May 24, 2009 (aft). I’m out enjoying the Sunday long-weekend sunshine and walking along, I get sucked into a Barnes & Noble. I decide I’m going in to buy a copy of the Four-Hour Work Week for my Dad for Father’s Day, but on my way to the business section, I see a copy of Jonathan Fields’ Career Renegade. I knew I wanted to read it anyway (ever since I started following Jonathan on Twitter (@JonathanFields), so I picked it up, figuring that I’d also review it for this site. This will be the story of that review. I’ll do it in a different format, however, just for fun. I’m going to chronologue it, so you can see my thoughts develop over the period that I read it.
May 24, 2009 (eve). Page one and I’m already agreeing. “At some point, it dawns on you that the corporate ladder is really more of a treadmill.” Geez. I think this might also apply to academia. Wanna be age 45 before you feel like you have a secure job? No. Do I want a secure job? Not if that security precludes freedom.
“What if you could really pull this off without blowing apart everything you’ve worked so hard to create?”
That grabs me. Because I have worked hard to create what I’ve done so far. I don’t want to throw my achievements away. I’m just tired of having to fit into other people’s rules, ideas and standards on everything. This is one unfortunate thing that academia has in common with corporate jobs. Yes, there’s some degree of research freedom in academia, but you can still be fired from even a tenured position if you do something the administration doesn’t like, such as changing the way you grade your students. One University of Ottawa professor was even handcuffed on campus and escorted out by the police after being suspended for just this reason. Yep, that’s right. Something as mindless and petty as that.
“The two giant questions that stop nearly everyone in their tracks: 1. What if the thing that makes my heart sing doesn’t pay enough to support me? 2. Or, what if it could be lucrative, but only if I was at the top of the field?”
I think there are other questions, too, that I can imagine people having. (1) How do you know that what you’ve done up to this point won’t then have been “a waste”? (2) What if you want the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve fully completed a certain personal goal (and moving on means this previous goal won’t be completed)? (3) How do you know the difference between quitting because you’ve given up (or are lazy) versus dropping something because it’s no longer working? (4) What’s the difference between needing to just simply persevere (keep pushing on) versus knowing when something’s not working, so that you should “cut your losses” and leave it?
Seth Godin tried answering the last question in his great book The Dip, but the answer didn’t really do it for me. It was still too ambiguous, didn’t leave me feeling satisfied.
The Power of Getting Into the Flow
Page 25: Now he’s talking about the power of flow. I’ve heard this before: I call it inspired, committed action. It’s that near-trance-like state you get into as a result of inspired concentration on a certain task. I’ve had it working on art and even in doing research. You sometimes feel like you could go on for hours and hours, if only you didn’t have to sleep, or eat, or whatever else life calls you for. One thing Fields points out about flow, though, that I hadn’t noticed myself is that it might require you to be “working toward a clear goal with a well-defined process… you need to be able to see, even from a distance, where you are going.” I’m not sure if this is a necessary condition for being in the flow. If you’re working on a painting, for example, you can totally be in the flow yet not have “steps” laid out or even an “end” in mind.
Another non-obvious point about flow is that it comes as a result of “ongoing, direct feedback: … to constantly adapt, correct course, and make progress toward your goal.” I can see this. It’s like a positive-results mechanism. The more positive results you get, the more pumped you get about continuing. This is the feedback loop.
“Actually, the best part of being an entrepreneur is not the control you gain over wealth, but the chance to handpick the people you surround yourself with and create an organizational culture that is completely in sync with who you are.”
I can attest to what he says about how much it means to be able to work with good people. Especially to work with people of like-mind or who bring the right breath of fresh air to the scene. Just think of all the data out there on how much your peer group influences you, or how you become like those you most associate with. Wow: one researcher, Tom Rath, found that people who have a best-friend at work are seven-times more likely to be engaged in their work. Fields puts it best when he says it like this:
“There is no such thing as a dream job with a nightmare culture or staff. It’s a package deal.”
In the interests of keeping this review readable, I’ll end the post here and pick up again in a new one. The takeaway points so far:
- the book cuts to the chase about the real problem: work-life satisfaction
- the money doesn’t automatically follow: you’ve got to work your passions
- doing your passions isn’t enough: you need to be in the flow and be with people you like
- so far, my interest is piqued, but I want more actionable tips and transformative insights
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