Tag Archives: calling

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 10 – From Knowing In Advance To Living With Emergence

Here is a spoiler alert – if you are likely to be going to the cinema or watching TV in the next while, you may want to skip the next paragraph.

Rosebud was his sledge.  They all did it.  The dog dies in the final reel.  The shark gets blown up with a scuba diving tank. Nixon resigns. She dies.  He dies. Dr Evil escapes.

In this time-poor world you can thank me for giving you the endings to some of the better films in cinema history thus saving you having to watch them.  Curiously not everyone I meet is thrilled when I tell them the ending to a movie.  Oddly they prefer to be surprised, and let the movie unfold for them.

However this attitude of going with the flow, seeing where it ends up, living with emergence rarely extends to our careers.  Here we are encouraged to plan thoroughly, to visualise or imagine how things will play out, to know in advance what are next steps, and indeed are foreseeable steps will be.

So why this disconnect? Why is surprise ok in the movies, but less in careers?  Maybe we are more personally invested in our careers. We believe we stand to lose more if we do not keep on top of our careers, and know in advance where we are going.

We often admire people who know where they are going.  But think about that statement for a second.  What does it mean to say you know where you are going?  Well about the only certainty (I think) is that we are going to be dead at some point, and even then, we are not certain what it means to be dead, or what “dead” is like, if anything, and if it is not like anything, what it is like?

“I know where I am going”. No you do not. Not entirely. Not certainly. Ok, I hear you say, that much is a given, but we can gain a lot from planning out a direction, and a good plan incorporates the possibility that it will not work.   From there it is but a short step into all of the popular planning tools out there – whether it is setting goals, developing strategies, or exploring the most likely outcomes.  All of these methods whether they use testing, imagination or narrative, work on the assumption that we need to narrow down a range of probable alternatives to explore more fully before finally deciding upon a course of action.

Such approaches can be useful and reassuring (especially they are reassuring to others, like parents, spouses, friends and teachers).   However the Chaos Theory of Careers characterises people as limited in their ability to fully know their own circumstances or indeed needs and wants.  It is a work in progress and over time these will change, sometimes trivially, and at others more dramatically or uncontrollably.

From this perspective, the planning model is also seen as limited.  There is no guarantee after our careful and rational deliberations that we will end up on a satisfying path.  The sense of confidence about our new found direction may ultimately serve only to send us focused and furiously up a blind alley. But hey, at least we exuded confidence as we ground to a halt.

An equally valid method of exploring our world is through living with emergence.  This is the suck and see approach, the curiosity driven approach, the experimental approach, the small steps approach, the planned failure approach.  Here the emphasis is constantly testing ones thinking, ones skills, or knowledge as well as the opportunity structures in the world.   It involves trying things out, not fully knowing how they will end up.  It is setting off on a journey and seeing where it takes you.

Such an approach involves not ever more focus, clarity and control, but continued curiosity, openness, flexibility, efficacy and optimism. It involves what Steve Jobs of Apple has referred to as “I do stuff, I respond to stuff” (Steve Jobs being interviewed by Stephen Fry in Time Magazine. Jobs responding to Fry’s question about his “career” said “”I do stuff. I respond to stuff. That’s not a career — it’s a life!”) (see this post).

Interestingly we are so conditioned to accept planning approach as superior, people often dismiss or worry about following the emergent approach.  “You must have a direction”, “You must make a choice” etc.  I think part of the problem is that people are less clear what the emergent approach really is, and perhaps confuse it with ideas like dropping out, drifting, being fatalistic, avoiding difficult choices, running away, being childlike etc.

However it is a mistake to equate an emergent approach with these kinds of notions.  An emergent approach is about continually engaging, gauging and engaging, often in lots of different directions simultaneously.  It is not about passively sitting back and waiting to see what happens. Rather it is about immersing oneself in a range of activities, and actively monitoring and reflecting on our attitudes to these, so we can modify, amplify, diminish or extinguish the activities as we see fit.  As Jobs puts it, it is about doing stuff and responding to stuff.

Ironically, it is more likely that the planning model with all of its assumptions that one can discover and think through in advance sensible options to move you in a good direction that can lead to inaction as people stall with fear lest they make the wrong choice, or choose to explore a dud option.

This is evident in situations where, for instance, a College student cannot choose a major.  The planning perspective is that there must be a correct decision.  Planners are likely to throw their arms up in despair at any suggestion that the student do anything other than think even more deeply about their situation and preferences.   There is money at stake here afterall!

For some students, this may be helpful if they have been partying so hard they almost forgot why they had gone to College in the first place.  However for most, this injunction to think harder or deeper serves only to frustrate – as though they haven’t already tried this.

Here it may well be better to suggest an emergent approach.  Simply go with one or other choice, but at the same time try out other things. Take other courses on the side, get more experience in a range of other things, see what comes of those endeavours.  It may well be the case that one of these avenues leads somewhere entirely different and more enjoyable than any of the original options.  However it may also be the case, that they would never have known this at the time.

But this is not optimal, and the student ends up with a degree (and a bill) in a subject area they are no longer interested in.  Well that is the point, and that is life.  We cannot always know these things in advance. However that student, if they followed the emergent approach will have been energetically exploring, doing and responding to stuff that will likely have sharpened their likes and dislikes and exposed them to things that are more likely to provide them with some satisfaction.

So the student ended up with a degree that they do not use directly. So what?  Tell that to the 60% of Engineers who end up in Business, or the vast majority of Psychology graduates that do not practice Psychology.  It is not a tragedy. It is only a tragedy if they are encouraged to see their choices as being sub-optimal failures, rather than in the context of ongoing exploration, self-awareness and environmental awareness.

One of the benefits of the Emergent approach is that in adopting it or recommending it, we are privileging ideas like flexibility, curiosity, openness, adaptability, opportunity awareness and skills of reinvention.   These ideas are actively downplayed or seen as weaknesses or problems in the planning approach.  However in a world that is increasingly unpredictable and chaotic, employers are crying out for flexible workforces, and the person who is able to re-invent themselves or be flexible in what they can offer is likely to be more gainfully employed, as well as more satisfied with what they do.   Emergent approaches are good approaches for the times we live in.

Ultimately, we all live with emergence whether we like it or not. It is our reactions to this fact that can lead us astray.  An over-reliance on planning, and on insisting on knowing in advance places unrealistic demands upon the world, and can have counter productive results.

Our careers are not like movies, we cannot know the end, even if we wanted to. They do not follow the script, even if we wanted them to.  And they are not best enjoyed as a viewer in the 2nd row with a box of popcorn.

Living with emergence, means just that. Living.

Shiftwork is the work we have to do to manage, thrive and survive in a world where shift happens.  I’ve identified 11 shifts that we have to make (see here), so far I’ve addressed the first nine, and in this post, I addressed the tenth shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)
  • seventh shift from Goals, Roles & Routines to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans (see here)
  • eighth shift from Informing to Informing and Transforming (see here)
  • ninth shift from Normative thinking to Normative and Scaleable thinking (see here)

Finding Harmony in work: A strategy to re-soul your career

Harmony: Finding Harmony in work: A strategy to re-soul your career

In my earlier blog Resouling your career I defined harmony in the following terms: “Harmony is a joyful dance through and with life.” Here I want to expand on some practical ideas for finding harmony in your career. In part prompted by Ed Colozzi’s excellent comments on that blog, and in particular because I want to explore the idea of harmony because it has so much to offer to people in their careers.

Harmony is a metaphor derived from music to describe a fundamental aspect of nature where we respond strongly when some things are joined or blended.

In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches (tones, notes), or chords. In some types of music like jazz chords can be altered with “tensions”. A tension is the addition of an element within the chord that sets up dissonance with the bass. Usually in music, this dissonant chord resolves into a consonant chord.  Harmony is the sense of balance between the dissonant and consonant chords – between the tension and the relaxation.

So to my mind, harmony is about a dynamic, an oscillation between tension (I mean this in the mild sense and NOT stress!) and relaxation, a repeating pattern that resonates with us.  It involves the interplay between two or more elements and involves the careful timing to ensure the blends happen at the right time.  In career terms, being “in sync” with others or events may provide a sense of harmony.  Pitching in with contributions or ideas at just the right time, responding intuitively and spontaneously to others – these are all examples of harmony.

Obviously harmony extends beyond music and can be found in all walks of life if we are attuned to seek it out.  Cezanne stated, “When paintings are done right, harmony appears by itself. The more numerous and varied they are, the more the effect is obtained and agreeable to the eye”.  Harmony is an arrangement of the elements or parts of the whole that creates a strong positive aesthetic reaction in us. All the elements seem to work together to create a pleasing order.

Art and music teach us that the common underlying theme of harmony is a sense of connection where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and creates an immediate positive response in us.   It is not only a sense of connection, rather those connections appear to be dictated by a sense of order and belonging – the elements combine in very specific ways – to create that pattern of tension and resolution.  You cannot simply throw any random elements together and expect to get harmony.

In Chaos Theory of Career terms, Harmony can be seen as an emergent property of the dynamic complex interconnected influences in our lives and careers.  It explains why the idea of “fit” between a person and job should not be construed in static terms, but as a dynamic dance.  Harmony is dynamic.

I like to think of harmony in terms of dance because it melds the musical and visual elements of harmony.  In dancing, getting your timing right so that you are in the right place to meet your partner, or doing the the thing that is consonant with the music makes the difference between a satisfying dance and an embarrassing display!

In career terms harmony involves understanding connection, knowing how and when to join in. It involves timing and rhythm.  It involves feeling part of something bigger but at the same time remaining a distinctive element in that bigger thing. Harmony is about blending in AND standing out, it is not about subjugating your voice, rather adding your voice.

Listening carefully, observing, appreciating that you are distinctive and bring unique qualities to work.  This requires acceptance of both your strengths and limitations. It requires respect and close observation of others and nature to understand as much as possible how things go together and to spot opportunities where the addition of your contribution will create harmony.

I also want to clarify my comment in that earlier blog that you can’t do harmony on your own.  What I mean by this, is not that you need other people to achieve harmony necessarily (but often this is where the most obvious or accessible harmony can be found) rather whether it is communing with nature, or meditating, harmony necessarily involves the blending of your self into something greater, something bigger (thanks Ed for making this point in your comments on the Re-souling blog!).

Harmony James

I included album cover for this artist, because I love her name!!

Here are a few suggestions about how you can achieve harmony in your career:

1.  Harmonize with your self. Find time and space in your life to reflect on who you are and what you have to offer

2. Harmonize with your spirit. Try meditation, prayer or silent time (perhaps immerse yourself in a long bath or sauna!) to remove the background noise to listen to the quiet signals and messages

3. Harmonize with others. Immerse yourself in projects and connections – do not expect to find harmony in all of these, but use them as learning opportunities to explore the nature of your strengths and the types of work and people where you experience harmony

4. Harmonize with nature.  Find times to immerse yourself in nature.  This might be a walk or bike ride through the country, a visit to a beach, or it could be appreciating a flower, a flower’s scent or a bird in your back yard. It could be a camping trip, or sitting atop a mountain sipping hot chocolate while taking in the view.  When fully immersed you feel that instantaneous connection as a distinctive part of a vibrant dynamic, complex and inter-connected world.

5. Harmonize with time. Be persistent, harmony requires timing, and in careers timing is not always under your control.  So do not give up if your fail to harmonize in your initial attempts.

6. Harmonize with difference. Seek out friends, colleagues or team members who bring harmony – not people who simply agree with everything you believe – a carbon copy, remember you need that pattern of tension & resolution for harmony – this is why diversity in teams is so essential – without moments of tension you simply have blind agreement – there is no movement, no oscillation, no harmony.

7. Harmonize with change – recognise you are change, are changing like the things around you and harmony needs the constant movement, the warp and weft, the alterations, to be maintained.

 

What is your idea of harmony? How do you find harmony in your work?

 

ps  check out this beautiful video posted via twitter just after I posted this – harmony!

Coaching and Leading for the short-term and authenticity

Coaching and Leading for the short-term and authenticity

The short term gets a bad press.  A short-term measure is frequently seen as superficial, a temporary band aid solution that fails to address the deeper underlying problem. This perspective fails to recognise the fact that the short term regularly turns out to be long term. The things that we do now can and often do have a major influence on things down the track (in the longer term).

You cannot get to the longer term without going through lots of short terms, it simply isn’t possible. However frequently Leaders are criticised for not taking a long-term view, coaches and counselors are enjoined to take a longer term perspective.  However anyone demanding a long-term view should be made to spell out how that view articulates in the short term.

I think people are reluctant to spell out the short-term implications of a long-term view, because they feel compelled to produce a “complete” solution.  Often an honest and legitimate short term implication is that little will appear to have changed.

Short term is not synonymous with simple. However it is often necessary to simplify in any one short term action, simply because we are human and there are limits to what we can think and do simultaneously.  However doing lots of simple things reasonably contemporarily can add up to complexity.  Lots of short term actions can address complexity.

The corollary of this is that short-term strategies do not have to be over-simplified and rigid.  This is how short-term actions get a bad name. In our preoccupation to be seen to be doing something tangible, we can miscontrue a situation in overly simple terms which in turn begets an overly narrow, simplistic set of actions that may give the appearance of addressing a problem, but in fact is not doing so particularly effectively.

Imagine someone pitching the idea of aging.  The long term view is that our hair will go grey or just go and our skin will become wrinkled (Joan Rivers excepted).  But what about now? What is the short term effect of aging.  The true answer is that tomorrow you’ll pretty much the same as today, notwithstanding any major life events or traumas. And the day after, and the day after that.  If you’re lucky and the year after that.

The key to embracing BOTH the short term and the long term is to recognise that in a complex and changing world, it is not always possible to get  clear line of sight between the short term and the long term.  It may not be clear why events happening now have any meaningful connection with outcomes then. This insight means we cannot control and predict, we cannot know all, we are indeed vulnerable as Brene Brown points out here and in this knowledge we can be authentic leaders, coaches or counsellors.

Being aware and comfortable in discussing that the short term may not offer a complete solution to the puzzle, and indeed that in reality, neither does the longer term, rather what we are trying to do is intentionally and intelligently explore the mystery, is an important step toward authenticity.

Once you have a stated (long term aim, purpose or calling) you can be liberated into attempting lots of short term experiments.  The danger lies in attempting to apply planning techniques that work well in a short term situation like goal setting that demands a specific result by a specific time.  Imposing such specificity on longer term outcomes has the tendency to stymie short term innovation and experimentation, because it is always being held to account against a rigid set of criteria.

Short term actions may not only fail to appear to be moving things along, it may even appear to be going in the wrong direction.  Within the Chaos Theory of Careers, the long term is an emergent pattern (or state) that results from many many repeated short-term events.

Taking action in the short term without a sense of purpose, intention or calling may result in good longer term outcomes, but it relies a lot on chance.  Following an intentional, purposeful path may not result in a desired or even desirable outcome (there are no guarantees in life) but it does at least mean you are more likely to be prepared to follow hunches, hear calling, try things out and take action in the first place.

Placing demands on yourself and on others to articulate tangible and specific outcomes in the short-term or the long-term may result in such a jaundiced view of the short term, that you don’t bother even trying.  It is a failure to appreciate that trying and striving now can and does lead to places then.  The short term is the birthplace of action, but dont waste your time anxiously looking for results.  For some things, and dare I say, the most important things, the outcome or result emerges over time, and in some cases, those patterns may not be evident within our lifetimes.  That fact should not deter us from trying and trying now.

see also this post on calling and re-souling your career

 

 

Five ways to resoul your career

Five ways to resoul your career

What is the point? Why am I doing this? Who cares? Does it matter? As Poehnell & Amundson (2011) point out “Many have questions about who they are and what they ought to be doing with their lives. Many struggle with personal and external issues that make it difficult for them to effectively answer these questions in practical ways that can be worked out in today’s labour market.”(p18).

Ultimately I believe that these are questions that at some time or other we all ask ourselves, and I further believe that frequently these questions are prompted by career crises.  I also believe that these questions can in part be answered or addressed through our careers.

Our careers can become vehicles for the expression of and the nurturing of our souls.  The impacts of exploitative work or drudgery are reflected in the terms we use to describe these activities such as soulless, soul destroying, empty, meaningless, crushing and so on. Similarly unemployment has been described in similar terms.  It reminds me of the close connection between work and the soul.

A good career is food for the soul.  A good career allows us to attend to meaning and mattering in our lives (Amundson, 2009). A good career fosters our spirit because our work is social contribution (Savickas, 1997).  All work is social – as John Paul Getty said, if you haven’t got a problem, you haven’t got a job – work is socially delegated problem-solving. So in working with others to help them solve problems we achieve connection, and this in turn provides us with a sense of social connection, a sense of place and a sense of belonging.  We become part of a community of connection through work. Thus work is spiritual.

Deborah Bloch in her writings on Spirituality (e.g. Bloch 1997; 1998) identifies five aspects of spirituality that are relevant to careers:

  • Calling
  • Purpose
  • Transcendence
  • Connection
  • Harmony.

Calling

Ed Colozzi has written that finding work that addresses ones essential sense of worth and meaning – the work you are meant to do and have to do, is to discover one’s calling. Having a sense of mission can be motivating, reassuring and sustaining when inevitably we are confronted by barriers and frustrations in work.

Doing the work you feel you are meant to do may manifest itself by a sense of fluency or ease with which the work becomes available to you.  A series of  “chance events” that appear to smooth the way into a role, or provide the opportunities to follow a path or complete a task can sometimes be interpreted as signs of a calling. A feeling of being “comfortable in ones shoes”, that you have found your niche, that you fit in can all be expressions of finding a calling.

Listening carefully to that calling can sometimes be difficult. Some have suggested techniques such as meditation and other mindfulness approaches as a way to clear away the distracting inner dialogues to hear our calling.  A calling may appear to change and transform as contexts and the problems we confront change over time, and the challenge is to understand the consistency of the Calling and to have the wisdom to articulate that calling in different ways in different contexts.  This is what some call being true to yourself.

Purpose

Related to our Calling is a sense of purpose.  A sense of purpose results when we transform our calling into meaningful social contribution, which often is some form of work (whether paid or unpaid).  Having a sense of purpose means to be able to see the connections between our intentional actions and their intended impact upon the world. It follows that work that is meaningful to us and that matters to us and to others is going to be purposeful work.

Transcendence

Within the Chaos Theory of Careers (Pryor & Bright, 2011), a central idea is that the sheer complexity of ourselves and the systems we live within mean there are limitations to what we can know or is knowable. Thus the world is a mystery, not a puzzle that is to be solved or indeed solvable (e.g. Dave Snowden 2010, see for instance his comments at the end of his blog here).

There is structure, knowledge or systems that are beyond what we know, beyond our limitations of what we can know. Kant saw faith as a way to deal with the transcendent.

Connection

If work is social contribution then work connects us to society.  One of the most commonly noted consequences of unemployment for many is the sense of disconnection and ennui that many who are unemployed can feel.  A spiritual sense of connection often refers to a vaster connection of things in the world.  Within the Chaos Theory of Careers (Pryor & Bright, 2011), the notion of sensitivity to initial conditions (the characteristic that leads to non-linear, or sudden or disproportional changes in our systems) it is interesting to ask what are our “initial conditions” for our personal human systems. Quickly it becomes apparent that we do not “start” with our genes, because these came from somewhere, and before we know it, our family tree of “starting conditions” takes us back to the beginning of the universe – and that is to take just one aspect of our “starting conditions”.  We live in and between our connections.

Harmony

Being at one with the universe is to have a sense of harmony.  You cant do harmony on your own (well you can record yourself repeatedly and overdub it in Garageband software!) but generally the most satisfying harmonies occur when we become one, like a band playing well together, or two singers in duet.  There is something that moves us when we experience harmony, something that we want to join in with.  I see harmony in the modern phenomena of flash mobs. The spontaneous coming together of people.  In their paper showing how Youtube can be used effectively in career counseling, Glavin, Smal & Vandermeeren (2009) refer to a video showing how a flashmob forms when the song Do Re Mi is played through the PA and people spontaneously join a joyful dance. One of the authors describes her reaction to watching this video: “To begin with, I love performance art that incorporates an unsuspecting public because the crowd becomes a part of the performance and it is an art form that exists only within the moment. The other thing that I like about this video is the sense that everyone in the train station is a part of something greater. You see the people’s expressions changing from confusion, to surprise, to excitement, and in some cases, you see them begin to let go – letting the moment, and the movement, move them. I think that one of the most powerful gifts you can give someone is the sense that they are not alone in this world.”

Harmony is a joyful dance through and with life.

Five ways to re-soul your career.

  1. Find some quiet time; take a break or a trip on your own. Clear your schedule and try some mindfulness techniques to clear away day to day distractions.  Try to find time each week to practice this. Learn to hear your calling.
  2. List out how your work links to society. What difference are you making? How important is that to you. Does it matter to you or to others? How could you find out how and why it matters?
  3. Relax your preoccupation with trying to control or predict everything.  Recognize that you cannot do it or know it all and be comfortable with that. Celebrate that fact and be humble in the face of it.
  4. Write out the ways in which you are connected to your: family, friends, community, place, country, colleagues, and strangers
  5. Join in. Consciously make the effort to harmonise with others. Seek opportunities to be in harmony.

P.S. If you are interested in a much more extensive consideration of Spirituality within the Chaos Theory of Careers, chapter 9 of The Chaos Theory of Careers is where to look or get it from me here.

P.P.S. You may find more on practical ways of working with spirituality in this post

P.P.P.S. David Winter’s Existential Take on Spirituality here and my next post that is related here

P.P.P.P.S.  PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT – IT IS A FORM OF CONNECTION AFTERALL! 🙂

References

Amundson, N. (2009). Active engagement: Enhancing the career counseling process (3rd ed.). Richmond, BC: Ergon Communications

Bloch, D. P. & Richmond, L. J. (eds.). (1997). Connections between spirit & work in career development. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

Bloch, D. P. (1997). Spirituality, intentionality and career success: The quest for meaning. In D. P. Bloch & L. J. Richmond (eds.). Connections between spirit & work in career development (pp. 25–208). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

Bloch, D. P. (2006). Spirituality and careers. In J. H. Greenhaus & G. A. Callanan (eds.), Encyclopedia of career development (Vols. 1 & 2, pp. 762–764). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Bloch & L. J. Richmond (eds.), Connections between spirit & work in career development (pp. 85–208). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

Colozzi, E. A. (2007). Spirituality, career development and calling: Emergent phenomena. Paper presented at NCDA Global Conference, Seattle on July 8, 2007.

Colozzi, E. A. & Colozzi, L. C. (2000). College students’ callings: An integrated values-oriented perspective. In D. A. Luzzo (ed.), Career counseling of college students: An empirical guide to strategies that work (pp. 63–91). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Glavin, K., Smal, P., & Vandermeeren, N. (2009). Integrating career counseling and technology. Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, 25(1), 160?176.

Poehnell, G. & Amundson, N. (2011). Hope-filled Engagement. Richmond, BC: Ergon Communications

Savickas, M. L. (1997). The spirit in career counseling: Fostering self-completion through work. In D. Bloch and L. Richmond (eds.), Connections between spirit and work in career development: New approaches and practical perspectives (pp. 3–26). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.

Snowden, D. (2010). Extispicium. Cognitive Blog. Downloaded from http://www.cognitive-edge.com/blogs/dave/2010/07/extispicium.php on 15.4.2011