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.