Until today, I’ve always asked people about ‘flow’, activities which we love so much that we lose track of time. Every one knows what these are, of course, because we run late and get into trouble!
You should try asking people! It usually takes no more than 5 minutes to get a young person’s eyes to light up with delight as they recall what they love doing.
But then ask how they will make a living and their eyes dull over as they contemplate what worries them most.
How can we find the place where our deep gladness and the world’s hunger meets?
In days gone by, to find that place, we used to join an organization. The transitions between the stages of our lives where quite abrupt. We went to school where we knew people. Then we went to university and college where we started again. Then we did the same when we went to work.
With each change, we could trust the organization to provide the place where our own passions and the world’s needs met.
That’s no longer the case. Our careers have become less a set of “steps in a staircase” and more a trumpet shape as we take our deep gladness and expand it like a daffodil in bloom to ever widening interaction with the world.
I used to think I was quite innovative about honing in so quickly and easily on our experience of flow – the activities that bring the light to our eyes – our deep gladness.
I’m glad I do that. But it is not enough.
I also have to ask
Who did you talk to today?
What did you do or say that gave you immense pleasure and that was also appreciated by the other person?
It’s around this frontier that we can build a portfolio for a successful career.
Can young people tell me about the place where their deep gladness and the world’s hunger meets?
I must ask them. What will be the points of recognition? What is the equivalent of losing track of time? What body language tells us that we have found this place?
Where are you going to be when the recession ends? And when will it end?
Out-and-about the parks and landscapes of the internet, three broad scenarios are being discussed:
Nothing has changed. This is a temporary downturn. Be careful with your money. Try to avoid being laid off. We’ll be back to normal in 2010, or soon thereafter.
The end is nigh. Capitalism is over. And if capitalism is not over, we are going to have a Depression. So go down to the video store to get out some movies on the Great Depression because that is were we are headed.
In recent years, we have been spending beyond our means and we need to rethink the basis of our wealth and political power. Cutting back is not the issue. Re-jigging the economy is the issue so that we can emerge ‘re-conditioned’ for the next 30-40 years.
Which camp do you fall into? This is my thinking.
Rough summary of our economic position
The USA has an economy around 5 times the size of the UK’s, and and they have 5 times the population. So we differ in size but not so much in wealth.
China and India have either overtaken the UK last year, or are overtaking us this year in the size of their economy, but they have around 15-17 times our population (each), or over 3 to 4 times the US population.
The US is well ahead of everyone else by a long margin. To stay ahead, though, whether there was a financial crisis or not, they have to do something about their economy.
Obama has been spelling out the issues. The US economy is too dependent on oil. Too many people are reliant on ‘old’ industries, which can be run more efficiently in China and India who also have lower input costs. The numbers of well-educated Chinese and Indian graduates far exceeds the numbers of comparable US graduates.
The issues are not dissimilar in the UK.
My sense of what is important
I get so annoyed to see people being advised to ‘hang on to jobs’ in industries which are in their twilight years. It’s true that as parents we may feel that we have to hang on to whatever income we have, just as as immigrants, for example, run corner shops and drive taxis to give their children a good start in life. But to be too defensive, is not wise.
Since I arrived in the UK, almost one and a half years ago, I’ve been amazed that so many people want to leave. And almost all the young people do.
This is ‘discourse’ to some extent. People talk about going to New Zealand as a way of getting away from something that irritates them. They don’t mean to go, but the idea that they could, relieves them of the trouble of sorting out what bothers them.
When young people say fiercely, “I am going to get away from here”, this too is ‘discourse’, and in part, a currently fashionable way of expressing ambition and determination.
My sense of what we should be giving priority
But, what if we treated the young people of the UK differently?
What if we celebrated their achievements more? What if paid more attention to their dreams? What if we put their dreams more clearly at the top of our national agenda?
Would that be molly-coddlying them? Would that sap their ambition and drive? I don’t think so. I think that knowing we value their dreams as much as their achievements would allow them to pursue their dreams with more confidence and to waste less energy on worrying about failure.
David Whyte, British corporate poet, talks of the dreadful alienation that adolescents feel when they realise that their parents are burdened with life. If we are not living joyously in expectation of where the economy is going, how do we expect our children to?
Come with me
Which industry do you believe is fit for the teen years of this century?
What is catching your eye?
How big will this industry be?
What are its opportunities?
Why does it fascinate you?
I would like to know your dreams.
Which industries do you feel are like daffodil bulbs, and like to be planted in a good frost, so they can burst into exuberant life at the first hint of spring?
P.S. Thanks to John-Morgan for this wonderful picture of daffodils via Flickr
The puzzle of politicians and other ambitious people
Many years ago, a student of mine, Phil, asked a simple question: why do people elbow their way onto committees and into public positions, and then not do what they have yelled, screamed, kicked, agitated, mobilized to do?
Isn’t it odd to put so much energy into something and then not do it?
A study of student politicians
Phil’s study was simple.
Students spend a lot of time in queues. He used his queues to find student leaders who had promised publicly to do something for their club or society the very next day.
He was looking for
elected leaders (who had volunteered for that job out of all the public posts available in a University)
volunteered to their task
offered and promised to do it in front of other people
expected to do it and complete the next day.
He found his leaders as he queued for lunch or the library or whatever and secured their agreement to be interviewed fully that evening in their study-bedroom and then again, the following evening, after the task was completed.
Two interviews : one before and one after an action that they had promised publicly to a valued group.
This is what he found:
100% of students were totally confident that they would start and complete the task the next day
100% began the task
50% succeeded completely (yep, only 50%)
Effects on confidence
95% turned up for the post-event interview and two who were late courteously left notes rescheduling
The confidence of those who completed remained high.
The confidence of those who had not completed had plummeted (as we would expect).
Reasons for success and failure
When we analyzed what had gone wrong, in every instance, students had tripped over their own naivety. They tried to buy 100 T shirts of the same color without a prior order, for example. Or they hadn’t realized that long distance calls need to be pre-approved.
It seemed luck whether someone tripped over a practical detail or not; and therefore, luck whether they had succeeded in their task or not.
Response to failure
Though it was essentially luck whether they succeeded or not, if they had tripped up, their sense of self-worth (or self-efficacy) plummeted. The students had no way to see the pattern of events and no way of knowing that their success or failure was down to luck.
In the West, we are always being told to take responsibility for our lives. I am not sure I buy into this view. I think it is more important to understand cause-and-effect, and what can be influenced, and how.
In the case of these students, they had now way of seeing the overall pattern – after all that is why we were doing the research. But, an experienced mentor or coach could help them interpret their own success or failure.
This is the advice that they would have got from an experienced mentor
If the day had gone well, good – enjoy the buzz of success and set a new challenge in the morning.
If the day had not gone well, sorry – you are feeling down, take note of what went wrong, Learn That You Cannot Anticipate Everything, and set a new challenge in the morning!
Without a mentor, life gets tough
How can we possibly distinguish between what is “down to us” and what is the normal ebb-and-flow of life without a good mentor?
Having good uncles, aunts, pastors, teachers, bosses, company-appointed mentors probably influences a youngster’s prospects in life more than anything else.
More than money, more than good looks, more than brains, more than personality. I didn’t put parents on the list because we might be too close to the action to advise young people well.
The big question that people might ask is where are the mentors today? Where do we find mentors as we go through life?
What is the process of mentoring in the UK today? How do people following very different paths from their parents find mentors?
I’d be willing to argue that the strength of a modern society is our ability to mentor youngsters who come from very different backgrounds from ourselves.