Q. I’m feeling burned out at work, even though I used to love what I do. I still enjoy it, but I’m feeling my creativity sapped with financial limitations, lack of resources, lack of encouragement. Is it time to get out or is there a way to rejuvenate my passion for my work? — Charred and Confused
Psychotherapist Meme Rhee answers: Your question has identified the three things that you think you need in order to fuel your creativity: money, resources, support. While these are incredibly important, they aren’t necessarily prerequisites for creativity which can thrive on very little. You can look at the success and talents of many artistic individuals who knew just how to feed their passion despite their financial constraints and the obstacles and rejections they faced.
I highly recommend that you return to a learning environment (like an extension class at a university) that can stimulate your thinking and reorient your approach to your work. Creativity needs the right food, and an environment that deepens your relationship to your craft invariably opens your mind and your possibilities.
Q. I Googled “selfish adults” to see if some people I’ve diagnosed as sociopaths would ever evolve into Good Samaritans. However, an article by Berkeley researchers couldn’t have come to me at a better time. The researchers add a twist to Darwinism by claiming that “survival of the fittest” is actually “survival of the kindest.” Do you believe that compassion is what will advance humans to the next level at the workplace? And if so, how do I achieve “kindness” without getting stepped on or passed over at work? — Bamboozled
Psychotherapist Meme Rhee answers: The original use of the term “survival of the fittest” implies “fit enough for reproduction.” In popular culture, however, “survival of the fittest” has become erroneously associated with the Gordon Gekkos of the world who will throw you under the bus with very little compunction.
Is survival of the fittest mutually exclusive of survival of the kindest? I think not. Great leaders are not interested in merely surviving, but rather in fostering an environment in which many can thrive, sustaining the inspiration of many demands collaboration and teamwork and a reasonable sense of fairness in dispensing compensation and rewards.
I would also make the distinction between compassion and “achieving kindness.” One can feel compassion that hopefully would inspire acts of kindness, but kindness as an “achievement,” or for the sake of advancement eventually backfires and exposes a very smarmy, opportunistic schmuck. Aspiring toward an advancement to which you feel entitled has less to do with kindness than it does awareness, empathy, honesty and confidence. Being aware of, and honest about your own strengths and shortcomings can help you be empathic to the limitations and shortcomings of others and empathy goes a long way in creating a responsible and trusting environment, rather than one that fosters blame and paranoia.
If you find yourself struggling with getting stepped on, or passed over at work, I would try to understand where your own personal boundaries fail you. That is, are you working above and beyond the call of duty with no explicit reward on the other end? Or under leaders who rule with intimidation and very little inspiration? In the right environment, gaining the respect of your colleagues and bosses demands at least two things: self-respect and clarity. Be specific about what you want and if what is demanded of you is reasonable and commensurate to the rewards of your role; identify the necessary skills to thrive in the desired position; be rigorously honest with yourself about your level of competence, and your capacity to identify and improve your shortcomings; be judicious about a timeline within which you can achieve your goals; and finally, vocalize your intention to the right people.
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