As I See It: The Three Graces
June 25, 2012 Victor Rozek
People who lived during the Great Depression often greeted each other with a question: “Are you working?” For millions, finding work was the daily imperative and it dominated every waking hour. Notably, no one asked the quintessential question of our time: “What do you do?” That is a question born of having choices, which themselves are the products of affluence. Back then it hardly mattered. There was dignity in simply having a job, and sanctity in labor that could provide food, shelter, and the most elusive commodity of all during hard economic times, hope.
The importance of securing a job–any job–was passed on to the children of the Depression, many of whom had their youth and education truncated by the Second World War. When they returned home they were ill-prepared for the working life, but the post-war industrialized economy was booming and manufacturers welcomed the influx of able bodies.
The war had the added effect of uniting the nation, and victory was repaid with loyalty. Many found lifetime employment with a single company, and corporations benefited from the added stability. The world’s most vibrant and affluent middle class rose on a foundation of gratitude and mutual loyalty. Still, it took another generation of prosperity before the focus began to shift from merely holding a job to actually having a career. Once the essentials of a middle class life became a baseline, the urgency to secure a-job-at-any-cost faded. The younger generation didn’t want to sacrifice the totality of their working years to life-maintenance and began searching for the added element of fulfillment.
But while higher education prepared graduates for careers in specific fields, little thought went into identifying which personal attributes actually provide the best opportunity for having a fulfilling career. As a result, behavioral tendencies often dictated the degree of satisfaction more than career choice. For many, a career turned out to be little more than a specialized job.
In the 1980s, traditional top-down business models started being questioned and hundreds of books on management philosophy, productivity, and employee satisfaction began to flood the market. Tom Peters was Thriving on Chaos, Robert Coles was inspired by The Call of Service, and Wendell Barry began to wonder What Are People For? Those authors who actually concentrated on people and not just process found a high incidence of dissatisfaction and burnout in the workforce. Apparently, the descendants of Depression-era values had not yet discovered how to transition between the spirit-numbing repetition of the everyday job and the possibility of embracing work as an extension of individual passion.
Having passion for a specific field, however, is not enough. Without a driving vision and appropriate action, passion expresses as zealotry. Vision, Passion, and Action; these are the holy trinity of values that shift the work experience from one of burden and sacrifice to one of joy and fulfillment.
Vision provides the compass. It should be grand enough to excite, and worthy enough to warrant the expenditure of life energy. Some visions may not even be achievable in a single lifetime, yet are compelling enough to span generations. Regardless, a vision should be powerful enough to pull us forward, persuasive enough to get us up in the morning. It should be based on our highest personal values since it will set the criteria by which all other actions are measured, all other choices made.
Action is the physical expression of Vision and Passion. It is taken in service to the vision, it is fueled by passion, and conducted with enthusiasm. Without action, the rest is just theory. Metaphorically speaking, all three legs of the stool must be present. The absence of any single value will create conditions of burden and sacrifice, which are visible in any workplace. When one or more of the triad are missing, what remains are the conditions that create the archetypal disillusioned workforce.
Vision and Action without Passion produces underachievers whose activity is misdirected and in which they find little joy. Underachieving is often a sign that the person has chosen the wrong job or career, or is working to fulfill someone else’s expectations.
Having Vision and Passion without Action produces the classic idea guy/gal, someone full of great ideas–none of which are ever brought to fruition. Over time, their ideas become more grandiose to make up for the lack of actual achievement. They suffer from chronic frustration and tend to blame the world for not listening.
Action and Passion without Vision produces workaholics. They are the doers of the world, but find no meaning in the doing. Compulsion becomes the substitute for Vision, as if the reason for being can be found in the sheer volume of work. Over time, workaholics may sacrifice friends and family to the interests of the job, and find themselves alone and resentful. Their remedy will be to double down on work.
Vision, without Action or Passion, creates dreamers. They are immobilized, stuck. They may see a goal or direction, but are unable or unwilling to take it. They are not self-starters, seldom live in the present moment, and are often disenchanted. In order to be effective, they require detailed instructions and frequent monitoring, lest they drift off into fantasy.
Action, without Vision or Passion, results in burnout. Like a rudderless ship, these people wander from task to task, without meaning or joy until they are fully drained, incapacitated by a deep and profound weariness. They will always appear to be tired.
As previously stated, Passion, without Vision or Action, manifests as zealotry. These are the blamers and complainers, worried about the ills of the world or the workplace and certain that they alone have the answers, but lacking any inclination to take corrective action. They are problem, rather than solution, centered.
And finally, a person without Vision, Passion, or Action, becomes a lost soul. These are the walking dead who we often see wandering the streets without purpose or destination. Too frightened to be themselves, too wounded to even dream, they self-medicate as best they can in search of temporary oblivion.
The dilemma for anyone seeking to find the balance between Vision, Passion, and Action, is that–with rare exception–the modern corporation doesn’t care a flying fig about your vision or your passion. It cares only for the actions you are able to take on its behalf. Securing joy and fulfillment requires being self-directed; particularly challenging since we have entered another era of economic decline when many are forced to settle for whatever job is available. But these conditions are cyclical and need not delimit what is possible.
When a nation becomes obsessed with outsourcing, job cutting, and wage suppression, there should not be widespread lamentation over high unemployment and welfare dependency. Those are simply pseudonyms for our current national priorities.
But priorities change. And the people who are able to harness their Passion, hone their Vision, and take appropriate Action are the ones who will be able to change them.