Archive | June 2012

Flow

I’ve been in the land of unemployment for 10 days (8 business days). And so far, it has been glorious in a way I did not expect.

See, I knew I wanted to spend more time on the things I was already enjoying more than my work (e.g., photography, writing, reading blogs and spending hours analyzing the work of photographers and writers, planning travel, dancing, etc.), but I wasn’t convinced I would keep enjoying them as much without work in the equation. And maybe I thought I might enjoy the “fun” parts, but not the “annoying parts” – as, for example, all the photographers I’d talked to/emailed, had told me that editing was by far the biggest drag and a necessary evil.

But you know what? I spent four hours editing photos yesterday and couldn’t believe it when I looked at the clock. (Maybe this will change over time, but still!) The last time I spent four hours or more on a work task was when I had a monster of a deadline which dictated that I remained chained to my desk until the task was through (and boy, couple a task you find unfulfilling with a mandate to continue at full-speed at all costs and you’ll find yourself a worn out shell of a human).

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi came up with the theory of “flow,” or what has been described as a state of complete immersion in a task at a deeply satisfying emotional and cognitive level, which leaves one feeling energized, adequately challenged, and happier (or as often stated in the research: of a “more positive mood”).

This idea has since been linked to the modern mantras of “being present,” and “living in the moment,” etc., and throughout his career Csikszentmihalyi has produced countless research on the topic of flow and how it impacts individual motivation, which has gone on to influence practices across a wide range of disciplines (e.g., education, sports, religion, etc.).

As you might guess, to a high achieving type with a career orientation and desire for self improvement (re: me), flow can really mean the difference between a profession that leaves me brimming with joy, or wrung out to dry.

One example of the research examining the  link between flow and professional satisfaction among high achievers found (perhaps not-surprisingly), that achieving types show positive moods when engaged in a challenging task requiring great skill. (Read more about the work of Professor Eisenberger and his colleagues here).

Essentially, if I am achievement motivated, the more likely I will exhibit a positive mood state if given tasks which challenge me and utilize my skills. This makes sense.

But what about when I have tasks that utilize my skills but don’t challenge me? Or tasks that challenge me, but require skills I don’t have? Well, such scenarios can lead to that gray area – some combination of boredom, fatigue, or utter frustration (or all three).

The question then becomes, how to find a professional scenario that provides what I need to activate flow.

For now, working on bettering my technical skills behind a camera,  my eye for balanced composition within the frame, and my ability to color correct an image, are completely engrossing and satisfying. I’m also allowed the ability to work with people and help them meet a need, as well as to determine my own work environment and schedule. And though currently, it is more of an educational venture than a monetary one, I’m content financially.

But is flow the golden ticket to career satisfaction? Almost.

The demands of modern living (e.g., food, rent, car maintenance, etc.) and work-life balance (e.g., scheduling flexibility, adequate/fair compensation, health insurance, professional support and training, etc.,) come in as well. There are some basic elements that (arguably) must be satisfied first, before one can attain that “holy grail” of achievement (I could go off on a tangent about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but I think you get the point).

But for now, my survival needs are met and I’m really enjoying the experience of flow. It’s really refreshing to be acquainted with an old friend.

Personal Cliff Climbing

My apologies – I know it’s been awhile (about a month actually) since my last post.

I wish I could say that the month was replete with cathartic moments, mental clarity, and those “I always wanted to do this” experiences, but mostly it was a time of rest.

For the most part, Dan and I continued about life as normal.We worked, we loved, we did the day-to-day things that keep our lives afloat.

But a few key things happened:

– I injured my right pinky toe in mid-May; since then, I’ve been slowly regaining full use of my right foot. While a fairly minor injury, it hasn’t allowed me to dance which has been a serious bummer.

– Dan and I attended a West Coast Swing competition in Dallas. Although he may not have done as well as he’d hoped, I was very proud. I think the car rides up and back also gave us some valuable time to reconnect and discuss more about our relationship.

– I found out that due to financial circumstances, my position would be changed from a full-time salaried arrangement to a contractor/per-project basis at the end of June.

As you might imagine, that last bullet has been pretty jarring, though not wholly unexpected. While I can’t provide much detail, our company had been experiencing some challenges earlier in the year, and once I’d received all the decision letters from schools, I knew it was time to reevaluate things and make another plan for my professional development.

But it’s never comforting to feel like you’re suddenly pushed off a cliff you were hoping to climb gradually (and at your own pace).

Sometimes when you’ve spent so much time and energy progressing towards a certain goal or point in time, reaching it can feel a bit strange or surreal. That moment when you’re able to look out over both where you’ve come and what lies ahead.

There’s something comforting in the routine of the “working towards” space –  being in between “start” and “transition.” With your nose to the ground, you can just continue in the day to day,  knowing that tomorrow will be relatively similar to today with intermittent progress forward.

So once that machine of one foot in front of the other comes to a close, “what’s next” can be a welcome deviation, a scary unknown, or some combination of the two.

Lately, I’ve felt perched atop a mountain. I’ve spent quite some time working towards this point in my life on multiple levels (personal, professional, physical, etc.), and now I’m sitting atop a peak representing hours of work, self-reflection, milestones, tears, long nights, short days, and smiles. A collection of memories and experiences compiled into my own little self-pinnacle, a personal precipice.

For the moment, I’m arrested between the after effects of my own “machine” – that downgrading of  perpetual motion (like the noodle legs effect of adjusting to walking on a flat surface, after running on a treadmill)- and a desire to sit back and take in the view of past, present and potential future, and the uncertainty that comes with the next adventure.

Fortunately, I have some financial cushion so I’m not thrust back into the rat race just to try to find a source of income. And you know, I want this time to be different. I want this next major shift to really stick, to really fit.

And, while I’ve been thinking about all the usual suspects:

– what I’m passionate about

– what I value

– what kind of life I want

I also know that going forward, I will need to pursue a professional endeavor that better taps into my creative side and is more people-centric.

But of course, I worry that I won’t find the best option(s), or worse, maybe I’ll find the wrong option(s) and divert down a path that leads to self-sabotage. And I was going back and forth, back and forth – a mental tennis match of “what ifs” and “could possibly” – and then I stumbled on this excerpt from one of Seth Godin’s more recent blog posts:

In addition to wasting time, the frequent reconsideration sabotages the effort your subconscious is trying to make in finding ways to make the current plan work. Spending that creative energy wondering about the plan merely subtracts from the passion you could put into making it succeed.

And then something hit me…

Maybe “finding” has worked before, but if I want a truly new tomorrow, a changed life going forward, I might have to – “create.”

So a week or so ago, I did what I’d been thinking about doing for a long time (months, actually). I contacted two local photographers and asked them if they needed assistants, if they could share some insight on their experiences, and if they would provide the one thing I really need: help.

Could they help me improve my work and skill set? Could they help me be brave enough to take something I love and experiment with it in a totally new way?

To my surprise (and delight), both of them said they would try. And that’s really all I can ask for, because they can’t solve this puzzle for me (or rather, create the solution?) – that’s all on me. But, then can offer some assistance, some guidance, and maybe, just maybe, that will give me the skills, knowledge and courage to put myself out there in a totally new way.

Here’s to trying new things and hoping for the best. I’ll keep you posted, as this is just the start of an entirely new journey.

Thanks for reading,

S