Moving Through Career Chaos to Creativity – An Update

As most of you know, I have a tendency to be “ahead of the curve” in a lot of my writing and research. I have been researching both Chaos Theory and Happiness for years, and wanted to review some of my past findings with you – because the world is catching up with some of the trends I saw coming a number of years ago, as written about in the Career Planning and Adult Development Journal:

I suggested a journal volume focusing on two rapidly developing con­temporary fields affecting midlife adults – the Science of Chaos/Com­plexity originating from physics, and the Science of Happiness from Positive Psychology.

Integrating the Chaos Theory and Positive Psychology came as an instinctive response to finding a way to help my clients solve their career issues. My purpose in suggesting the study of these two fields to my colleagues was the re­alization that a basic (not necessarily a deep) understanding of the fields of physics and psychology is essential. Both of these are now generating cutting edge concepts which are moving from their original narrow sci­ence subject to countless other applications.

I personally integrate both these directly and effectively in working with my career clients, though I am certainly not a trained physicist or psychologist. I would describe myself as a change catalyst, career consultant, coach or teacher. Regard­less of the title, my career clients range from highly trained professionals such as physicians, attorneys, teachers and executives, to housewives transitioning into the workplace after a divorce or a career in child rear­ing. Each is in a dark night of confusion, and seek work / life focus built on a purpose they can pursue with passion for both meaning and money! This search is especially challenging considering the turbulence, unrelenting uncertainty, wild cards and inevitable surprises resulting in a world characterized by continuing chaos and complexity – which in­creasingly describes our world today.

Career Shock, created by Future Shock, is the current rampant reality forecast by Alvin Toffler in 1970 as the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time. Toffler carried this theme forward to 2004 at a meeting of the International Conference on Complex Systems when he emphasized that most underlying and industrial management theory of the last 100 years is obsolete, and that all major social institu­tions are in trouble: “At every level, economics, social organizations, culture, politics, we’re in the process of inventing a new civilization. Everything is transient: families, corporations, governments, universities, organizations, religions, communities and nations are all temporary…most human institutions haven’t caught on – all in denial – operating as they did almost three centuries ago in the Industrial Revolution!”

In 1990, in Power Shift, Toffler said that innovation imperative was a new reality and “no existing market share is safe today, no product life indefinite” (p. 213). This includes every business which would “shrivel and die unless they can create an endless stream of new products” (p. 213). He also said that workers under tightly supervised totalitarian con­ditions with performances closely watched are afraid to try anything new. “Fear is the primary idea-assassin. Fear of ridicule, punishment or loss of job destroys innovation which requires experimental failure to achieve success” (p. 213).

This exact problem is directly addressed in a past Dallas Morning News Labor Day article subtitled, Stress of Job Demands, Fears Grow. It emphasizes that the needs of workers are being ignored by most or­ganizations, and that one third of the employees plan to leave when the economy improves. Workers are not encouraged to be innovative, but innovation is now being considered by our thoughtful leaders as a major need to keep America a strong nation.

Incidentally, when I quote Toffler to my career professional colleagues, I also emphasize that in The Third Wave (1980) Toffler predicted the development of our career profession. He said life organizer profession­als would be needed to provide practical assistance for life under the high social and technological turmoil and dilemma of over-choice. We would probably need few psychotherapists, burrowing mole-like into id and ego, but rather those helping to provide a framework of order and pur­pose in our lives. He also stressed 30 years ago that people need meaning beyond their own – the Holy Grail our clients seek! This ties directly into the Science of Happiness.

However, undoubtedly our careers are in collision! This is especially true for numerous mid-lifers who expected the 40-year, womb to tomb career, which is now definitely replaced by what I have labeled the Yo-Yo– you’re on your own! With careers in collision with former expectations, many, including high-level professionals, are grieving over what the career was supposed to be, and this results in feeling frazzled, strung out, numbed, overwhelmed, and shocked. Consequently, the same newspaper edition that carried the story on stressed-out workers, also carried a full-page story on “Gaining More Joy from Cutting Back on Consumption” – quoting many current happiness researchers and studies. This article tells of adults who, like many others, are reconsidering the relationship of money and happiness.

Comments

  1. Excellent summary of the state of existence in many organizations today, both large and small. In place of “planned” we have “ad hoc.” In place of “stability” we have “uncertainty.” Mixing uncertainty and ad hoc, is just one formulation for chaos. The chemistry of chaos has many formulas, but few remedies for the consequent damage it inflicts on individuals, society, and organizations.

    If chaos is inevitable–an emergent property of a complex system in certain regimes–does that mean it is acceptable? Is today’s career just tap dancing through a mine field? Should we accept decision-fatigue, choice-overload, and uncertainty as the defining elements of life today? I think the answer to the foregoing questions should be a resounding, no!

    You are in a battle for the quality of your life. Get yourself to high ground; survey the terrain. Or, find a guide who has already done so. Chaos may be the new norm, but that doesn’t mean we have to be resigned to living chaotically.

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