Integrating personal and career success
Getting a job and earning money do not always guarantee that you will enjoy a life of satisfaction and happiness.
‘The paradox of prosperity’ (1999), a paper prepared for the Salvation Army by the Henley Centre, argues that although material prosperity is increasing in western society, the chances of a fulfilling life are decreasing. By 2010 more people will experience life stress, fewer people will find satisfying relationships, fewer people will feel secure and ‘safe’ and fewer people will be able to meet the conditions for self-actualisation.
BTEC National Health Studies, page 302
This is odd, as it would seem that if you are financially successful and earning money that you can spend on the things that are important to you, then your earning power will automatically strengthen your personal life. Are career involvement and success in your personal life fundamentally incompatible, or is it just a question of finding the right balance?
High-energy and low-energy states
The way that we feel and think at home is very different to the way that we feel and think at work. At home we are in a relaxed, low energy mode. Our office mindset, on the other hand, is high energy and focussed. Over the course of 24 hours, we oscillate from our serene low-energy home mindset to the high-energy office mentality, and then back to our low-energy state when we go home.
The journey to work is not only a physical transportation, but also a psychological transformation from the home persona to the work persona. In her book Home and Work (1996), Christena Nippert-Eng described how people go through a set of rituals to move from their home mentality to their work mentality. The separation between home and workplace is not just a spatial one; the two environments correspond to two social identities. Nippert-Eng’s respondents had elaborate techniques and habits to shed their home mentality in the work and get into the work mentality, and then leave the professional mode behind them in the evening to resume their private persona at home. These practices could be as simple as putting on specific clothes for each environment, reading the newspaper, drinking coffee or having beer at the end of the day.
Digital Anthropology, edited by Heather A. Horst, Daniel Miller, page 133
This constant change is healthy and refreshing. On the way to work we psyche ourselves up into the high-energy office mentality. When we get back home, we unwind, tell over amusing anecdotes from the workplace and laugh at office frustrations. Our down time at home rejuvenates us for another day on the office and our energetic work life provides the impetus for us to progress with our personal lives.
Is there something that can disrupt this healthy cycle; so we become unable to bring our relaxed home mood to the office, or we become unable to bring our work energy back home?
By nature, we are complex beings and display the different facets of our personalities in different situations. For example, sometimes we enjoy having fun, sometimes we engage in intellectually stimulating activities and sometimes we enjoy providing guidance to others and helping people out.
All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII – William Shakespeare
However, the high energy attitude we assume at work may positively exclude us from involving all aspects of our personalities in our jobs. For example:
- The manager who is trying to explain his point of view at a board meeting is probably not thinking about finding oneness with nature.
- The share trader who is trying to determine the market direction is probably not thinking about playing with their kids.
- The tour guide who is happily displaying local history is probably not thinking about how they will pay off their mortgage.
Subsequently, in the course of going about our work, we may encounter the following circumstances.
- Our job only involves specific aspects of our personalities.
- We move into a high-energy frame of mind in order to meet the challenges of doing our jobs.
- We become unevenly energised; the parts of our personalities that we activate at work, become stronger. But the parts of our personalities that we do not need at work, are forgotten and left behind.
Becoming trapped in your work mindset
The healthy oscillation between your low-energy home mindset and your high-energy frame of mind, depends on your ability to reset back to your old, natural self, when you go back home.
However, if only one aspect of your personality is involved in your work, then work pressures may push you to consistently think and feel in a particular way.
If this happens, then even when you go home to relax, your thoughts and feelings will tend to follow along the same lines that you are used to at work. Subsequently, you will be unable to escape from your work mentality, as your personality will start to become centred around the feelings and thoughts that you experience at work.
Due to the increasing role specialisation of the modern workplace, it is likely that your job will place pressure on you to adopt a particular attitude and act in a particular way at work. However, this does not necessarily mean that you want to become “that type of person”.
If you are objectively aware of the persona that you project at work, you will be able to ensure that when you return home, you can take off the “work clothes” that you wore during the day, and reset to your simple, natural self.