WHY REGULAR WORK TURNS PEOPLE INTO “TURDS”

POSSIBILITY OF LIFE IN CREATIVE SPECIALTIES: Psychologist and workplace happiness expert Tiina Saar-Veelmaa describes how a person’s brain searches for achievements or mammoths killed. Routine work.

Fourteen years of studying the concerns and questions about self-realisation has led me to the discovery that intolerance to routine work is associated with brain. Primary task of a person is to stay alive. Our core programme constantly seeks the external world for confirmation, i.e. mammoths we have killed – accomplishments or recognition and a sign of our existence. If the brain does not get that feedback, an alarm is activated. Therefore, people are more deeply satisfied if they feel needed and useful to others, leave a permanent mark (be it then new sauna roof, a perfect garden, a chair restored, a book written, etc.) and a permission to be 102% their true self with all of their strengths, weaknesses and personal values. Together, these three components constitute workplace happiness formula.

The discontented

Despite their chosen profession, the people coming to career advisor usually have the same concern: their employment has been exhausted, ended, it does not provide decent subsistence or match their personality, values, or current life stage. Based on Estonian experience (it is different in other countries), people with more active left or right cerebral hemispheres have different needs in terms of self-realisation.

The latter ones – those who were humanitarian, art and culture loving at school, and mostly chose to work in creative field – often complain that they cannot make ends meet, are torn between several professions, occasionally feel as freeloaders, live a project-based life, prove themselves each step of their way, and sigh heavy-heartedly, when they have to browse job ads, because there are no paid jobs that would inspire them. Yet there are plenty of “well-meaning” relatives, who suggest that they should get a proper job. However, discontented “science-branch students” often tend to crash because of lacking creativity. Their life has become a trodden trench: work at the office – gym – kindergarten – shop – home. However, in the back of their head ticks a question: who am I, what permanent value do I bring to this world. This is what the employees of reputable companies may feel – financial managers, lawyers, secretaries, salesmen, customer assistants, lab technicians, data entry clerks, programmers, lecturers, who toil daily to earn profit for the company and reach for agreed sales performance.

People want to make career without boundaries

Today we no longer have to guess, why people do not settle with a “proper job” and attend e.g. painting camp at the weekend to fight boredom or publish poetry collections as a hobby or write stories to newspapers. The most recent work psychology paradigms confirm that people (at least those who are more eager and educated) want to make a career without boundaries, one that would match their lifestyle, and choose self-realisation that would help them feel meaningful, realise more profound goals, and fully realise their talents. Unfortunately, we do not have too many companies and organisations that would offer such career opportunities. This results in burnout or underachieving population. On the other hand there is Generation Y (born after 1980), the people who would rather vote with their feet and leave Estonia, because they feel restrained and intimidated by hierarchical enterprises with rigid structure, whose primary purpose is to gain profit.

Simplified conclusion: in Estonia, creative work does not necessarily ensure enough to live on, but without opportunities for creative self-realisation, the burnout is guaranteed.

There are not too many positions and organisations that would allow using both cerebral hemispheres equally, although the Medici effect was discovered already in the 15th century, by proving that only by crossing different fields of activity, it is possible to achieve true explosions of talent. A few centuries later, in the early 1900s, a French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson came up with an idea that deeper forces hidden in a person are positive. We can unleash our spontaneous forces by studying them. Recognition was attributed also to the ideas of the founder social sciences Jacob Levi Moreno, namely that if people stopped creating and consumed world in “conserved” form, they will lose their creativity and spontaneity and thus also their ability to have a healthy response to change, to cope with life. Today, Moreno’s spontaneity definition is widespread: it is defined as ability to adopt new ways to act in traditional situations, and adequately in new situations. Creativity is the adhesive matter in the society that gives flexibility and helps people to adjust to changing world.

According to these ideas, all business organisations should be able to make use of the representatives of the cultural world who search for new meaning from the chaos every day – writers, artists, actors, photographers, choreographers, musicians. They could bring new aspects to their sector, create new value together.  There have been examples of symphonic orchestras providing management consultation, i.e. after a period of observation, they reproduce organisational culture and management, provide a reflection. Drama methods have been used for both training and consultation for a long time already, visual art and business search for things to link them together. But all in all, such examples are still rather rare and the question remains, how many business world gigs must one artist perform or how many nights must one actor host to cope financially. Right now, creative people and pragmatics still live in parallel dimensions, instead of enriching each other.

Hard and soft specialties

Enrichment also applies to creative areas of activity that need the support from “hard” knowledge about management and entrepreneurship. When the old building of EKA (Estonian Academy of Arts) was still standing, I was invited to give a lecture to the students: how things actually work on the labour market. The invite contained a hint: come and talk to them dimwits that they have come to study unemployment; they should find themselves a proper paying job because only a few succeed in creative professions. Nowadays, we are excited when we talk about creative economy, but in the past, the state seemed to consider “soft specialties” as nothing more than just a nice topic to discuss, and the curriculum of such specialties did not include teaching economy, finances or enterprise. Unfortunately, the situation is still much the same – the graduates of soft specialties, such as languages, culture, psychology, fine arts, etc. will not have jobs waiting for them on labour market, they can much more often engage in the acquired specialty in the shade of a “decent” job, or are forced to start their own business immediately.

When talking to one of my colleagues from Finland, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that after obtaining the art therapist’s vocation in addition to his art education, he has a paid position at the hospital, where he uses creative therapy method to work with cancer patients and gardening therapy method to work with mentally ill patients. He has accomplished all that without the need for a legal body, sole proprietorship, practice or additional work to support his calling. Jobs have been created due to appreciation of the so-called soft specialties on state level. Finland and a few other countries that we look up to, have reached such practice by having a long-term experience of balanced teaching of science and humanitarian specialties.

Speaking of soft and hard specialties, it seems curious that on the organisational level “hard” subjects (read: profit, sales, efficiency, reached targets, etc.) hold a leading position and often depreciate the soft subjects (e.g. in how many organisations the human resources manager acts as CEO’s partner and #1 adviser?) until the first major breakdown – the best ones leave, burn out, get sick, business runs ashore. Only then they understand that every employee is a human being – vulnerable, in need for recognition, appreciating beauty, creative, etc. – and what a shame that they forgot to notice that earlier.

What is my point? Every self-esteemed organisation could have creative incubator with actors, artists, writers, designers, and the representatives of other cultural areas, who would energize the main activity of the company with their creative juices. A good example is software development area, where visual aesthetics has been an obligatory component for a long time already. It means that almost every software team would essentially have an artist (designer or user comfort expert) and the field develops and flourishes. Increased social benefits of advanced integration of cultural and other areas was also noted in 2006 by Estonian sociologists, who described eight key competencies necessary to increase competitiveness. These eight factors included linguistic competence, IT competence, social competence, initiative, mathematical competence and also cultural competence.

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