One of the most common appeals of the self-development movement is “to find our niche”.
If we can find that place where we belong, all will fall into place, and all good things will come to pass. If we can get the proper qualification, find the right business, meet the right people, we can become entrepreneurs, and our path to success lights up before us.
It’s a great sell – describe something attractive and intangible, a distance from where we are, convince people we know the way and charge for the journey.
I find there’s one major challenge, in that to carve out a niche, there has to be something solid out of which to carve it. Fluids don’t have niches, and the situation we find ourselves in is most definitely fluid. Niches are eddies that disappear in a swirl before our eyes.
What do we do when there are no niches?
When Roosevelt said this (he attributed the quote to Squire Bill Widener), it was another very fluid time when certainty was scarce, and fear was rampant. The observation was a brutal summary of the reality of the time and a statement of confidence in those he was addressing. While I am not overly keen on conflict metaphors, I think it is warranted here.
The industrial structure that has dominated for the last century is crumbling and offers poor material out of which to carve. This is particularly true if you are young and in or coming out of college and an education system predicated on the dogma of niches.
At the same time, these generations are those who will help us find our way through if we let them. These generations understand fluid in a way that those of us born earlier never will. Technology is what was created after we were born; everything else is the water we swim in – we don’t notice it’s there. That makes these generations more adept swimmers.
Our job is to let them swim rather than believe we need to teach them.
That requires more humility more than an apology. Only a devout conspiracy theorist would assert that we got to where we are intentionally, but nonetheless, here we are, and what got us here won’t get us there.
There no niches right now, only swimmers, and we need to enable those who swim well.