Bernie Anderson
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the blog

Current musings, whatever they may be. 

I Feel His Pleasure: The Psychology of Flow, Vocation, and Spirituality

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Being a rocket scientist is not better than being a barista.

Let's be clear about this. Work is meaningful because people are meaningful. Collecting trash in DeMoines is a job with no less dignity than running a political party in Washington.

That said, most polling data reveals that the majority of Americans are dissatisfied with their work. And have been for a while.

Csikszentmihalyi's flow state research speaks to this.

Meaning

All work has meaning, dignity, and should be respected. No matter what task is being performed. There is work that must be accomplished for the sake of work - every single day. When work falls into the category of "unskilled labor," it's still work. You still gotta do it. Someone does. There is intrinsic dignity in the ability to work hard. This is so important.

Work is foundational to meeting human need and is a key component from the bottom to the top of Maslow's pyramid.

Meaningful Work.

There are few places in the world where we have the space and capacity to even think about that question. In most parts of the world, work is a means to meet basic needs, not higher needs. For most of the world, meaning is found someplace other than a job.

The Western world is the exception. In the US, we tend to meet the need for meaning in our work. I wonder at times if that's a healthy practice. But whether it's work or some other thing, meaning is important for every human.

Hard-Wiring

The beauty and wonder of humanness is the fact we're unique creations, designed with purpose. Yet we each reflect the same Image. We can do all the personality tests, work profiles, strengths finders, and "Which Disney Princess are you?" quizzes on the Internet. But, in the end, it's never as simple as putting everyone in a box. All these things (and more) layer on top, around, under, and through each other to make each one of us the complicated creatures that we are.

One of the great quests of this human life is finding the place where you thrive. I believe there is a deep, spiritual element to this. Others may take a more naturalistic or humanist approach. Even so, there is a place where we operate best. I'm not going to call it "passion" - it's the wrong (and overused and abused) word. But it's when we find the thing we're made for. The thing we were created to do. This is bigger than "a job". It's actually bigger than vocation. In fact, this may not be the thing that meets baseline, physiological needs at all.

But this discovery is a critical step to working at the top right of Csikszentmihalyi's graph.

Eric Liddell's famed words encapsulate it for me.

God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.
— Eric Liddell

I find it interesting he didn't say this about his missionary work, which was incredibly important and his true "life's work." He made this statement about running.

Now, fill in the blank.

"God made me _. And when I __, I feel His pleasure."

(The theological part of my brain needs to make this clear. Not talking about the "pleasure of God" in a soteriological sense. God is ultimately pleased with Jesus. This is more in the context of human experience.)

Where in my life/work/relationships do I feel the pleasure of God?

For those with the privilege of choosing vocations, this is, perhaps, the most important question of all.