Now, I'm fond of saying that crazy times call for crazy organisations. But the personal implications of that can be daunting, as job security becomes a distant memory and even newly acquired skills turn out to have a half-life of just a few years.
The truth is, I agree with the seminar participant. Not only that, I freely admit that I hate change.
Whether it is 1994 AD or 94 BC, the human animal cherishes stability just as it genetically craves stimulation. And without a doubt, our primary source of stability - the corporate sinecure, blue-collar or white, is fast fading.
Is there any way of reconciling these two truths?
In short, we need new and different bases of stability, fit for the turbulent times.
Consider these five:
Loyalty to your Rolodex, or whatever you call that revolving file of clients, customers, contacts and their phone numbers that sits on the desk. Yesterday, your security lay in the solidity of the corporate logo - and whatever favour you could curry with the boss. Today, security is related to the obesity of that Rolodex, and how well you tend the entries therein.
Many of us will be on and off various corporate payrolls, in small companies and large, and may well serve stints as independent contractors. Survival amid such apparently fluid circumstances is a word-of-mouth business. I say 'apparently fluid' because the most adept independent contractors I know don't seem to be in panic. They deliver the goods (their professional services) with skill and courtesy, and they spend a lot of time on the telephone, following up, thickening the links, fattening the Rolodex.
Those are skills all of us need to develop. We need to learn to look sideways and outside more, and upward less.
When forced to make cuts, who will your boss retain? If he or she has a grain of sense, it will be those who have the best reputations for serving the department's internal or external customers, not those best at seeking the boss's favour.
All departments are going to become like the sales department: if you are not a good closer, you are out.
A passion for building your skills. Your security is proportional to your market value, and that is proportional to how sharp your skills are. In times past, you could glide for years, maybe an entire career, on yesterday's skills plus a few tricks gathered along the way. No more.
Not getting smarter is seen today as just getting dumber - and that is the new market equation. Just for starters, that means you should be getting to the classroom, by hook or by crook - with or without the company's help. Besides formal classwork, signing up for oddball assignments is the best way to pick up skills.
Another surprisingly helpful route: off-the-job volunteer work. You may be a youthful minion at the office, but could quickly find yourself in charge of an important community project (and you will be fattening that Rolodex).
Time with our friends. Maybe this is 'back to the future.' As loyalty to your job description, the boss and the company becomes a less trustworthy source of stability, so your community - family, neighbours, church, associations - becomes more and more important. In addition to its general contribution to your mental well-being in stressful time, the community becomes part of your network from which future opportunities may emerge.
Hobbies and rituals. Taped to the top of my home copier is a card that reads 'solvitur ambulando'. Translation: 'Walking solves everything.' Or, as mom used to say: 'Get your exercise and eat your veggies.' She couldn't have guessed how right she was.
My compulsive daily exercise ritual, which consumes 45 minutes while I'm on the road or an hour and a half at home is one island of stability in a sea of madness. It is more about meditation than aerobics.
Likewise, a consuming hobby, such as cabinetry, cooking, photography, can provide regular, deep drinks from a ready stream of refreshment. (And may even be the basis for a new career some day.)
Grins and belly laughs. Some say that laughter can heal the worst physical maladies. That may be true or not. But one thing I do know - that a belly laugh and a smile are potent antidotes for damn near anything that may be getting you down, including that perpetual sense of instability.
Meditation experts urge us to practise smiling - the physical act itself plays games with a few key muscle groups, and forces you to lighten up. It is the smile that causes the good feeling, more than the event that is causing the smile. So smile, for heaven's sake]
As the traditional sources of our stability evaporate, it is imperative that we actively seek out new ones.
The metabolism of the times may well be changing, but the human metabolism is not. What we need is what we need. Period.