The inner world of work
Especially when it goes wrong.
Because we have to talk about that, too.
We are living and working in entirely new ways. Many of us involve much more of ourselves in our working life. Where in the past, we used to be able to do our work, go home and not care, we now have to be there with everything we we’ve got. That’s a lot to ask, if you think about it.
There are always support mechanisms around this. The new cult of ‘finding your purpose’ is one – investing so much of yourself, you’ll want to do something you find important. Life coaching, work coaching. Mindfulness and yoga. Endless positive thinking, the law of attraction. Stoicism. Agile. Any exotic school of philosophy. Which then requires charismatic leaders to guide us. Who inspire us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t.
Does it work? How do we know? Does it matter, does anyone care for the long term? Do we ever really evaluate these paths? Shouldn’t we hear from people who have tried these approaches and found them lacking?
It’s 2016. It is fifty years since the height of the hippy decade, of the first huge cultural shift to embracing alternative lifestyles. On the outside, most of the old hippies have become completely normal, but some bit of the namaste culture is always around. One of your friends is always asking The Universe for something. Buddhist thinking is very much taking hold with mindfulness and the new cult of purpose. It is really not that different from the sixties – except we now religiously follow what we think we want, rather than what somebody else tells us we should want.
I think it is time to tell stories of when things go wrong. Listen to the people who have adopted an ideology and devoted their lives to a cause, only to then realise that all their hard work didn’t get them anywhere good. People who found a purpose but then realised they sacrificed far too much. That they had crossed boundaries in their quest which they then had to rebuild. That they had blamed themselves for failing. We will find a thread within the stories, and it might not be success, like at most failure-themed events.
Trying to coax out and tell this kind of story is not easy. People who have this in their past tend to want to forget about it and move on. Fighting your corner, against cults or charismatic leaders, is hard work and you don’t get much in return (try and resist joining in with a ‘find your purpose’ session at a conference, and you’ll see.) You lose friends who are into the stuff you used to be into. You get blamed for just not doing it right, which is hard when you’ve only just learned not to blame yourself. It’s a thankless task. But it is so necessary.
In today’s workplaces, we are faced with a lot of huge ‘ancient’ philosophy – Hindu, Buddhist, sometimes American Indian -, taught by enthusiastic recent converts after having the smallest amount of superficial training. We need to not swallow it all, because most of it is simply bull. But – every organisation is going through changes and very often, the ‘inspiring, charismatic leaders’ who are invited to help manage it have such a basic, black and white approach that even the Haight-Ashbury hippies wouldn’t have bought it. But because it is ‘at work’, and they have the stage, people fall for it – resisting change is universally bad, isn’t it?
We want to tell of failure from the point of compassion, empathy and patience. But we also will be taking names and calling bullshit.
What format will this take? A blog and podcast. An event in London, at some point next year.
Got stories? @innerworkworld