For the Love of Work

Photo by Michel Stockman on Unsplash

When a friend invited my wife and me for lunch recently, I had the opportunity to talk more deeply with another guest, a friend of mine called Mike who, among other things, invents electronic gadgets.

However, Mike is different. He describes himself as retired, but his love of working on technical challenges in his workshop was palpable and infectious. He is a quiet man, and he shared with me what he is working on.

My mind quickly returned to the potential rewards of his inventions, but Mike was content simply to invent. He didn’t want, he explained, the irritation and stress of attempting to patent and defend his patents. He just loved to work in his workshop. His reward was being allowed to work. His motivation was not financial.

For the last few posts, I have been focusing on dreams, desired outcomes, and on the motivation that comes from imagining those outcomes as reality. In so much of business writing, success is assumed to be financial. But what if there is another reward to work, not focused on financial rewards and threats?

The influential psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, describes Mike’s state of being as Flow. The indicative criterion for flow is pursuing work for its own sake, not for the reward it brings. There is a transcendent fulfilment in work when we experience flow, according to Csikszentmihalyi.


Now, pause for a moment.

How do you find yourself reacting as you read this?

  • Is all this totally foreign to you? Have you never experienced work that was a pleasure in and of itself to do?
  • Or do you read this with all kinds of ‘yebbuts’ rising in you? “Yebbut, this is unrealistic!” “Yebbut, in the real world…” 
  • Do you feel work is only legitimate if has a clear consequential reward at the end or avoids some key risk, or else it is just frivolous indulgence?
  • Or does your heart resonate with Mike’s working lifestyle?

According to Susan Cain, in her best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, your response may have as much to do with whether or not you are an introvert, as it has to with your background and current circumstances. She writes:

If you’re an introvert, find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence, the tenacity to solve complex problems, and the clear-sightedness to avoid pitfalls that trip others up.

Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Photo by Matthew Fournier on Unsplash

Craig Lambert, the world-class rower, describes this in his autobiography this way:

Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.  Rowers have a word for this frictionless state: swing. . . . Recall the pure joy of riding on a backyard swing: an easy cycle of motion, the momentum coming from the swing itself.  The swing carries us; we do not force it.  We pump our legs to drive our arc higher, but gravity does most of the work.  We are not so much swinging as being swung. The boat swings you.  The shell wants to move fast: speed sings in its lines and nature.  Our job is simply to work with the shell, to stop holding it back with our thrashing struggles to go faster.  Trying too hard sabotages boat speed.  Trying becomes striving and striving undoes itself.  Social climbers strive to be aristocrats but their efforts prove them no such thing.  Aristocrats do not strive; they have already arrived. Swing is a state of arrival.

Mind Over Water: Lessons on a Life from the Art of Rowing


Maybe the key, then, is not so much to abandon any attempt to imagine the desired outcome but rather to work as if you have already arrived.

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