It’s no surprise that most Americans are workaholics. I myself find my life consumed by work. I am at work by 6:30 every morning, and usually leave work at around 5:30-6:30. Then I come home to do more work – grading, tweaking plans, etc. Weekends are spent doing even more work in coffee shops for change of scene.
Some people enjoy work. No really, I have to believe this is true. But not enough of us when compared with the amount of work we do. In fact, an article published in Forbes tells us that a majority of Americans are dissatisfied with their work. At the same time, an article in CNN tells us that Americans work more than people in other parts of the world (specifically Europe in the mentioned article).
What does this mean? That most Americans are unhappy with their jobs, yet work very long hours. I’m not a very logical person but this is nonsensical even to me.
Sometimes, I try to imagine having a career that I really dislike but pays well. I try to rationalize that at least I would have the money to enjoy myself outside of work. Even if this were true, I’m not sure I would have the time. This becomes a pill impossible for me to swallow, and I know that I cannot be this person. I cannot have a job or a career that makes me unhappy.
One year in college I applied to become part of a leadership group on campus. Part of the group interview asked a series of questions, and we had to stand in either the agree or disagree section. I thought I was doing fine until the following statement came up: You should challenge yourself to do something you dislike every single day.
Normally, I’m an excellent communicator. I’m great at telling people what they want or need to hear. I knew what the ‘right’ answer was here, but it didn’t feel right to me. I disagreed.
No, I will NOT willingly seek out a task that makes me cringe every single day of my existence in order to “become a better leader.” I don’t mean that I refuse to do anything outside of my enjoyment zone ever, but the idea of constantly focusing on your areas of improvement seems very old fashioned to me.
There are certain things I am good at, things I enjoy doing. Life is short. YOLO. Every other cliche phrase that aims to simply motivate us with this truth. I choose to spend my time, whenever I have the choice, doing things I enjoy and can excel at.
This brings us to flow – a concept I first learned about in my favorite business leadership class senior year of college. This class challenged many ideas of traditional leadership. It was the first time I heard that, rather than constantly focusing on ones’ areas of improvement, we should focus on strengthening the skills we do have. There are so many people in this world. Too many, even. No one is being asked to go it alone, so why does everyone feel pressured to become perfect? I’m horrible at math, but I have a passion for public speaking and writing that many cannot comprehend. Wouldn’t life be sweeter if we could each focus on our own skill sets – the things we most enjoy – and fill in the blanks for those around us?
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is famous for introducing the concept of Flow. Flow is complete immersion in an activity to the point that time falls away, and one becomes oblivious to anything else around them. It is the state of total enjoyment of the task at hand.
TED Talk – Flow
In the video above, Csikszentmihalyi says that the state of flow is achieved when “challenges are higher than average and skills are higher than average.” For every person, flow comes “when you are doing something that you really like to do.”
So, if a majority of Americans are saying they do not enjoy work then it can be assumed that majority are not experiencing flow at work. This might be alright. A lot of research has gone into ways to incorporate flow into leisure time as well. But as we’ve mentioned, most Americans work very long hours. So how much leisure time is there really?
I am nearly 24, not at all tied down and have very little direction in my life. This is both liberating and terrifying. Mostly, it allows me a lot of time to think about myself and what I want out of life.
I feel it is inevitable that work will take up a lot of my life, but “find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life” (MacKay). Right? I want that. I want to find what takes me repeatedly into the state of flow.
I haven’t felt it any job yet, but I can tell you this: I feel it every time I write.