Posts Tagged 'work'

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=water+flow&iid=239285″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]
Mihály Csikszentmihályi has a theory about something called Flow, a state of, essentially, absorption in a particular task, where the mind is focused and intent. In this state, we don’t really feel time. As when doing something we enjoy, our mind is so focused on the present that everything else falls away. With jobs and tasks we don’t enjoy, or can’t ‘flow’ with, we are constantly counting the moments until we can stop doing whatever we’re doing. We aren’t performing the task for its intrinsic value, but to get it over with.

Theoretically, we can flow with almost anything. Basically, it’s practicing mindfulness, as in Buddhism, being in the present moment without feeling attached to what has passed or what will come – essentially freeing oneself from worry, anxiety, or guilt.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=buddha&iid=215992″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /] Ideally, we should be able to ‘flow’ in whatever job we have, however high-stress or mind-numbingly dull (Csikszentmihályi’s work suggests that an element of challenge is important, as part of flow is the effort to master the task at hand – there needs to be an ongoing, ever-increasing difficulty to the work for it to sufficiently entertain the mind and attention. Zen Buddhism, on the other hand, is more about the ‘flow’ of mere existence, whatever the moment involves).

This takes practice, and a suspension of judgment – in high-stress jobs, we anticipate deadlines or negative repercussions of mistakes. With dull jobs, we judge ourselves for the lack of effort or mental energy required, or simply for the menial nature of the work – deeming it less worthy of our time that other things and therefore feel ourselves to be guilty of wasting our time and talents, judging our work to be inferior, however well executed.

The jobs that make us happy, then, are those in which we perform activities where we naturally flow. At present, I absolutely love my job. I do primarily research, at the moment, hunting down answers and organizing information. Essentially, solving puzzles. This is ideal for me, and, helpfully, is research on something I find intrinsically valuable; both stress and negative self-judgment are then largely eliminated (though not entirely – there is a deadline, but the mild pressure I find helpful motivation).

I know that this particular phase of my job is unlikely to continue for more that a couple of months, but I am really relishing it. What it’s given me is the knowledge that I can love this kind of work (or any kind work – I was starting to despair). There are other things I find absorbing (writing, for example), but as yet I’ve not found a way to make a living from them.

I suppose jobs are, in some ways, like relationships – even if they suck, you learn more about yourself, your taste, your needs, as time goes by.

The point I wanted to make, really, in what a relief it is to love your work, to feel satisfied and fulfilled by it – it is, after all, what we spend most of our time doing (with the possible exception of sleep, depending on your hours). Every job has the odd unpleasantness, but to be so content day-to-day is – well – I can only think of Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs – once food, shelter, health and a basic standard of living are established, one wants suitable mental stimulation and activity to feel self-actualized – that one is living in harmony with one’s aptitudes, feelings, and judgments.

This may not last. Nothing does. Having experienced a real love of my occupation, I can make a concerted effort, from an informed opinion, to keep what I love in my job description. I have also, happily, learned that, as I quite enjoy research, I would probably love grad school.

The Meaning of Work

Unemployment is a torment for several reasons. First and most obvious is the absence of money, which moves from an initial restraint with social activities to a genuine fear of not being able to pay bills or buy groceries once savings are used up.

Secondly, there is the social stigma, an assumption that one is being lazy or choosy, or the more irritating envy of the employed, as if one is not a job-seeker but a person of leisure, taking in all the sights and cultural activities on offer or idly drinking elaborate coffee-based beverages while catching up on ones reading.

Thirdly, there is the internal concern of a lack of value. Whether one is a member of a capitalist society or a socialist utopia, individual worth is tied into what one can contribute. A career suggests not just being of use, but a purpose, a developing skill set with a concurrent increase in value to that society. Without even a job, there is a sense that one is both a burden to a community and inherently lacking in worth.

In searching for work, one is faced with another concern – meaning. Even with intense competition for every available position, the perpetual application process draws focus to our desire to have work that is meaningful to us in some way.

I remember as a child being told that I could be or do anything I wanted, if I just put my mind to it. This is a big lie. But it’s a lie that stays; it makes every job that doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities or offer an intellectual challenge seem like a waste. As much as I need money, part of me still objects to the idea of doing something I don’t want to do. It seems horrific to spend life working on something we don’t find important, squeezing in meaning on the weekends or over vacations.

Get Pregnant, Ladies!

Carol Sarler wrote this bizarre piece in the Daily Mail yesterday.

The gist of the article is that all capable, appropriately aged women should make babies, because it a) completes them and b) makes them better employees, and if they don’t they are a) weird and b) selfish.

“Much as I like to trumpet the importance of a woman’s right to choose all things at all times, there’s one choice I simply cannot understand: the choice of an otherwise sane and healthy woman not to have children.”

Wow, thanks for the support. Sarler ‘understands’ all the freak show women (like lesbians and those over 35) who want to make with the babies, but those with operational wombs who opt out are apparently incomprehensible.

Sarler writes on the subject now because ‘research’ (the source remains undocumented in the article) has shown that bosses/execs (male?) prefer to hire/work with women who are mothers rather than not. Because, see, the single ladies “lack humanity”. Whether single men or fathers also lack humanity is not mentioned. Perhaps it isn’t relevant for male employees – it’s just the women the bosses have to worry about being inhumane.

The article is full of similar offensive remarks and rather bizarre generalizations – “They’re [mothers are] not there to compete for the attentions of the male executives; they’re there to get out of the house; they’re there because they genuinely enjoy some adult company; and they’re there because they have mouths to feed other than their own and shoes to buy for someone else’s feet.”

Yes, as we all know mothers don’t have jobs because they are satisfied by work, it’s because they are tired of speaking in baby-talk and need the funds to purchase more Lego. And those single women in the office, drawing the attention of the male execs – wait, why are the execs male? Is this point moot when there is a female boss? Are the non-mothers trying to find attention for their work, or is Sarler implying that single women work so they have a selection of wealthy guys in offices to seduce? And, of course, non-mothers don’t also genuinely enjoy adult company.

“You cannot be a mother without knowing something about selflessness, compassion, generosity, commitment, fierce loyalty and plain hard work. You cannot – surely – be a boss and not value assets such as those in your staff.”

You cannot, surely, assume that these traits are exclusive to mothers. Nor can you assume that all mothers have these traits – not every mother is a ‘good’ mother. To think about it for a moment is to realize how illogical that statement is.

And perhaps the most offensive phrase: “we actually need our children; they complete us as women” – Bull. Shit.

Those women who are barren are incomplete? Single women are incomplete? How about high schoolers or university students? Is that senior thesis just filler until the true meaning of life is revealed in the eyes of your child?

Sarler’s illogical and frankly misogynistic article baffles. It is an attack on working women – the mothers don’t come across much better than the inhumane non-mothers, as it seems that what their job is doesn’t matter as long as they can talk to some grown-ups and get home in time to make dinner.

I have to wonder in cases like these if writers seriously believe what they put forward or are engaging in a little ‘Modest Proposal’-like mockery, looking at the underlying logic and implications of studies that even bother to ask ‘bosses’ whether they prefer hiring women with or without children; if you think about it, the study itself was designed either to say ‘all women should make babies’ or ‘you can’t have children and a successful career’.

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Medications for the Healthy

Is medically unnecessary neural enhancement (via medication) justifiable?

In an article about multi-tasking and distraction (as related to blackberries, twittering, facebook, google, etc), Sam Anderson comments on the loss of productivity and notes that:

“A quintessentially Western solution to the attention problem—one that neatly circumvents the issue of willpower—is to simply dope our brains into focus. We’ve done so, over the centuries, with substances ranging from tea to tobacco to NoDoz to Benzedrine, and these days the tradition seems to be approaching some kind of zenith with the rise of neuroenhancers: drugs designed to treat ADHD (Ritalin, Adderall), Alzheimer’s (Aricept), and narcolepsy (Provigil) that can produce, in healthy people, superhuman states of attention. (…)”

The idea that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a big deal if people started taking such drugs to boost their concentration is problematic. Those who are prescribed the medication (those under discussion in the article are for people with ADHD, Alzheimers, and narcolepsy) are treating an under (or over) performance in one area of their brain which prevents them from attaining normal cognitive function; if everyone started enhancing perfectly normal attention patterns, the norm would change.

Even the term ‘neuroenhancer’, which, by the way, I cannot find in online medical dictionaries, is a little misleading, as its components imply that the drugs enhance brain function, when, naturally, they enhance bits of brain function – possibly (probably) at the expense of other bits.

Drugs like Adderall are described as psychostimulants, like caffeine and cocaine. Ritalin is essentially speed.

Beyond the alteration of how one defines ‘normal function’, there are, of course, the side effects. Adderall can, among other things, cause headaches, nausea, and vomiting, and acts as an appetite suppressant (much like caffeine only for a much longer time). Drugs for Alzheimers can do much the same thing, along with causing (!) confusion, vomiting, and hives. And the narcolepsy stuff is much the same again, with a potential for addiction and, unsurprisingly, may also cause insomnia, which might be great for finishing that grad paper, but might also suck for your mood and long-term health.

Add to all that the idea that, perhaps, ADHD is over-diagnosed and the ‘hyperactive’ behavior is a function of children being trapped indoors or playing a load of video games or generally responding to a more ‘stimulating’ world, and the treatment of it may simply be a way of changing the child to fit the education system rather than the other way around, and the problem, to me, seems to be the attitude towards a broadly defined idea of work, requiring a systematic overhaul, rather than turbo charging the brain as one might a car’s engine.

Popping a pill is not the same as getting regular exercise (increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain thereby improving function overall) or changing your diet, as an overall lifestyle change will affect the body as a system rather than chemically altering one particular part.

Those who decide to take pills to compensate for a lack of planning (why did you leave that paper to the last minute?) or to make it a little bit easier to focus at work with all those Twitters happening, shift the responsibility, and possibly endanger their health in the process. Sure, this is their problem, but if one looks at, say, corporate culture, or the structure of schooling, aren’t these demanding a level of focus or performance that can’t generally be achieved without some assistance? Shouldn’t our work environments reflect a balance of human ability?

It is difficult to say outright that people shouldn’t take drugs to enhance focus – are we going to ban caffeine? Red bull? If a surgeon is more adept on speed, should we begrudge the patients that superior performance?

But then again, surely we can agree that there is a spectrum of ‘enhancement’, that coffee is a mild stimulant, that the surgeon should be able to do his job without a boost. To justify and accept casual and regular usage of psychostimulants and the like would be to allow that the increasing demands of work and life are worth it. That the pace of life should be faster, and that to take a little something to keep up is a small price to pay for progress. Real progress would be organizing work around our whole life, not allowing the marketplace to dictate what portion of life the individual gets to retain, or how fast their brain needs to work.

To advance technologically should not involve disrespecting our own limitations.