Details and Reviews
Moving from "Why am I doing this?" to "This is what I want to be doing." Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
In his latest book, Moore addresses what might be termed the question of vocation—something beyond mere work or...
Pain penetrates me drop by drop.
I have a friend where I live in New Hampshire who is constantly depressed and frustrated because he can’t find the right work. He is one of the most gifted men I know: He’s intelligent, has a great sense of humor, loves people and is loved by them, and is an excellent artist. But he can’t hold down a job and doesn’t know what to do with his life. He hates the torturous rhythm of finding a new career, quitting, and trying again. With a ready smile for the outside world, he’s like the classic clown who beneath his happy face paint is desperately sad.
Many men and women are like my friend Scottie. They look relatively happy and get along on the surface of life, but deep down they despair of ever really feeling good about the work they do or believing that their lives have been worth living. They also know too well that unhappiness at work spills over into other areas of life.
The failure to find the right job or to enjoy the one you have creates a special kind of depression. A person may feel that her spirit has been crushed or perhaps never brought to the light of day. Some wonder why they feel so low and never connect their depression to work. In therapy they may be talking about marital difficulties or an addiction, and they are surprised when their counselor asks about their work. It seems they haven’t thought much about work in relation to their emotions and the things that give meaning to their lives.
An opus is the lifelong process of getting life together and becoming a real person, and it is no coincidence that the word is also used for a musical composition or an artist’s total production. You are also a work of art—alchemists referred to the opus as the Art. You are the artistic designer of your own life, and it is the most important work you will ever do. You will produce things that will make you proud—happy children, a good home, a well–functioning society, and maybe even some decent art. You will become a unique person. Nothing is more beautiful or more valuable. But if that potential goes unrealized, you may despair about life in general.
C. G. Jung once wrote that creativity is an instinct, not an optional gift granted to a lucky few. If you don’t find a way to be creative in life, that instinct goes repressed and frustrated. You feel its loss as a deflation, the spirit leaking out of your sense of self. You feel empty, disengaged, and unfulfilled.
The opus doesn’t come into existence fully formed. It takes sweat and tears to go through the arduous process of finding yourself, establishing a good career, and making a life. It is especially difficult to achieve all this in a world that doesn’t support such a deep, long–term process. Most people don’t think beyond the immediate need for money and a bearable job, and most companies don’t worry much about the personal calling of their workers.
Today we may not fully appreciate the workplace as a laboratory where matters of soul are worked out. We tend to focus on literal concerns such as pay, product, and advancement, whereas developments in your work life deeply affect your sense of meaning. Doing what you love and having relationships at work that help you as a person can give you feelings of peace and satisfaction at home and in the family.
A recent study of how Americans feel about their work lives concluded that today people are generally happier with their jobs than they were thirty years ago, but they see their work as having a negative impact on life at home. Specifically, they are working longer hours and therefore have less time for their families, their health, and their hobbies. Modern technologies, such as e–mail, blur the borders between work and home. Companies are also offering less in benefits and encouraging employees to work harder for profit sharing and stock ownership. The link between fulfillment at work and happiness at home is more important than ever.
My friend Scottie is a case in point. When I first got to know him, I saw a vibrant man full of talent. I envied him then and still do whenever I see him relaxed and congenial or showing our circle of friends his latest canvas. His talent and personality are extraordinary. I heard about his difficulties with work but thought that all he needed was to search around and find a business that recognized what an asset he would be to them. Naively I wrote a letter of reference for him, thinking that I might solve his problem at one stroke. At that time I looked at the surface of his life; today I’d look deeper.
As time passed, I learned that he had other serious problems, that his family life, so serene on the outside, was apparently troubled and always on the edge of collapse. I was surprised to hear that he had trouble with alcohol dependency and that his occasional outbursts of rage made him feared at home and threatened his marriage. In social settings people are drawn to him like a magnet, but his private life is tragic.
Scottie is having serious trouble finding the right job, staying with the job he has been able to secure, and finding pleasure and fulfillment in what he does. And I mean serious trouble. He stands a good chance of losing an extraordinary partner in his gifted wife and three unusually creative and promising children.
Whatever the source of his problems may be, Scottie’s troubled soul is focused now on his inability to find his life’s work. He secures jobs that offer money and some satisfaction, but he still feels that he is in the wrong place. He gets so frustrated and angry that he distances himself from his family and his friends. He doesn’t let anyone help him, and he can’t seem to get to the root of his problem.
Scottie is like many people who try to solve the problem of work at a purely practical level: getting new training, trying new careers, and judging success by the size of the paycheck. In fact, the process of finding a job, doing the work, and dealing with the relationships at the workplace has deep roots in family, personal experience, and personality issues. To get to the bottom of serious frustration, you have to consider the whole picture: the past, as well as the present; your family’s worldview and experience with work; and the personal issues you bring to the job.
In the ordinary job hunt you may be doing career testing and interviewing and experimenting with jobs, but to move toward your life work you have to work through the past, deep and raw emotions, and relationships that need attention. The roots of career problems run deep, and only a deep solution is effective in the long run.
If you have anything in common with Scottie, I would recommend stopping to look closely at the whole of your life. You will find in this book a long list of things to consider in the inventory of your life experience. Think of every aspect of your life as connected, and always go deeper than you think you need to go.
Stalled: The Feeling of Getting Nowhere
Frustration with work can take many forms. One complaint I frequently hear is the feeling of getting nowhere. Rose, the mother of one of my daughter’s friends, has had an excellent education and comes across as an able and creative person. She has ability, intelligence, and a bright personality but still can’t move ahead with her career. She tries one job after another, but they seem to be lateral moves. She isn’t moving closer to where she wants to be. She feels stalled, stuck, and sometimes even as if she's moving backward.
These days one often hears a plea, expressed with humor or sadness, from men and women, old and young: “What am I going to do with my life?”or “What am I going to be when I grow up?”People in their fifties and sixties say this, meaning that they still don’t know for sure who they are and what they are called to do. I have heard Rose say, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my life. All I know is that this isn’t it.”
“What am I going to be when I grow up?”It’s a telling remark, suggesting strongly that the person feels that she is still at the beginning of her life, perhaps even a child, immature, not having progressed as far as she should have. The laughter that accompanies the confession covers over concern and anxiety about the situation. “Will I ever grow up? Will I ever succeed?”
If I had such a person in therapy, I’d want to explore the background of this important self–image. Does it play a role in other parts of life? Does it have roots in the family and in early experience? Dealing with the issue outside of the specific work situation might help resolve both the deep emotional problem and the search for a life work.
My friend Scottie has apparently built up a pile of rage as well as depression over the years, knowing that he is capable of doing great things but never able to get a project off the ground. This gap between ambition and achievement can be painful to behold. He is getting nowhere, not by sitting around doing nothing, but by trying again and again without lasting success to do something valuable and worthwhile.
Scottie is angry at himself for being a failure, but he directs his rage against his family. They are close at hand and will keep his secrets—his alcoholism, his anger, and his failures. “Disgruntled” workers notoriously aim their aggression at the people around them; the same is true in a more subtle way in families. The frustration of not having life in gear and not doing the right job transmutes into judgment and rage and, finally, aggression. The feeling of getting nowhere is serious business.
Many people believe that you should always be getting somewhere, that you should always be on the “up” escalator, moving forward in life. But many are not moving anywhere, especially not up. They may feel stuck in a job that feels inferior to them, far beneath their standards and expectations. They may never have found a position even close to their dreams and hopes. Their friends may worry, seeing a person doing work far from his abilities and vision.
People at the top of the ladder can also feel stalled. They have had all the success they dreamed about, and still they feel unfulfilled. I have met many people like this: to all appearances wealthy and successful. They should be happy, but they’re not. In many cases it's fairly clear that material rewards simply have not given these “lucky” people the deep satisfaction they crave. Late in the game they may discover that they chose the wrong path or refused an opportunity that would have given them less money but more happiness.
Sometimes people get so discouraged by their failure to find adequate work that they turn against themselves and go looking for a job that has no challenge for them, pays them little, and offers no future. They punish themselves for not succeeding by ensuring that they won’t succeed. At one point in his flailing around, Scottie did this: He took a starting position in an automobile dealership though he had no interest in it or talent for the work.
It’s clear to me now that Scottie’s failure at work has deep roots, perhaps in his past, certainly in his emotions and relationships. When problems with work tie in with other emotional issues like marriage, family, and mood swings, it’s clear that the only way to deal effectively with work is to face what Zorba the Greek called “the whole catastrophe.”
Dealing with the World
Our own disillusionment isn’t the only source of pain and depression with regard to work. The world is out there judging us, expecting things of us, demanding that we do things in their way and not ours. Frustration with work often comes from outside as well as inside.
People get moralistic about work. They tell you that you should make good money, use your talents, get more education, have objectives and goals, and stick to a plan. By these standards, most creative people throughout history appear misguided. They have lived their lives by serendipity, inspiration, and experiment.
You may believe that you have tried too many different things or that you’re too old to find a real life’s work or that you don't have the talent or the calling to do anything significant. People may have judged you so harshly that you lost confidence in yourself. In your pain, you may have turned to alcohol, drugs, or some other numbing distraction, and those addictions in turn cause you to fail at your work.
It takes a well–grounded ego to withstand the assaults of well–intentioned and not–so–well–intentioned critics. But people who are unsure of themselves at work by definition don’t have a strong ego. They are vulnerable to attack. They fall over easily when pushed. People in power may have gone through similar trials and now unconsciously force their underlings to remain equally unhappy.
To deal with such pressures, you have to be loyal to your essence or to the person you know you can be. People around you look for evidence of success, but you may have to trust the qualities in you that you know have not yet been revealed. Otherwise you may collapse and have your spirit crushed by criticism and expectations that are not your own.
Many creative people who have contributed much to the human race were not instant leaders and achievers. It took time for them to ripen into the outstanding figures we know them to be. An unexpected source of insight into this matter is the rock musician Sting. He is not only a fine musician but an excellent writer as well, as demonstrated in his penetrating and beautifully honest autobiography, Broken Music. There he tells of his early days trying to support himself and find his way. He worked outdoors on building sites as a laborer and then as a bus conductor and eventually as a civil servant. Later, he became a teacher in an elementary school. It was from there that he took a risk and became a professional musician.
Just try to imagine Sting taking your ticket on a bus. What if he stamped your fare and said to you, “I don’t know what to do with my life. I don’t want to be doing this job when I’m an old man.”Knowing where Sting ended up, with wealth and fame, the question is quite a tease. How did he get from one place to the other? Remember, he didn’t know that he was going to become Sting. He might have spent the rest of his life as a bus conductor, which might not have been a disaster, but he wouldn’t have found an outlet for his unbounded creativity.
From the Hardcover edition.