No, that’s not a typo – I did mean to write “Making work PLAY”, not “pay”. Although that’s important too, obviously – in fact it’s the whole reason you need to be able to make work play. Because in the real world of mortgages and school fees, of grocery bills and local taxes, of latest trainers and sunshine vacations, pay has got to happen.
All the self-help gurus who tell you blithely that if you just follow passion the money will magically come are missing one critical fact: bills still have to be paid. No matter that they are totally correct – you have a far greater chance of becoming wealthy if you spend your earning hours doing something you love. The harsh fact is that if you don’t have a comfortable little nest egg to fall back on, and you do have people relying on you for the roof over their heads and the food they get fed, then simply “doing what you love” just doesn’t cut it.
The better gurus will tell you to work out what you can get paid for that you love, and how, before taking the plunge and quitting the job. J.O.B. – all the best network marketers and positive thinkers will tell you that stands for “Just Over Broke”. It doesn’t. It stands for “Juicy Opportunity to Breathe”. It stands for the time you need to create an income from what you love – so don’t be too hasty to cast the J.O.B. aside.
Of course, my private clients are sometimes disappointed when I tell them to stick with the job, or the work they would rather drop – while they work on making their play pay. Lately, I’ve realised that I’m doing them a disservice with this advice. Not as big a disservice as I would if I told them to dump their only real source of income, but a disservice nonetheless.
Often, once people see that the “job” isn’t forever, that it’s just a means to an end, a way to fund following their passion, they start to remember what it was about the job that they used to enjoy. And they can even enjoy it again, to a point, when it’s no longer trammelled with the need for “career progression”. It’s that “to a point” that’s been bugging me.
Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi wrote, in his seminal work “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” about people who have managed to create the “flow” experience – that moment when you are so absorbed in a challenging and rewarding task that nothing else in the world exists – while carrying out seemingly mundane tasks that would drive most of us insane with boredom. He identified a number of distinctions of a “flow” experience, and found that it is possible to create those distinctions purposefully. The key attributes of a Flow experience are:
Autonomy – control over the task (or lack of worry about losing control)
Complexity – a challenging activity that requires skills
Rewards – linked to effort, with clear goals and feedback
Autotelic – an end in itself (from the Greek, telos meaning goal)
This pretty much makes something that you are doing as a means to move on to something else, as incapable of being a flow experience. By the very fact that you are doing it in order to earn the money to do something else, it becomes what Csikszentmihalyi calls “exotelic”, something done to achieve another end goal. Like visiting your parents to keep them happy, rather than for the sheer pleasure of seeing them. And even more so if your reason for keeping them happy is to protect your inheritance! So work that you’re doing to pay the bills and to give you time to figure out how to make money from what you really want to do is clearly exotelic. But it doesn’t have to be – and that’s the point.
There are ways you can shift your experience of the work so that it becomes an end in itself, something you derive enjoyment from – a ‘flow’ experience. And that doesn’t stop it having the end result of supporting your move into doing something else. In other words, I believe work can be simultaneously both autotelic and exotelic.
Where we coaches and advisors are letting our clients down is that we’re telling you to “grin and bear it” in your current, maybe hated, way of ‘earning a living’. I’ve come to realise that’s just wrong – as advocates of a rich and full life, it doesn’t make sense to tell you to keep on doing something you’re not enjoying, just so you can do something you love later. As billionaire Warren Buffet once told a student, that’s like saving sex for old age – ridiculous!
So rather than either telling you to irresponsibly chuck away your precious breathing space, or suggesting you have to to just knuckle down to a painful daily grind, I now focus on showing clients how to change how you approach your work, and to view every money-earning task as an opportunity to create a Flow experience.
So my challenge for you this week is – how can you make the less enjoyable aspects of your business a bit more fun? Share your ideas in the comments below.