Our world is getting busier and it’s getting progressively harder to maintain healthy and lasting relationships. I’ve heard many of my clients describe how a negative vicious cycle develops where time spent investing in a career can take time away from maintaining relationships. A run-away buildup of stress and conflict can develop and, before you know it, what was once the most important part of life has become sadly neglected.
What are we to do? It feels like a difficult trade off!
In my clinical practice at Attuned Psychology, I really enjoy equipping individuals to make their relationships more meaningful and less stressful. It’s hard to identify strategies that will be applicable to every situation, because we are all unique. I find that each individual needs an approach that is specific to them. That being said, I’ve identified some themes which commonly emerge which I hope will be helpful to you too!
Shifting our perspective regarding our career goals.
Exploring different perspectives is a key skill from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It can reduce self-condemning and anxiety generating perspectives by stepping outside our current framework.
One of the most important questions I think we can ask ourselves to shift our perspective about work is, “Why?”
Sometimes, I can see the unintended negative impact of over-prioritising work in my clients. I find it valuable to take a step back and ask why we are doing our work in the first place. Many people can fall into the trap of making work their identity, and it’s understandable why this is the case. When we are introducing ourselves to new people, the second thing we are typically asked after our name is, “What do you do for work?” We can use work to quantify our worth, significance or importance. This is the origin of the “rat race,” the endless cycle of overwork without fulfilment.
I like how this idea is shown in “The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman” which is taught in many MBA courses around the world. There are many versions of the story. I understand that it’s an adaptation of a story from Plutarch, and was also published by German author Heinrich Böll in 1963.
Here’s one version of the story.
An investment banker was taking a vacation in a coastal Mexican village when a small boat with a fisherman docked containing several large, fresh fish in it.
He was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.”
The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked: “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman replied,
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends: I have a full and busy life.”
The investment banker scoffed:
“I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually, you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman, you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”
Then he added: “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “How long will this all take?”
To which the American replied: “15–20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said,
“That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions.”
“Millions? Then what?”
To which the investment banker replied:
“Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
Career is great! Work is great! But, ultimately, what is it for? The different perspective offered by the parable is: Stop chasing what you already have.
Please reach out and book an appointment with me (or one of our other psychologists at Attuned Psychology) to get started on examining your perspective about career goals.
Fergus McPharlin MAPS
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