Feedback

Best Practices: Personal Responsibility in the Age of Narcissism

A Remedy for Boredom and Meaninglessness

Organizations have responsibility for creating the conditions that enable employees to achieve success and job satisfaction, as I discussed in the May/June issue. One rather skeptical senior manager responded, “So what? There are countless individuals who would rather spend their day playing solitaire regardless of how well senior management creates the conditions of a thriving culture.”

This legitimate question highlights a far too common problem. What is the responsibility of the individual (middle manager, line manager, or lowest employee on the totem pole) for achieving their own productivity and well being, and for achieving success for the organization? The answer begins with a broader statement of the problem.

We’ve gradually become a culture of individuals helplessly dependent on stimulation and excitement originating from the outside-in, rather than from the inside-out. We’re addicted to passive entertainment, and feel entitled to special treatment. Developed countries have placed tremendous emphasis on finding the perfect hobby, perfect vacation spot, perfect spouse, perfect second home, and perfect job. We’re insidiously taught that to derive pleasure in life we must acquire all of the above and then kick back and relax.

We’ve become a narcissistic society focused on gratifying, what research psychologist Martin Seligman calls, the maximal self. “Have it your way” is more than a catchy slogan; it’s become the central mantra of the last forty-five years. Ironically depression has recently reached epidemic proportions. You are ten times more likely to experience major depression than did your relatives living before or at the time of WWII.

Pleasure, of course, can be a wonderful enhancer to a good life when it follows a purposeful job well done; but when it becomes the ultimate goal, it eventually renders our lives meaningless, empty, and yes, even boring. Research has consistently and strongly suggested that we have been grossly misled on the path to personal and professional well-being.

Before berating yourself too severely for being duped, don’t feel too badly. Only the healthiest and wisest souls have been blessed with the psychological immunity to fend off the constant beckoning of cultural narcissism that surrounds us daily. The rest of us are left to figure this out on our own, usually after reaching the pinnacle of success and finding ourselves even more unfulfilled.

So for those of you who are tired of waiting for your work, your spouse, your senior management, or your government to make your lives better, there is a remedy. Stop waiting for others to stimulate and give meaning to your life. Instead, take personal responsibility. Follow these research-based principles of healthy living and watch your life become more purposeful, and your job more fulfilling:

  • Instead of extracting pleasure from others and your work, be the one who adds meaning and value in the lives of others. Estrangement and disengagement from others begins because we lose sight of the positive impact we can have on others.
  • Find ways to challenge yourself daily. The cornerstone of personal and professional well-being rests upon pursuing challenges that are realistic, but beyond our current level of achievement.
  • Learn to regulate your reliance on passive entertainment. Don’t let it become a substitute for finding a new challenge.
  • Devise ways to make mundane tasks more entertaining. A coaching client of mine, who despises meetings, has a personal mission to diplomatically and creatively add the right mixture of levity and facilitation to prevent meetings from becoming too dry, and to aid the process of more purposeful communication.
  • Commit to genuine self-awareness. You can’t expect others to promote you and your work if you’re unaware, or worse, unwilling to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. The managers I’ve worked with who have transitioned from little self-awareness to honest self-awareness have seen remarkable change in the respect they elicit from others.
  • Be accessible. Answer this question honestly. Which do you value more, people or projects? If you value projects more than people, the people who can impact your work will show little support or allegiance when you most need it. Attend to the needs of those around you and serve them, even when it doesn’t benefit you, and you’ll have no problem getting the help you desire.

Not only will the remedy for our cultural narcissism lead to more success on the job and in your personal life, you’ll have a lot more fun in the process. And, most importantly, your family, friends, coworkers, and leaders will appreciate your personal investment in something bigger than yourself.

David Mashburn earned his doctorate in clinical psychology in 1986. He is in private practice in Bellevue, Washington. He is also a partner in a Seattle-based company, Tidemark, a provider of workforce staffing solutions. He writes and speaks on the science of human flourishing. See his blog at workpuzzle.com.By David Mashburn
David earned his doctorate in clinical psychology in 1986. He is in private practice in Bellevue, Washington. He is also a partner in a Seattle-based company, Tidemark, a provider of workforce staffing solutions. He writes and speaks on the science of human flourishing. See his blog at workpuzzle.com.

Share Your Thoughts