A touch of humanity

A dear friend of mine is just about to embark on a new exciting journey. She is going to retrain as a nurse and I am so excited for her. She is following her heart and her dream.

She is doing this after having left a career in business, and what I find so interesting is that she isn’t the first person I know who has decided to become a nurse after having opted out of a corporate career. Not too long ago I interviewed a man who had done the same. And he apparently knew of a whole bunch of people who had opted out of different careers to become nurses. I quote:

“When I started [studying to become a nurse] I was 45 years old, but surprisingly I wasn’t the oldest in the group. As a matter of fact, just in my course, there was a small group of older men like me who wanted to change careers. So I’m not really a unique case.”

He’s right; he isn’t a unique case. Come to think of it, although everyone didn’t choose nursing, most of the people I have interviewed for my research – both men and women – have left corporate careers to do something that involves caring for and helping people. Two became life coaches. A few became teachers, teaching everything from preschool to college. One started working with immigrants, giving legal advice. One became a nutritionist and works with schools to make sure kids are provided with healthy food. A few started working pro bono and many are involved in charities of different kinds. I could go on.

All of a sudden I realize that I see a pattern here. A common denominator seems to be opting in to work where they can help others. And I don’t think this is a coincidence. I do, however, think it says something about the corporate environments they chose to leave.

We focus so hard on productivity and profit, and organizations are streamlined to the point where we seem to forget that they are made up of people; people with human needs. When people finally have enough, when whatever happens that pushes them to take the step and leave a career behind, they choose a road that provides them with the coherence and meaning that they didn’t get in their previous jobs. And apparently also one that provides a touch of humanity.

Not only that, all of them, every single one of my interviewees, talk about the people in their lives. They talk about family and friends, and about having a job and a lifestyle that allows them to be there for those who are important to them.

And that’s what I’m going to do now. I’m going to take some well-deserved time off to spend with my loved ones. Because to be honest, as clichéd as it may sound, it really is the people in my life that make life worth living.

I’ll be back in August with more blog posts. See you then!

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Sometimes slow is faster

I remember when I was working on my PhD. I would get so stressed over how long everything took. As I wrote chapter drafts, I couldn’t believe how incredibly slow the writing process was. Academic writing is a very particular and exact art form, not like jotting down a blog post. Well anyway, it felt excruciating at times and what I thought would take one week, took two or three, and then I would wait for feedback, after which I would have to rewrite parts… At a certain point I thought I would never finish, and never make the four-year deadline.

Well I did finally finish, but the thing I realized as I was working on my thesis was that the faster I tried to work, the slower it went. When I rushed, which I tend to do when I get stressed, I ended up having to rewrite more, not to mention rereading and having to go over my sources again more carefully. In other words, rushing really slowed my process down. So when stressed, I forced myself not to let my impatience get the better of me, and my mantra became “it has to be allowed to take the time it takes”.

I know this doesn’t sound very profound, but to me it really was. Because things do just take the time they take, whether it’s writing or learning a new skill or recovering from an illness. In this age of quick fixes and instant gratification, this can be hard to accept, but sometimes we just have to.

A while back as a group of us at work were fretting over looming deadlines and too much too do in too little time, a friend and colleague recommended a book by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber titled The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. This book is about academic life, but many of the points the authors make are definitely relevant to all of us.

The authors talk about what they call a “culture of speed”. In fact it is exactly this – the sheer speed of things – that many sociologists have argued is what makes contemporary life different from any time we have ever experienced before. The problem as Berg and Seeber see it, is that there is a constant pressure to increase productivity, which means that work tends to take over what should be our down time. As a result we end up having to manage also our free time in order to squeeze everything in (work, spending time with kids/friends/family, exercising, having fun…). And this, in turn, can lead to stress, a feeling of time poverty, and even mental health issues, in addition to stifling creativity, which at least for an academic trying to write is absolutely vital.

Besides, we cannot constantly create or write, we also need time to reflect so that we actually come up with something to write or create. We need quiet down time not only to recuperate, but also to actually be productive. Productivity does not necessarily come from doing more.

So let’s make sure we have enough down time this weekend so that we can be more creative and productive and whatever else it is we need to be.

The wonder of new words and other covfefe

I’ve been cracking up over Trump’s blooper from the other day. Just thinking about it has me in stitches. I’m talking about his tweet of course where he coined the wonderfully mysterious word ‘covfefe’. Just writing it down makes me smile.

I’ve been wondering to myself how one would pronounce such a word. Covfeef? Covfeefee? Covfayfay? Isn’t it wonderful, no one knows how to pronounce this word because no one knows where it comes from. And the reason no one knows that is because it doesn’t come from anywhere. It is a made up word, either an autocorrect blunder or just sausage fingers at a very late hour. So it has no origin and it has no correct pronunciation. We can pronounce it any way we want. We can use it in any way we want, in any number of wild and wonderful ways.

Trump is a disaster in so many ways. I’m not even going to begin to list them here; one blog post would not suffice. But the one positive thing he has done, he did without meaning to, and without even noticing until he woke up to the comic covfefe storm raging all over social media. What he unwittingly did was he coined a nonsense word that tickles our imagination. And let’s face it; we could definitely use some fun amidst all the dismal on-goings around us.

The thing about language is that it forms our understanding of ourselves and of the world around us. Language is central to the way we organize the world. We use language to communicate and to mobilize people towards a common world order. This is important and handy of course. Without the wonder and the power of words we wouldn’t be able to communicate the way we do and share our inner worlds with each other.

But language can also be problematic and limiting. Because we’re so good at labeling, once a word has been uttered we instantly have a common understanding of what it is we’re talking about. And when this happens, we effectively stay within the boundaries of what we understand to be right and true. We stay inside the box.

This means that thinking out of the box, or developing new ways of organizing, working, living, and being – to name a few – becomes difficult when we use our common and familiar language. Simple terms like work or meeting or flexible time instantly pull us back within the familiar boundaries of what we understand these things to be. So redefining work becomes difficult, as does redefining what flexible work should really entail. Or how we meet and interact with each other. This makes imagining and creating the new – the really new and innovative – challenging.

We need new words to talk about these new things so that we don’t get dragged back into our familiar but dated ways. We need to develop with the times and new language will help us do that.

And this week a new word was given to us, just like that.

Let’s create lots of new words; words that question what we know to be true, and that open our eyes and imaginations to new possibilities. Let’s covfefe!

(…she giggles as she hits the publish button.)