I find that I can pretty reliably stay on the straight and narrow, as long as there are NO obstacles or challenges. Whenever anything starts my bad patterns spinning, I am off. I think the Buddhists would say observe the phenomenon to understand it and it will recede into the background.
It has been a year since the end of Knight Ridder and ad hoc reunions keep cropping up. It was in one of these reunion settings that I got knocked off the path. And the samskaric pattern at work was the one wrapped around “career, work, job”. Everyone present (except me) was back to the 9 to 5 world, company paycheck, expense accounts. So, the struggle began. What am I doing? Consulting at what? Everyone begins to share and I of course can’t help myself. My couple of projects all the sudden make me sound like a digital McKinsey. Don’t get me wrong. I have a couple of fun projects where I am learning some new skills and/or helping with some interesting companies. But, of course, I made it sound like was changing the world. In the course of the whole gathering I could feel a mixture of self-doubt, anxiety and envy swirling around my ankles.
So, I observed it. I tried to catch myself. Now I have to ask what is driving this pattern around “career, work, job”. Here’s what I have come up with so far. One, work is one of adult America’s organizing principles. It drives everything for many people, me included, certainly more so than religion or even family. After working the 9 to 5, really 9 to 7 for a long time, it is a challenge to organize the day to feel productive. And feeling productive drives self-esteem. Of course we are valuable, look at all of the “to-do’s” crossed off today.
The second is work defines your profession which again for me has always been linked to self-esteem. What are you? Doctor, no. Lawyer, no. Salesman, NO. Then what? Things like this hit you at the funniest times. Earlier in the summer a client sent me to Shanghai to work with their development team (see I really do have clients). The Chinese invented forms, well at least they invented paperwork. And there on the landing form was the blank box, profession:_______. I balked and finally wrote “consultant”? I guess it works in China, since Confucius was basically a management consultant for the Dukes of Zhou. Imagine the Analects as a Powerpoint presentation. But I have always felt like this was a little bit of a cop out and very limited self- esteem points.
Finally, work has been a buffer for me, a buffer against life. You hear a lot about work-life balance, basically making work and life out to be two ends of a spectrum. Work bad; life good. And so, that’s how I have used work. I have been a workaholic, since then I had no time for life. Over the last few months, I have talked with a couple of people who are working on ideas, because that’s what entertains them. I don’t even think they realize that they are founding businesses. Sometimes they are just playing around. Sometimes they are actively trying to solve a problem or provide a service. They walk the dog, practice their yoga, work on their idea, watch the kids. And they do all of this seamlessly. There is no work life balance, there is only life. The other thing you hear is that these men and women are driven by big paydays. But paydays are almost always a function of raising money which comes along eventually when you need a new white board or need to pay someone. What makes these situations special is a strength of vision or particular passion that motivates you to keep working, even when it is a little lonely and no one really thinks you know what you are doing. The vision is there, my question is can I summon up the strength and passion to move on it.
OK. All very heady. What’s it mean? Again, just be real. You are helping a handful of companies, actively engaged in your daily yoga practice AND pursuing a few ideas of your own.
I wonder if that will fit on the profession blank on Chinese landing card? OK. I promise the next post will be a little more light-hearted and maybe come with show and tell.