In the early 1990s I recognized an emerging and disturbing trend in all too much of corporate America. What had once been a good place to work was becoming increasingly pressured and ugly. Pay and benefits were declining. Work demands for excessive hours were escalating fast.
The environment seemed to be descending into a dark, corrupt, toxic atmosphere that felt like a forced-labor-prison-camp-in-cubicles in cubicles; same-think, double-talk and “Corporate McCarthyism” ruled the day. Morals, ethics and a sense of fair play became an “Achilles Heel.” The Machiavellian weasel-types seemed to rise to the top since they were willing to sacrifice everything on the Altar of Corporate America, including their ethics, health and family. Too many companies were turning into “Enrons-in-waiting.”
As I scanned the global economic horizon for possible causes of this apparent de-evolution, I saw an emerging trend.
• America was going the way of the British Empire. We were headed into continuing contraction, and our standard of living would only decline.
• We were already in World War III, but it was an economic war with China, and we were not only losing, we were losing badly.
• We were giving away our manufacturing jobs, which were once the economic engine that drove America and served as the lifeblood of the middle class.
• The middle class in America would be destroyed by globalization, coupled by the growing ineptitude of our polarized, partisan, irrational two-party political system.
• I would lose my job, along with the high pay, good benefits and beautiful office that went with it. My like-minded friends and allies were either being forced out or leaving, and there were certain things I could not sacrifice on the altar of corporate America.
• In our lifetimes we would experience a global depression that would make the Great Depression look like a cake walk. It would be precipitated by the collapse of the U.S. economy, and when the thunderclouds of the gathering perfect storm finally broke loose, it would hit on quadruple fronts:
o The decline of the U.S. “empire,” now that our post WWII advantage was gone.
o An economy built on a foundation of sand: rampant, debt-ridden consumerism, an entitlement mentality that permeates all levels of society and rabid, unfettered greed.
o An increasingly inept, broken political system in the throes of ever-increasing dysfunction, steering us towards the abyss.
o The innate, blind American egoism, that somehow we are smarter or better than the rest of the people in the world.
Much of what I foresaw has came true… or dangerously close.
If you’re a mid-range baby boomers (born around 1955) you have been caught in the perfect storm of globalization, the off-shoring of our manufacturing jobs and the subsequent destruction of our own middle class. Multiple severe market crashes have destroyed our 401Ks, and now we anticipate the impending collapse of both the health care system and social security, as we face age discrimination.
While some early baby boomers (born around 1946) may have made it to the goal line with their retirements and health care intact, the late baby boomers (born around 1964) may have time to adjust to this brutal new world order and recover financially before they become “old.”
But many mid-range baby boomers are in deep trouble and will end up working until they die on their feet. That is, if they can find any work. Or they may end up on welfare, if it still exists. There is little worse than being old, sick, decrepit and destitute. Unfortunately, this reality is likely for many mid-range baby boomers, especially those being shed from the contracting corporate world like fleas from a dying dog.
There is an alternative, but it demands that we re-create ourselves and our livelihoods. Most of all, it demands that we let go of our industrial-age entitlement expectations. We can take this adversity, flip it over and turn it into prosperity, if we choose to transcend our self-imposed limited thinking. And, with vision, purpose and passion, we can create a livelihood that is in alignment with our values, priorities and dreams.