Personal Growth Through ProfessionalismToday's Wall Street Journal has a piece by Peter Kramer (pdf), author of Listening to Prozac (1993), that is rich in insight. In his article, Kramer is speaking most directly about the disappointment many recent graduates are experiencing because they don't have much in the way of a menu of tempting jobs to choose from. In fact, as reading the article makes clear, Kramer's thoughts apply to people of all ages.
Kramer is looking at how one's paid work helps shape one's identity and interpersonal style. He argues:
Embracing a profession with its own traditions whether of the artisan, scientist or soldier can bring a sense of solidity to people otherwise prone to self-doubt. And the correlation, person and calling, is hardly random. Darwinian forces shape the job market; organizations that use people well survive. The workplace employs the temperaments, dispatching the brash to sell and the finical to check and calculate. And then it encourages employees to stretch. The impulsive are urged to exercise caution, the deliberate to entertain the bold gesture.Since part of the ethos of a profession is continuing growth in effectiveness, which implies a willingness to change things about oneself as necessary, Kramer posits that deficits in interpersonal skills are easier to address in the context of the job than in the context of such private matters as family disharmony.
In Kramer's view, willingness to make improvements in one's behavior at work can be expected to have spillover effects at home and in one's life in general. Kramer observes:
When I see patients who have been injured in their private lives, by past abuse, say, or a recent trauma, such as divorce, often I suggest that they invest new energy in their careers. The workplace may not overlook anxiety or depression, but often it is more neutrally instructive than the sphere of intimacy. When it functions well, the office teaches all of us when to stand our ground and when to be strategic. We learn that decisions don't always go our way. The workplace says, "Aw, get over yourself." Since on the job we're focused on performance, we are likely to do just that, to absorb advice and move on.Accomplishments and advances on the job become fuel for developing greater self-efficacy for developing a stronger sense of identity
Kramer acknowledges that
there are exploitative work environments. ... [E]ven for workers in benign settings, the demands of home and office have come to overlap. ... But the movement has not been all in one direction; the contemporary workplace, when it functions well, embraces domestic virtues: playfulness, empathy and others. This convergence may be for better or for worse, but surely there is something to be said for the integration of aspects of the self, for being able to be one person here and there.And, as he is concluding his piece, Kramer sounds a note of particular significance:
If people need to bring workplace expertise home, then they simply do. That competence may extend beyond efficiency to awareness of our effects on others.Being able consistently to think of how we affect others is, in my opinion, a key marker of personal maturity. Kramer goes on to sound another note with which I heartily agree, namely that the ideal situation for people is that they are working in jobs they truly care about i.e., their day-to-day life at work is infused with what I call critical caring.