A balanced time perspective and finding fulfilling work

As Abraham Maslow famously noted, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – I study time perspective and I see traces of it almost everywhere. Here are some of my time perspectively infused notes while reading “How to find fulfilling work” by Roman Krznaric.

“We are not psychologically ready to deal with the expansion of choice in recent history”

While discussing his concept of ‘hardiness’ Salvatore Maddi notes: When choosing a future, or unfamiliar path, over repeating a past, something familiar and convenient, it is most consistent with our pursuit to elaborate life’s meaning (and finding a fulfilling work), but it also brings ontological anxiety – the fear of uncertainty and possible failure:

“We get so worried about regretting making a bad choice that we may end up making no decision at all, and remain frozen in our current unfulfilling career “

which Krznaric traced back to the early evolution: “we are products of the primal terror experienced by our hominid ancestors” and “we are psychologically disposed to magnify everything that could go wrong”.

Thus, the choice of the future requires courage, otherwise people tend to choose past, which stagnates the quest for meaning. To make that choice is rather difficult: “we are our past”, as Wessel van Beek puts it, it is not so easy just to shake it off:

“We are burdened by our own pasts, legacy of our educational and career choices; … role of parents; plus idea that I have spent so much time studying to become X – to leave that profession would be waste of those years spent acquiring it. … Work identity that gives a sense of status and belonging… We can find ourselves in a constant struggle with our pasts, unable to make a decision to try something new because of an allegiance to the person we have been, rather than to the person we hope to become.”

Krznaric discusses different issues that fire up the anxiety, but also proposes different questions to reflect on to build up that inner courage:

“Q: is one of the main reasons you’re in your current job because the money is good? And is one of the main reasons you are reluctant to leave it because you can’t imagine taking a substantial salary cut, or entering a profession with limited financial prospects?

“Lacking emotional security, people seek security in material things – Sue Gerhardt.
Looking for fulfillment in the wrong places – in having rather than being, in accumulating possessions rather than building nurturing, empathic relationships.
We should seek a job that offers not just good status prospects, but good respect prospects.

Probably the most difficult question is “Where do your talents meet the needs of the world?”

The reevaluation of own past is complemented by another temporal frame – being in the present moment. Having a playful attitude towards own work and career:

Pat Kane: we should strive to develop a ‘play ethic’ in our lives, which places ‘yourself, your passions and enthusiasms at the center of your world.’ The passions, interests, motivations and ambitions tend to change over the life course and often we are poor judges of our future interests. We have complex, multi-faceted experiences, interests, values and talents, which might mean that we could also find fulfillment as a … only our imagination is the limit here.

“Specialization comes from the western ideology of division of labour – most jobs get divided into segments in order to increase efficiency and production levels.”

A side note: same pattern one can see in academia: it also becomes a stigma if one is actually pursuing different topics, once the subject was chosen, one should stick to that. At some point it was actually very difficult for me to go different direction from data analyses or teaching statistics or even applying for jobs that were connected with data analyses and such. I can do it, but I don’t really enjoy doing it. These were not the activities where I would loose track of time and be totally in the flow.

Hermina Ibarra: “our working identity is not a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered at the very core of our being – rather, it is made up of many possibilities.. we are many selves”. The strategy here is to identify a range of possibilities that reflect our multiple selves and later on to test them out in reality. To do so, one has to “act now, reflect later”. To be playful and experimenting and to find occupation that gives us flow:

“People who feel unfulfilled in their jobs are unable to adjust them sufficiently so that they can squeeze substantially more flow from them. So instead of trying to create flow in our existing job, I believe that a more sensible path to pursue is to find work that gives us flow.

Manifesto of Human Aspiration

Manifesto of Human Aspiration

“Nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future” – Chris McCandless. Once something becomes stable, it becomes difficult to let it go, to start something from anew. Especially when it comes to money:” Anxiety about money is the major factor preventing most people from embarking on a journey of finding a different career.” Wessel van Beek: “the fundamental problem with anxiety is the idea that you have something to lose”. In terms of career change we tend to create a scenario of our new future that will lack this security of a pay check.

Similarly like in cross-cultural psychology, the best way to reduce prejudice among members of a majority group towards members of minority group(s) is to create points of contact (the contact hypothesis). When people meet face to face a lot of stereotypes tend to reduce. Meeting people outside own immediate occupational peer group will broaden horizons and will provide with new ideas and may lower the anxiety. We very often underestimate the role of the context in which we are engaged:

“One of the greatest obstacles to change is that we get trapped by the strictures of our social circle and peers: if you are a lawyer, and spend most of your time with other lawyers or professionals, this is likely to condition your ideals and aspirations: high salary, luxury holidays, working 60h a week is normal..

Our social milieu strongly determines our worldview, our underlying mental frame of reference and belief system + we may rarely interact with those who see the world differently.”

In summary, how finding a fulfilling work and time perspective are connected? We start out by reevaluating our past (previous career choices that led us to the current situation), we work with the anxieties that a possible future might bring (negative future perspective) by finding a flow (a state of extended now) in our activities and being in the present, acting now, evaluating later (risk taking and impulsivity from the hedonistic perspective on the present), but at the same time gradually building a goal and purpose (a more positive future outlook), developing our vocation, or “a career that not only gives you fulfillment – meaning, flow, freedom – but that also has a definitive goal or clear purpose to strive for attached to it, which drives your life and motivates you to get up in the morning. … having this kind of clear goal or purpose to pursue in one of the surest routes to a deeply satisfying life”.

I would recommend this book: it’s a nice read, takes the subject matter through different lenses and it’s based on author’s own practical work and good research. Interesting questions are proposed as a way to look at own current situation. Can be of interest to both those who seek to find a more fulfilling work and those who work with those who seek, coaches for example.

Books in my life

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