A question of security.

There’s little doubt that one of the primary reasons people suffer with anxiety today is the lack of a sense of security. People are more mobile today than ever before, and as we live in a society where people travel and put down roots far from their place of birth. One phrase we hear very often is “I don’t have people here.”

As we develop a life away from family members and people we grow up with, we do so in ways our parents and their parents likely never had to. One of the greatest skills people can have these days is to be able to connect with others quickly over common interests and common goals. In a world where we’re seeing rapid change, and sometimes shifts in careers, or the fortunes of ourselves and our friends, it is hardly surprising that people feel their security is tenuous and their future uncertain.

There’s also another factor when we think of security today.  Many of us live in cities in which the cost of living is extremely high. In some modern cities property prices are completely out of sync with how much people earn. The traditional idea of security being ‘owning your own home’ can be a completely unrealistic goal. As a result these traditional values become a source of concern or even severe anxiety.

In the past, one source of security has been the idea that if one ‘get’s a trade’ one is safe. However, in a fast moving modern economy that’s sometimes not what it may appear. To be great at a specific job you many be talented in the use of a specific piece of software. As technology moves and that piece of software slides into redundancy, the temptation is to think that we too are becoming redundant. In other words, keeping up with the technology can be a job in itself, like a hunter chasing an ever changing quarry.

Investing in training in the bright and upcoming world of eight track stereo technology may have seemed a great idea in 1972, but by 1976 was already a really bad idea. Better to move to the more lucrative world of VHS stereo.

Where this all goes is to arrive at the conclusion that some of the ways we’ve considered our security important are pretty flawed in the modern world. So, what is the solution?

Well, first of all we need to re-evaluate the idea of what security is. It’s not as simple as saying ‘it’s money’. Anyone who has experienced a property crash, or the tragedy of prolonged ill health will attest that simply starting out with a large amount of cash isn’t the solution. It’s going to drain away, unless there’s a continual form of income. People have a wonderful capacity to live up to the level of their income, and still have no more than a few dollars in the bank.

Secondly, we need to think about the idea of the secure home. As mentioned above, if you live in a city like Vancouver or Manhattan, setting the goal of buying a house and having a family is increasingly unlikely to be possible. No one buys a house in Vancouver for less than $1.5 million and few newly weds are walking around with that kind of cash in their pocket. So, what used to be called the ‘American dream’ of owning one’s own home, might not be as relevant today as once it was.

Thirdly, we need to rethink the way we view our career. Becoming a stone mason and spending a life building the cathedral may have worked very well for a man in 1300 AD, but today most people will have between four and seven careers during their lifetime, depending on their skill sets. In other words we have to look beyond the superficial goal of gaining employment and think more about what we really want from that employment.

I think it’s pretty fair to say that when we rethink some of these traditional views of security we should start with the idea that we do generally live a slightly more healthy life than our parents. For example, few people start smoking these days ‘because it looks like fun’. We’re also a little less likely to hurt ourselves in car accidents and at work as we live in a world with higher safety standards than our parents did. While this is not universally true, it’s certainly generally the case. Few people own a vehicle that has no safety belts, for example.

As the idea of security and what we should and shouldn’t do becomes more a point of focus, it’s inevitable that we start to question, ‘what do we really want’? Finding a place we really enjoy living, for example, may be a far better idea than buying a house in a place we really don’t want to be – just because we can afford a house there.  It becomes increasingly evident we need to rethink some of the goals, abandon some previously held values, and then build a life that can sustain those goals. And that’s where our security lies.

I can’t help thinking that much of this comes down to the idea that our real security lies in the fundamental skills we acquire growing up. It’s about work ethic rather than a very specific skill. It’s also about moral values ingrained in childhood. That ability to understand a client and deliver what they require is far more important to someone in the world of customer service than being able to work with a specific type of software. The core value of enjoying delivering excellence is more important than being up to date with the latest version of a program. While still important at some level, without those underlying core values the rest is pretty meaningless.

As we think about this, we also have to adjust our expectation a little. We don’t live in the same world as the one our parents grew up in. For them, owning their own home may have been both attainable and reasonable. The reality of today is that things have changed. It simply might not be possible. Accepting this and understanding that this is a trade off for other benefits, such as improved general health, need not be something to be unhappy about. In other words, the security we build today is likely something very different to the security people built in the past.

We don’t need to fear this. We simply have to change the way in which we think about it.


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