The myth of professional nirvana
There is a myth circulating in self-development articles and propagated by motivational speakers that if you follow your passions then work and non-work time will no longer be distinguishable and that you will reach professional nivarana. Positive psychology and “The Secret” feed this myth creating a sense of inadequacy in us when we feel our work is not as fulfilling as it could be.
Don’t get me wrong of course I support people pursuing their career aspirations and engaging in fulfilling work, I have previously written about doing so, BUT…
…professional development must always be considered in light of what’s going on personally. All my work is with professionals but all my work always involves personal stuff; it has to! If you think you can easily compartmentalise personal and professional development you are kidding yourself. Doing so is near impossible and very unhelpful because most big gains in professional development (after technical training) occur through personal development insights.
Personal versus professional choice: one of my stories…
This post will highlight four situations (reasons) where it makes better sense to NOT pursue a professionally fulfilling opportunity and to settle for “boring” work in exchange for personal benefits.
4 situations where choosing “boring” work is a good option
1. You’re making meaning outside of work
If your non-work life provides a rich source of meaning for you, allows you to be truly authentic and express your values to their fullest, then don’t trade this for more money, power or professional opportunity unless you “have to” (see next point).
2. Maslow is calling you
Maslow was a psychologist who came up with a hierarchy of needs. His theory is simple; if you haven’t got the basic things you need to be alive (food, air) then little else matters. Taken a step further if you cannot provide for yourself and your family (food on table, roof over head) then being wonderfully fulfilled through your work should be very low on your list of priorities. So if you can barely provide for yourself and are living in poverty I suggest you carefully consider chasing more meaning from work and keep things simple. Survive first then try and change the world. Often cause related or not-for-profit workers put their own agenda aside for the sake of [insert meaningful cause here] but this needs to be done with caution because you still need to fulfill your duties (see next point).
3.You have a duty
If you have agreed to do/be something (father, wife, volunteer, carer) then you have a duty to perform the role (you “signed up” for). I believe nowadays too
often people abandon their duty to pursue alternatives that are more self-serving. Whether giving up on a relationship or failing to meet a commitment made, you should not get into the habit of pursuing professional goals at the expense of your duties.
What are your duties?
4. You’re making meaning at work
If you find your current work meaningful it is a bad idea to trade it for work that gives you more money or power etc. Usually when you take meaning out of your work life this makes you unwell unless you substitute this with another means to make meaning that is outside of work.
You can’t save time only spend it differently
The two categories of how you can spend your time are professional or personal. Often (not always) my clients are faced with a choice between a professional payoff versus a personal one. This door swings both ways and I have coached many people who are willing to exchange personal time and experiences (self, health, family, travel, culture and friends) for professional development time and opportunities (more role scope and responsibilities, extra travel and in office hours). And visa versa.
There is no right or wrong here just choices and consequences. Be self-aware as make your choices and you will reduce the risk of making poor choices that lead to unpleasant consequences (for you and those around you). Interested in self-awareness? Then checkout this recording of a webinar I recently presented.