Gallup has been surveying us globally for decades and the numbers show that these are times of more workplace related stress and burnout than ever before. Why is that?
Might one reason be that the prevalent logic for our organisations, businesses and workplaces - that performance and results have to improve all the time - is in fact not serving us? Does this mindset unintentionally make us chronically dissatisfied, constantly feeling behind, and eventually becoming ill? By now we all know that stress is not good for anything, and definitely not the best way to achieve long-term profitability. Rather, it is focus, presence and wellbeing that lead to stellar creativity and problem solving, as well as successful collaboration, communication and high performance.
In the business world today, nothing is ever ‘enough’. If we make 10 million in profit this year, we want to... no, we need to, make at least 12 million next year. If our website generated 150 new leads this month, it surely has to bring in at least 180 next month. We call this being ambitious and driven. Our goals must be BHAG: Big Hairy Audacious Goals. We set stretch targets, and shoot for the moon. Leaders are praised for being impatient.
It all seems to make sense because we want to achieve something, and we want growth. And don’t get me wrong, I love ambitious goal setting. I do plenty of it myself. In fact, when talking with my 13-year old daughter about our goals for 2020 (on my initiative) I came up with a long list. With satisfaction and clarity my daughter only named two. First I wanted to inspire her to pick some more goals, because the ones she mentioned surely seemed within reach. But I went silent instead. Maybe this was a teaching moment, and she was my teacher.
If we want to find a way for our work to be joyful rather than stressful, we cannot leave any stone unturned. Perhaps this means learning to appreciate what we have already achieved, at least for a while, before we build up commitment to the next BHAG, and possibly stress out people around us, including ourselves.
These days I am in the process of starting all over again. At Rainmaking I had access to plenty of resources, much was set in motion, and the playing field was defined. Now everything is possible, and has to be built up from scratch, which is an amazing place to be. But potentially also stressful, if one is not excellent at prioritising. And at staying aware of the mental and emotional inner workings. Let me give you an example of a recent slip. On Saturday, 22nd February 2020, I gave a TEDx talk, and already the same evening I noticed thoughts of “what’s next?”, and “why haven’t I managed to do more this week?” What an unkind way to treat the self after spending 48 hours of intense work preparing for the talk! I noticed the old pattern of self-criticism, and prescribed myself plenty of time to read and reflect over the coming couple of days. As always it worked wonders. I stumbled upon Friedrich Nietzsche’s exotic sounding Amor Fati concept.
I am by no means a scholar or philosopher, and my aim is nothing other than to see if this concept can be useful for us at the workplace and in the business world, to reduce stress and increase wellbeing.
Amor Fati is Latin and means “love fate” or “love of one’s fate”. Not surprisingly, this concept has been linked to Stoicism, in particular Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, who did however write in Greek not in Latin. Nietzsche was the one to make the phrase Amor Fati famous, and to take it upon himself to eloquently speak to its meaning and importance.
In Ecce Homo he writes:
“"My formula for greatness in a human being isamor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it."
InThe Gay ScienceNietzsche goes even further with these poetic words:
"I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole, some day I wish to be only a YES-sayer."
Let us keep in mind that Nietzsche was a provocative thinker, and one who took pride in going to extremes. It is clear that we cannot run our organisations to the letter of what Nietzsche exclaims here, and he was far from living his life this way himself. Still, I do believe there is a point for us busy business people to take home from the idea of Amor Fati. So that we do not drive our teams and ourselves to unproductive and unhealthy states of chronic discontent, because we cannot accept “what is necessary”.
How about we train ourselves to appreciate and be grateful for the 10 million in profit, even if profit is not going up, up and up all the time? It is very fine to want growth, and to work hard for it, but can we not do that from a state where we still appreciate the current reality, our fate, in Nietzsche’s terminology? Fate is merely what is, and why are we arguing against it? Why are we resisting it?
Are we saying that people will only perform when falling behind a stretch-target? Are we intrinsically lazy and need to be motivated in such a primitive way? Does a higher way exist where we can work from a place of love and positive excitement, rather than a place of fear, worries and stress?
This is the exploration that I am embarking on for the next chapter of my work life. I am grateful that we can stand on the shoulders of amazing thinkers, and find inspiration from many sources. Whether this article means something to 1, 10 or 100 readers, I will love the result, and be happy to have been part of the ongoing human dialogue. Amor Fati!