Barbara showed up at my practice before the summer. Recovering from a stressful period. Work had taken up too much energy. Her current job was too demanding. She was looking for her ideal job. Less ambitious, and with more tranquility and freedom for a social life. In order to restore the work-life balance, she thought. But was that the best solution?
Not betting on one horse
Clinical psychologist Verhaeghe (1) believes that it is not healthy to see work as the only source of meaning. Work too strongly defines our identity which enslaves us because you have to make it. ‘You should never bet on one horse’. We then identify too much with the work. As a result, we confuse our social identity with our personal identity. Young highly educated people find a good work-life balance important according to Randstad Group Netherlands in a large survey of the working population (2).
Not betting on two horses either
Now Verhaeghe’s metaphor appeals to me. In my logo I have two horses and a charioteer. These horses represent “the natural desire of pleasure” and “the acquired opinion which aspires after the best”, according to Socrates. Socrates uses this metaphor for “the essence of man”, as I have described in my book Excelling in Freedom | A recipe for personal development (4). But even on these two horses you should not bet alone. It is necessary to be ‘led by reason to the best’. The charioteer represents common sense. And has the clean task of leading the two horses. And to do so in such a way that the desire for pleasure does not dominate us, nor do we become too zealous or too passionate, and the pursuit of the best does not prevail.
Betting on three questions about your self
Our identity thus consists of three parts. An intrinsic unique self (personal identity), an extrinsic or social self (social identity) and a logical thinking self. For my support, I translated that into three questions, respectively:
- Who am I?
- What steps do I take?
- Where do I want to go?
Asking yourself these questions regularly, increasing your self-knowledge and awareness helps to find your balance. Now you are not alone in the world. Development is done in harmony with the world around you. How does that work?
Plus three questions about the world around you
Socrates has once again described a great metaphor, known in literature as ‘the allegory of the cave’. A metaphor for personal development and leadership in harmony with the world around you. This involves getting to know other perspectives by engaging with people and seeing the world through their eyes. Then it is important to make the new insights your personal knowledge. Knowledge that takes you away from thinking, presuming and believing. Knowledge that is closer to the truth and more in line with reality. Finally, it is essential to apply this knowledge and put it to work for society. I translated this into the questions:
- Who are the others?
- What is logical?
- What do we have to do?
Striving for more autonomy and flexibility fits in with the desire to develop one’s identity less one-sidedly. But as far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t mean that working part-time is the solution. What matters is that you develop as a human being in balance with the world around you. Becoming a balanced human being by regularly asking the 6 questions mentioned above. Empathizing with, thinking logically about, and solving practical problems for yourself and the world around you. And people who are more aware of themselves are also more aware of their surroundings. This has a positive effect on the environment, which changes with them. In this way you contribute to a more beautiful world. And what difference does it make whether you work part-time or full-time?
And Barbara? During the process, in which the abovementioned questions were central, she came to realize that a less ambitious job was not the solution. The stress was largely caused by a combination of things. Upbringing, personal experiences, the culture of the organization and the communication style of the manager were the unconscious cause of the stress. She has made a conscious choice for a job and organization that fits her capabilities and personal identity. And with which she can make a meaningful contribution to society.