there is no 'unbridgable chasm' between the two ideas... that, in fact, they are meaningless without one another. Engaging in social activism without changing your lifestyle to fit with your revolutionary principals makes one a hypocrite. Similarly, to try to live in a revolutionary way, while not engaging in social activism leaves one only further alienated."
This final quote approaches the conflict in a similar way, acknowledging that everyone is a lifestylist:
"Professor Mushkin and the Flaming Furies can scream themselves hoarse about the errors of lifestylism, but when it comes down to it, we are all 'lifestylists', because we are all ultimately politicized for personal and often selfish reasons, and face it, nobody likes being alone."
It reminded me of This Magazine's tagline, which I've always loved: "because everything is political". This addresses the criticism that lifestylism is too narcissistic or too focused on looking out for number one -- it is nearly impossible to live a fulfilling, sustainable life without engaging the people around us.

I'm no anarchist, and I don't place too much stock in the anarchists' derision because I think they're using the label to define lifestyles too narrowly. Why can't my lifestyle include social activism? My lifestyle should be a manifestation of my values -- if I believe that I should help homeless people, then my lifestyle should reflect that. I've included the quotes because I like their revolutionary fervor. I don't mind the idea of emerging lifestyle activism, although I doubt that many of us plan to overthrow capitalism.

I'm also not particularly interested in definitions of lifestyles that focus too narrowly on any one aspect of the ways we choose to spend our time: consumer choices, sexual orientation, health, or any others. I'm proposing a holistic view of what constitutes a lifestyle, and I'm really curious about how people (especially young people) imagine and pursue their desired future.

So what is lifestylism? Simply put, it's the study of lifestyle choices. At a deeper level, it might dig further into how and why people make (or don't make) the decisions that create their lifestyles over time. Perhaps it's too broad, but I'm excited about the possibilities.