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UNESCO Futures Studies Chair: Your child’s futures work

futures thinking by UNESCO chair

Concerned about your child’s (or your own) futures? Not least what they might do for work? Here’s the inspiring story of UNESCO’s new Chair in Futures Studies, Sohail Inayatullah:

When I was a high school student at the International School of Kuala Lumpur, I asked my father for advice before going to university. I told him I felt anxious leaving home, especially as everyone from my class was going to different parts of the world. He said, “Do yoga/meditation.” When I got the University of Hawaii, that was what I did. I found a class at the campus center that was advertised as “free meditation” – perfect for a student.

Discovering the futures

Over the next few years, I discovered futures studies; a trans-disciplinary field focused on:

(1) Challenging current assumptions about how we organize politics, economics, even knowledge itself;

(2) Creating alternative futures through scenarios and action learning;

(3) Transforming the present through finding a new narrative, a story that allows for compelling change.

Many thought I was wasting my time focused on spiritual issues and futures studies, suggesting instead I go to law school. However, that was not my passion. As Joseph Campbell said, “Find your bliss. And follow it.”

So I did.

Discard your ‘used future’

Discard your used future #Sohail_Inayatullah #futurework Click To Tweet

For those entering university or the world of work, I believe what is most important, is finding something you truly love, and that you are rewarded for.

This does not mean shying away from discipline or the rules of whatever you end up doing. However, I am convinced that when we focus on our passion, then there is purpose. We do not mind putting in the hours as there is genuine excitement.

Some people, however, say to me, “But I don’t know my passion.” That then becomes the key: experiment, explore, until you find what you love. To come to that, it is important to discern your used future. Ask yourself, “What am I doing that does not align with who I am, that does not fit with where I wish to go, but I keep on doing it?” It could be a habit, a way of thinking or a worldview. Something you have been told about the “right” way to do things. Once this can be ascertained, then you can replace that used future with a genuine future: a future you wish for.

Inner talk

These used futures often have an underlying metaphor. For me, this was the story of “nothing works out.” I realized that I would say this over and over to myself, until it had become a mantra. When someone pointed this out, I was shocked. I did not realize it had become a way of knowing the world; it had become fact. Over the next decade or so, I started to tell a new story: “Things always work out.” And I started to gather evidence for it.

When there were stumbling blocks, instead of focusing on the immediate and very real pain, I focused on the direction of where I was going. The crucial part is asking, “What is the story I tell myself about the way that the world is?” If that story aligns with the way you wish your reality to be, then stay with it. However, often that story is not ours, but a used narrative, a colonized story. A new, decolonized metaphor is required. And that story requires systemic support, daily practices that can help create that desired future.

Inspire your child to take the road less traveled. #Sohail_Inayatullah #futurework Click To Tweet

Futures work

Inner work and futures work are certainly linked. They help make us flexible. Instead of focusing on a particular truth, we look for many truths, alternative realities, and possibilities Both approaches help us navigate how the world is changing.

And the world is changing: whether it’s the rise of Asia, robotics, the Third Billion, or peer-to-peer economic transformation. These are not ordinary times.

You could think, “The beginning is near.” Or: “Our world and way of thinking is ending.”

Either way, be prepared to create a new one.

Sohail is UNESCO chair in Futures Studies; a professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan; an associate of the Melbourne Business School, at the University of Melbourne; and Adjunct Professor, the University of the Sunshine Coast. Learn more about him and his word at:

For more advice and guidance from 40 futurists, to help your child (and yourself) prepare for the future world of work, check out these two related posts (Attitude; Skills & Contribution).

About Dr. Liz Alexander

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