#78: Reclaiming the American Dream, Burnout & Indie Researchers
😎 Exploring work, life & what matters
January 11th, 2020:
Greetings from Connecticut. I’ve had a wonderful break with family back in the US, heading back to Taiwan next week.
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#1 Podcast: A New American Dream?
I spoke with Diania Merriam who started taking action on her idea for the EconoMe conference as part of my first pilot of the Reinvent course. We talked about her journey turning her job into a remote job, asking for two months unpaid time off (she was terrified), reinventing her life and launching a conference daring to reclaim the american dream.
🆓 In support of Diania's event, I bought a ticket to give away. The event is in Cincinnati on March 7th. Learn more here
Just share this newsletter or the podcast episode and tag me or #reimaginework.
#2 Are flexibility, autonomy and collaboration counter-productive?
An interesting report on work from ideas42 arguing that many of the things we accept as obviously good undermine themselves and create “work-life conflict”:
This report explores the particular contexts that induce work-life conflict and explains how three features of work (flexibility, autonomy, and collaboration) actually have unintended negative consequences for knowledge workers.
The report details how many normal behavioral tendencies contribute to the issues with flexibility (always-connected) and collaboration (meeting overload) that many people understand. What makes this report interesting is it is one of the few reports on the modern state of work that grapples with our identity as worker.
Even with an understanding of how workplace norms and positive self-assessments can drive overwork, there remains a question. Why would an individual strive to act in accordance with work norms to the detriment of, say, acting in accordance with desirable community norms or parenting norms? One explanation is that for many people, their most salient identity is their identity as a worker.
On an average day, people spend more time working than any other activity. They are bombarded with work-related stimuli more than those that could prime our identity as a family member or community member. A recent Gallup survey found that a majority of Americans get a sense of identity from their work (and 70% of college graduates say that they do).
Now we are getting somewhere! I see too many companies implement new initiatives or add new perks because they are universally accepted as good things to do. It’s part of what made me lose my excitement for consulting - the answer is always another initiative.
#3 What is burnout?
A fascinating essay describing Kieran Tie’s experience with burnout. I find the idea of “burnout” to be a fascinating one as people often don’t use it to describe working too many hours, but a general sense of disconnection:
I wasn't overworked, but I was exhausted all the time. I couldn't concentrate on my work – even simple tasks like responding to emails felt monumental. I was only able to work at a mere fraction of what I knew I was capable of. Things that used to be easy were almost impossible. I was plagued with insomnia and found myself forgetting meals. My creativity had vanished - I could barely even respond to emails, let alone design a product.
Joyful activities, like playing with my infant daughter, suddenly felt like an obligation and a chore. I had a remarkably short temper - I would lash out at loved ones over the tiniest little problems. I felt incapable, overwhelmed, and trapped – and when people pointed out that something was wrong, it only dug the hole even deeper.
I resonate with this experience of feeling “burned out” and needing time to recover while not actually working too many hours. In fact, I felt the most disconnected in my last job when I easily had less than 30 hours of work to do.
But feeling disconnected at work is not new. I suspect there is a deeper shift behind this, which I’ve been exploring for the past couple of years. For many young people the emphasis placed on work raises the stakes for what work needs to be and I’m not sure work can deliver the goods. Whereas previous generations might have found meaning in their communities, churches or family lives, we search for it at work and reach a crisis when we have extended periods of coming up empty.
I sense this decade is one in which we will have to reimagine the role of work in our lives and I’m excited to continue to write and explore what that might be.
#4 Indie Research: New Job For 2020s?
Nadia Eghbal on the potential for more people to create their own PhD programs as independent researchers:
As we develop new ways of funding creative work, via Patreon or actual patrons, I would love to see more people consider independent research. You don’t need a PhD to study something you care about. You don’t need to publish papers in academic journals to become widely respected. You just need a curious mind, a bankroll, and a commitment to learning in public.
Which faces some obvious challenges:
This is the dark side of independent research. Without external validation - “I teach at Stanford” or “I got a grant from NASA”, it’s hard to convince people that you’re any good at what you do
That’s all for this week. Have a good weekend!
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