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I had the good fortune of speaking to high school students from the Shriram Millennium School, Noida last month. I remember two very distinct shades of high school life from my own teenage years: (a) the unbridled joy and happiness of playing hard and working harder in class 9th and 10th, and (b) the overpowering stress of preparing for the IIT JEE in class 11th and 12th.

The thought of highly engaged and driven young men and women burning out even before they turn 18 has always troubled me. So as a 34-year-old, who is in the middle of his third career, I look forward to every opportunity I get to interact with teenagers and share my learnings.

There are two massive factors/ trends that are changing the world we live in:

  • Longer life spans
  • The emergence of the wisdom economy

Let’s dig deeper into both these factors and their implications for teenagers.

Children born today are expected to have a life expectancy of 80+ years. In fact, some studies predict that more than two-thirds of all children born today will live over the age of 100. And while much of the developing world is relatively young (40%+ of India’s population is under the age of 18), dropping birth rates mean that within a few decades we will also have the largest group of middle-aged people this world has ever seen.

In principle – basic universal income makes sense. But currently it is far from reality. So, people will have to work longer to sustain their lifestyles. And while everyone has joked about/ dreamt of retiring in their 40s, it is neither going to be feasible nor desirable for most people in the future. Retirement ages/ caps will have to go up and in fact might have to be completely removed. And even if you are not working for basic survival and have all your needs met – you will still need to do something to pass your time.

In the past, shorter life spans meant that most people acquired one set of skills and figured out a solo vocation and kept at it for a quarter of century or so. Most people were limited to mastering a single subject/ skill (which typically required 10,000 hours of effort). But imagine doing the same thing year over year, decade over decade for 60 or 70 or 80 years.

Our education system puts incredible stress on teenagers to chalk out their career paths at an age where the sum-total of their experiences is highly limited. It is represented as an absolute single choice – a sort of crossing of the Rubicon. This is complete hogwash.

Athletic ability seems to be the only known skill that diminishes with age (someone please tell that to Tom Brady). Perhaps science will eventually overcome this limitation. [Though, more and more people are running marathons and climbing mountains in their 40s and beyond. People are hitting their physical peaks much later in life.] Our thinking ability on the other hand only diminishes in extreme old age (as brain cells begin to die and lose their ability to regenerate). Science is definitely looking to overcome this limitation.

So, unless you plan on playing a sport professionally, there is really no need for you to finalize a career at 17. Choose a vocation. Pick a skill set to master. Figure out how you are going to spend your next 10,000 hours. Or build breadth. Dive into a four-year-long liberal arts course and get a taste of a wide variety of subjects. But please don’t fall for the trap that there is no going back once your decision has been made. Or that you cannot do something completely different in the future.

I wish I had this insight at 18. I arrived at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras – a burnt out individual with no interest in anything. I pretty much wasted my freshman and sophomore years. Then I woke up one day and realized that I was on a great campus, surrounded by brilliant and talented individuals and had the ability to do anything/ everything I wanted. And that’s exactly what I have done.

This brings us to the second major trend that is emerging globally: the advent of the wisdom economy.

Human beings have been earning their keep using knowledge as capital for millennia. Law, trade, finance, medicine and a multitude of other professions can be classified as being part of the knowledge economy. However, advances in artificial intelligence will make many rule-based professions obsolete in the near future. More than knowledge, what will be required is wisdom: the ability to blend concepts through leaps of cognitive and creative breadth. Enter, the wisdom economy.

In Sanskrit, there is a wonderful term: budhijeevi – someone who lives and leads their life through intellect and wisdom. I believe that this way of life is no longer the domain of a privileged few. Once mechanical and rule-based professions disappear – more and more people will have to find work in unconventional ways. They will need a firm understanding of a multitude of concepts. They will then need the ability to freely jump between and associate these concepts. This would require a certain cognitive agility and creativity that most schools/ curricula do not or cannot provide.

This is our mission at Cuemath. We don’t think of mathematics as just another subject. We think of it as a way of life – a way to imbibe wisdom. A way to survive and prosper in this new world. This is why I joined Cuemath.

We are looking for bright and brilliant budhijeevis to accompany us on our journey. So, if you are a product manager, product designer, academic, educator, content strategist and creator, marketer, analyst, ops expert, artist or developer – do apply!

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