Transcending Careers and Life Roles
Work is a necessary part of life. Some like work, but others don’t.
Work and identity
Sigmund Freud rationalized why people get so attached to work. He said, ” … work at least gives people a secure place in a portion of reality, in the human community.”
Melvin Maddocks wrote, “A man’s work is his dilemma, his job is his bondage, but it also gives him a fair share of his identity and keeps him from being a bystander in somebody else’s world.”
Truly, people find their identity through work. They are what they do. Ask an engineer, architect, doctor, lawyer, lawmaker, bricklayer, caregiver, etc. Working people associate and identify themselves with their work to an exceptional degree. When their work goes awry, so does their life.
There’s more to life than work.
Over time, people develop and alter their worldview – of life, priorities, and values. Jenny Wade, the psychologist, not the Hollywood star, presents a theory of the developmental stages in the unfolding of human individual consciousness. Don Beck wrote about Spiral Dynamics system that affects human development and the roles people play in their lives.
Based on studies, humans progress through increasingly complex levels of consciousness. “Each level is associated with a particular view of the world, a lens through which people at that level will see everything they encounter, including work. As they go to higher levels of development, they get a more complex and inclusive view of the world. However, they still have access to the lower levels (and sometimes operate from them) but they can see things from a higher perspective than they could in the past.”
Dr. Armand Diaz uses a variety of coaching strategies, using Wade’s and Beck’s theories, and including astrology, to help people through significant life changes. It’s interesting how he sees the different roles that people play in their lives. Here are a few examples:
The Street Fighter. To him, “Life is a jungle, look out for Number One.” Life is dangerous and no one can be trusted. He fears everything. Surviving is his greatest reward. Street fighters find meaningful work in gangs, drug cartels, and usually end up on the dark side.
The Conformist. His mantra is “Follow the rules, and we’ll all enjoy Law & Order.” The Conformist plays by the rules, expecting to be rewarded in the future. There is trust in authority and a belief that the system works. He fears and abhors change and differentiation. They are too many and they work religiously in factories and backrooms where innovation is not necessary. Their ultimate reward is the Employee of the Year award.
The Achiever. His belief is that “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” The Achiever is somewhat as competitive as the Street Fighter. The Street Fighter doesn’t care at all for the Rules, which are bent and occasionally broken, because they are seen as false limitations. The Achiever wants to be a winner and perceived as such by society. Achievers have a more scientific approach, and test ideas on their own rather than listen to authority. This level tends to be materialistic and success-oriented. The Achiever’s greatest fear is failure. Achievers abound as professionals, entrepreneurs, and managers whose ultimate reward is the corner office at the C-Suite.
The Humanitarian. He thinks, “All You Need is Pag-ibig (Love).” The Humanitarian sees past the need for individual achievement and seeks to work for collective values, with people that have similar ideas about what is valuable. With a Messiah complex, they fear isolation and injustice. They abound in social service, health care, NGOs and in Green movements. They think their work is done when there is World Peace, Love and Understanding.
The Self-Actualizer. At this level, the emphasis moves from surviving and achieving to being, with an appreciation of life in all its complexity. This level is very close to what Abraham Maslow called self-actualization. People at this level fear being limited. Fortunately, there are many working people at this level, who work with measly pay and work exceptionally hard for the sake of the organization and the people they serve. Their only reward is the opportunity to work in concert with one’s true self.
Life is more complex than just putting people in pigeonholes with the above labels. At several times or stages, you could be playing more than one role. At the office, you’re the mean Boss wanting excellence (Achiever), but at home you’re the henpecked husband (Conformist). You could be a Street Fighter, but like Robin Hood you give to the poor and desolate (Humanitarian.)
Your career can hit a real wall when you, personally, evolve past the work you are doing. You transcend your career. It’s common for working people to start working early in life, move up the corporate ladder, and get a seat at the table. As you move up, different roles await you.
As you live life, forces tend to push you up or down the ladder of development. You are forced to play different roles. A recent college graduate will likely take a stable job that pays well, and be a Conformist. Years later, he begins to question what the job is about and how it fits with his personal ethics and life goals. He becomes an Achiever. Tired of adventure, a Street Fighter starts to value his life and his family and opts for relative security as a Conformist. The Achiever realizes how lonely it is at the top and becomes a Humanitarian or Self-Actualizer.
No matter what career you have or role you play, transcend it and do something for others. Mark Twain said, “Let us endeavor to live so that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry.”
(Ernie is the 2013 Executive Director and 1999 President of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP); Chair of the AMCHAM Human Capital Committee; and Co-Chair of ECOP’s TWG on Labor and Social Policy Issues. He also chairs the Accreditation Council for the PMAP Society of Fellows in People Management. He is President and CEO of EC Business Solutions and Career Center. Contact him at email@example.com)