How often in your lifetime have you succeeded in a having a conversation without the necessary words, metaphors, or images that work for both of you and are a good match for current realties?

It isn’t just that change is happening more rapidly than we can absorb and adapt.   It’s also that, in the midst of discontinuous change all around us, our words, metaphors, and images all lag far behind our already-emerged new realities. This makes thinking, communicating, planning, and deciding much, much more difficult. The common outcome: stuck with no imagination of smarter alternatives.

The voice of someone I recently interviewed:

“I’m 45 and in a permanent, long term job. My family has health care benefits. We’re already planning for my retirement. I’ll retire at 65 and enter my golden years of leisure and no more big obligations. My pension, which will support me for the rest of my life after retirement, is what I deserve after showing up on time, years and years of waiting for those above me to retire so that I could move up, dreary offices and work spaces, and more municipal regulations than I can track. I got my degree so I could embark on this stable employment path years ago. Admittedly, times were different then, but I’m not willing to believe that, after all these years of faithful service, the rules will change on me in ways that should worry me.”

What worries me about this person’s words, metaphors, and images? Let me count the ways.

  1. Permanent, long term job.
  2. Retirement.
  3. Golden years of leisure.
  4. Pension for life.
  5. Deserve.
  6. Stable Employment Path.
  7. Not willing to believe.

Participate with me here and try each of these on for size and fit yourself.

  1. Image: Permanent, long term job. Picture a highly repetitive job which changes only slightly over a long time – at no threat to the incumbent – because it’s embedded in a larger governmental system of jobs and employment that are unlikely to change.
  2. Word: Retirement. Say the word out loud as if it hasn’t changed its’ meaning over time, remaining a monolithic word that captures the final, large stage of life uniformly for everyone.
  3. Metaphor: Golden years of leisure. Imagine yourself in a large group of people surrounded by golden light without obligation or strife. You retire at 68. You will live to 98. What will be most important and interesting to you over 30 Golden years of leisure? How will you pay for it?
  4. Word: Deserve.   Wimpy, the popular character in the Popeye series said it all: “I’ll gladly repay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Suffering and settling today is unlikely to turn into what’s hoped for tomorrow. Our disruptive New Normal won’t tolerate these kinds of equations.
  5. Metaphor: Stable Employment Path.  What types of career and employment counseling and examples were available to you when you were first starting out on your employment journey? Who were your models? We used to think of stability and immediately see images of the Post Office. What is a good example when you think Stable Employment Path today?
  6. Image: Not willing to believe. I see an ostrich hiding. Only its head is out of sight.   The rest looks vulnerable. What do you see?

The person I interviewed and quote above has built an entire life on the interview content – children, mortgage, marriage, education, plans, expectations, and friendships at work and at home. He could not hear anything that contradicted it.

And so, it inspired me to write this blog.

In what ways are your words, metaphors, and images outdated? What are you doing about it?

In what ways are the words, metaphors, and images of people you care about outdated? What are they doing about it?

Let me know. We know the problem. I’m looking for solutions we can share.