Be kind to yourself and be more realistic

Having lived in a couple of different geographies, I’m always interested to learn how people interpret the concept of work. I was first exposed to cross-cultural differences through the research of Social Psychologist, Geert Hofstede and again when reading Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Ouliers. In his book, Gladwell shows how ethnocentric power alliances can be exceptionally impactful on our working lives (and the potential for Pilots to be involved in fatal plane crashes).

I am fascinated by Hofstede research and Gladwell’s examples. Newspaper articles I read recently from two countries I’ve worked in reminded me of this interest- the first, a New York Times article, detailed a new area of psychological research called self-compassion. The concept aligns with Positive Psychology but takes some of the discipline’s ideas further suggesting that those who are as kind with themselves as they are with others will suffer less with depression and be more successful at losing weight. Although it is yet to be tested, my guess is that further research will uncover that these individuals are happier and more successful at work too. I wasn’t surprised to find this article in an American publication; as I coach US clients I find that they are accepting of the view that everyone has the potential to find their true passion and authentic self at work. It’s an approach central to my own philosophy as I help clients move towards a definition of career and life success that’s guided by more than brand name recognition and financial reward.

Juxtapose this with an article I read in a broadsheet whist on a recent trip to the UK called “The 10 Step Path to Happiness” which noted the importance of being more realistic about our working lives. The author suggested in this report that the concept of finding a true path and pure happiness is somewhat of a modern day luxury. And although it does seem to contradict my statement above, I also think this is true. I’ve worked with many MBAs who have set the expectation of leaving School and landing directly in their ultimate dream job. Some do, but most don’t and a significant proportion of arrive to their dream to find that the job is great, but in many aspects does not live up to their self imposed definition.

So, where I net out? And what does this mean for my own methodology? I’m still learning about ethno-cultural differences and what these can mean for us at work, but right now I feel like the British and Americans have a lot to learn from each other: The British could benefit from a dose of American optimism to help them identify and remove self- imposed boundaries. My American colleagues would benefit from exposure to the realism of the Brits- things can’t all be perfect all of the time and if they are, your opportunity to have real, lasting and impactful learning will be reduced and your ability to respond to change, adverse or otherwise will be severely limited.

As I think about my own process I do feel the dynamic tensions inherent in trying to integrate both approaches, but when the opportunity presents, I try to be kind to myself. And more realistic.