I just watched this video by Adam Grant talking about “languishing”. That video hit me.
If there was one word I could use about my 25+ year career and working life, it would definitely be this one word: languish.
Much of my career has felt “meh”, and it shows in my work history – constantly moving from one job to another, never settling in and growing deep skill, quitting, jumping somewhere else, quitting again.
Why has this happened to me?
What did I do wrong?
Why didn’t I seek help?
Honestly, I guess I didn’t think I was broken.
I was just “unique” and it was OK to be this way.
I just thought that I would eventually find my place.
It never happened.
Adam mentioned in his talk that “flow” was the thing to strive for, and that flow was the indicator you wouldn’t feel like you were languishing anymore. In other words, “meh” and “flow” won’t co-exist. If you feel “meh” you aren’t in a state of flow, and if you are in flow, it won’t feel “meh”.
I know this is true from personal experience playing snooker (its a form of billiards).
I’m so in love with snooker, I even built a website and shared my experiences playing by writing about the game (an important point I will mention later).
But that’s not what parents and the “old folks” say.
They say things like…
“You aren’t supposed to be happy at work”
“Not all jobs make good money, take a job that pays well.”
“Build your resume”
“Just work hard, it will suck for a while”
I never liked these ideas. The thought of working for someone doing a job I hated was always intolerable.
Waste precious time doing something that sucks?
Why would a human do that?
This is partly why I ended up doing my own thing, freelancing, building (attempting) a startup, and trying all kinds of roles that I thought could lead me to the promised land: joy.
Some roles I could even do pretty well, like Product Management. I was a PM for a while, but was constantly stressed and deeply unsatisfied. Talking to people all day, endless meetings, massaging data, interviewing customers, running sprints, resolving bugs.
Definitely not my cup of tea.
So here I am.
Haven’t worked in over a year.
Burned the heck out from a wife that got deathly ill last year, an ageing mother that got COVID this year, and then my older brother passed away a few months ago.
In between it all, I was somehow able to attempt 3 startups and took on a client part-time.
Adam’s video has helped me re-think my entire career.
If I ask myself “What type of work put you most in a state of flow?”, the answer is easy.
Writing is when I feel like time stops.
Correcting, improving and optimizing copy is joy.
I could write all day.
This recent realization about myself has given me some additional insight about work; humans only do a handful of activities to earn a living:
Most jobs seem to be a combination of these primary human activities:
Software developer: think, write, think, write, think, collaborate.
Manager: speak, read, speak, read, speak, speak, think, collaborate.
Writer: think, read, write, think, read, write, write, collaborate.
Gardener: move, think, move, think, move, think.
Tennis coach: speak, move, speak, move, watch, speak, watch, speak, watch, move, collaborate.
Chef: move, eat, think, move, eat, move, eat, move, think.
Are you feeling stuck in your career right now? Here are four simple steps that might help:
- List out the things you do that give you a feeling of flow – this can be work or play
- Determine the primary activities (listed above) from this list you make
- Look for patterns
- Look for jobs or careers where these patterns are most likely to show up
I would love to know what you come up. Leave a comment or send me a private message (DMs open).
P.S. If you have suggestions about books I should read that talk about the intersection of flow and career, please let me know in the comments. By the way, I already know about Flow by Michael Csikszentmihalyi.