With “encore careers” increasingly for the wealthy, avocations and hobbies should take center stage

Hard to do without $$$

Hard to do without $$$

“Encore careers” is a term that has come to capture the dynamic of experienced professionals who step off of demanding, if highly paid, treadmills to pursue work that is more soul satisfying and contributing to the community. There’s even a popular website (tag line “second acts for the greater good”) and a book devoted to encore careers. The inherent idea is this: You’ve made your pile of cash, or perhaps invested/inherited/married your way into it. Now it’s time to get away from the grind and do something more personally fulfilling.

I’ve written about encore careers on several occasions here on this blog. For those who can afford to move in this direction, the possibilities are rich. But it is increasingly clear that the option of pursuing an encore career will be available to very few Boomers and Gen Xers, and likely to few Millennials as well. The reason basically boils down to personal finances, including the costs of living, schooling, and raising a family, as well as the challenges of saving for retirement. Too many are already earning a modest income. They don’t need a lower paid encore career to put even more pressures on their financial well being. And for those who are underemployed or unemployed, the notion of an encore career may be sheer fantasy.

This is not to say that vocational mobility and new careers are impossibilities. Far from it. Additional training, education, and certifications can open up doors for people who are returning to the workforce or trying to switch gears. It isn’t always easy, but viable options exist.

However, the encore concept of making a bundle and then switching to a “making a difference” career isn’t very realistic for many people.

So even if earning a living at a job that provides scant psychic income is in the cards for the longer haul, does this mean that personally fulfilling work and activities can never enter one’s life picture? Nope, not by a longshot. For years, I’ve been promoting immersive avocations and hobbies as potential keys to a fulfilling life. They may include artistic and creative endeavors, outdoor and sporting activities, caring for animals, political and social causes, side gig businesses, intellectual projects, lifelong learning, community and faith-based service, or enjoyable pastimes.

In unusual instances, that avocation or hobby could transform into a decent paying, full-time gig. But even if it doesn’t, it can fill a gap in one’s life left by the intersection of work and personal obligations. Such activities may be enormously fulfilling and meaningful.

The challenges of finding personally rewarding work at decent pay will continue. Against this backdrop, vocations and hobbies will loom larger as sources of individual fulfillment. If you’d like to ponder this topic further, I invite you to read these earlier articles:

What’s your hobby? (2015)

Targets of workplace bullying: Pursuing healthy, immersive activities away from the job (2015)

On “quit lit,” “encore” careers, and the realities of creating work options (2015)

Our avocations and hobbies: The third pillar of work-life balance? (2012)

Will our avocations save us? (2010)

Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010)

Real-life Gilderoy Lockharts: Narcissistic professors, their students, and bullying at work

Kenneth Branagh as Prof. Gilderoy Lockhart from the Harry Potter series

Prof. Gilderoy Lockhart (actor Kenneth Branagh) from the Harry Potter series

I’m a bit of a latecomer to this ball, but I’ve just started reading the Harry Potter series. I’m deep into the second book, and I’ve already developed a humorous distaste for Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, a preening, lying, self-promoting narcissist of an instructor at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Young Harry’s dislike of him is laugh out loud funny! Author J.K. Rowling has freely admitted that Lockhart is the only Hogwarts character “deliberately based on a real person.”

While the pompous Lockhart makes for some good chuckles in the Harry Potter world, the real-life impact of narcissistic instructors on their students may be no laughing matter. In fact, a new study suggests a troubling connection to students’ academic performance. A research team from Appalachian State University led by Prof. James Westerman conducted a study of professors and undergraduate students from a university business school, examining the potential impact of narcissistic faculty members on more and less narcissistic students. Here’s an abstract of their findings, published in full in the International Journal of Management Education (July 2016):

Results indicated that narcissism congruence was significantly related to a student’s final grade in the class such that less congruence was associated with lower course grades and that this negative association was partially mediated by perceived professor status and perceived class difficulty. Particularly concerning was the finding that more narcissistic faculty were associated with detrimental outcomes for less narcissistic students. Considering the well-documented and profoundly negative implications of narcissism for workplace environments, this finding suggests a need for future research on the impact of narcissistic faculty on business students and on successful intervention strategies.

Colleen Flaherty, writing about the study for Inside Higher Ed, helps to translate:

Much has been written about the effects of toxic leaders in business, but a new study suggests that toxic business professors — specifically narcissists — wreak havoc in the classroom, at least for their more modest students. More narcissistic students, meanwhile, may benefit from having similarly self-obsessed instructors.

Relationship to workplace bullying

Narcissism has long been associated with workplace bullying behaviors. The Appalachian State study now brings the narcissistic personality traits of certain professional school faculty members into the mix.

In a 2012 blog piece, “Professional schools as incubators for workplace bullying,” I suggested that “that the seeds of workplace bullying are planted in professional schools that prepare people to enter occupations such as law and medicine.” I further explained:

You start with ambitious young people who (1) are used to being heralded as academic stars; (2) do not have a lot of life experience; and (3) tend to be driven, Type A achievers. You then put them in high-pressured educational environments that emphasize technical knowledge and skills and a lot of “left-brain” logical thinking. These degree programs don’t place a lot of emphasis on interpersonal skills and the development of emotional intelligence.

You then unleash them unto the world of work. Uh oh.

What I didn’t sufficiently build into that thesis was the potential impact of faculty members as role models and mentors. In addition to providing instruction, professors model attitudes and behaviors for their students. Although I am unaware of any large-scale studies of professorial personality profiles, I would bet a fair amount of money that narcissistic traits appear frequently in law, business, and medical school faculties, who happen to train leaders in vocational areas frequently associated with workplace bullying.

Combined with the findings of the Appalachian State study, this suggests that such schooling may well empower the most narcissistic students and discourage the more modest ones. Might this translate into more promotions and power for the former group ten or twenty years down the line? Uh oh, indeed!

The French (Dis)connection: No work e-mails outside traditional working hours

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Dominique Mosbergen reports for the Huffington Post on a new French labor law that bans after hours work e-mails:

Checking your work email on a weekend or a holiday? In France, where employees have been granted “the right to disconnect,” that’s now against the law.

Buried inside a recently enacted — and hotly contested — French labor reform bill is an amendment banning companies of 50 or more employees from sending emails after typical work hours. “The right to disconnect” amendment, as it’s so called, is aimed at minimizing the negative impacts of being excessively plugged in.

Lest any work-obsessed, provincial American get in a huff and start hurling insults at the collective French work ethic, Lauren Collins offers some clarifying cultural points in the New Yorker:

The notion of the indolent French worker, for one thing, is a fiction: the country’s hourly productivity, for example, rivals that of the United States, and French workers put in more hours a year than their supposedly more industrious German counterparts. The difference, then, is not in our attitudes toward our jobs but in our attitudes toward the rest of our lives. In France, a personal life is not a passive entity, the leftover bits of one’s existence that haven’t been gobbled up by the office, but a separate entity, the sovereignty of which is worth defending, even if that means that someone’s spreadsheet doesn’t get finished on time.

Okay, I’m not suggesting any such law for the U.S. The objections — legal, practical, everything — would come in from all directions, not just from large employers with round-the-clock operations. (Believe me, as an academician I send e-mails to our support staff at all hours of the day and night, though in no way do I expect responses when they’re not working.)

But I raise this to tweak our perspectives about work, work-life balance, and the importance of our time spent away from work. I think it’s especially germane to wage workers and lower-paid salaried workers who are expected to be at the beck and call of their higher-paid co-workers. It would be healthier for everyone if work’s e-influence wasn’t so 24/7. (Yup, I am writing this as a memo-to-self.)

Even if this French law wouldn’t port over well to America, embracing more of its underlying rationale would serve us well. On that note, for sure, Vive la France.

On “sober judgment” and “forthright speech”

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Theology professor Charles Marsh (Univ. of Virginia), in a 2012 issue of The Cresset, considers the lot of scholars committed to social justice and concludes that “(t)o speak of the audacious hope of the engaged scholar (in this context) is to commit ourselves to sober judgment and forthright speech.”

Dr. Marsh writes primarily about academicians from Christian faith traditions, but his wise words should be of interest to any scholar who sees his or her role as connecting to broader social, economic, and political concerns. Indeed, in that one sentence, he captures what I believe to be the core responsibilities of a socially conscious academician: Sober judgment and forthright speech.

Ideally, the former should lead to the latter. Sober judgment is about research, analysis, and reflection. Forthright speech builds on that judgment and says something meaningful to the world.

One would think this intellectual and educational process occurs all the time in academe, but that’s not necessarily the case. Some academicians skip the sober judgment and jump right into forthright speech. They let their biases and untested beliefs substitute for careful research and evaluation. Professors who yammer away in an opinionated yet fact-free manner fit this mode.

Others immerse themselves in sober judgment, but then dodge the forthright speech. Instead, their erudite analyses lead to softer generalizations and platitudes that foreclose sharp review. They want to sound intelligent, measured, and intellectually respectable, but they fear sticking out their necks too far.

***

If the spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson has read Dr. Marsh’s essay, then hopefully the great New England philosopher is nodding with approval. In an 1837 address titled “The American Scholar,” Emerson stated:

There goes in the world a notion, that the scholar should be a recluse…as unfit for any handiwork or public labor, as a penknife for an axe…. Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it, he is not yet man. Without it, thought can never ripen into truth.… Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind.

To put it another way: Emerson, too, believed that scholarly thought can and should lead to something more.

***

I’ve collected a lot of ideas, reflections, and experiences on the relationship of research and analysis to social change initiatives in a forthcoming law review article, “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law” (Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice). In the piece, I discuss my work on workplace bullying and on unpaid internships, as well as my collaborations with the therapeutic jurisprudence and human dignity communities. The article also includes a short annotated bibliography of 40 (mostly non-legal) books related to intellectual activism.

You may freely download a pre-publication draft here.

Stories can drive change, but workplace bullying stories often defy quick summaries

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Two summers ago, Yes! magazine devoted its cover package to the power of storytelling for purposes of driving positive social change. I’ve thought about that collection of articles often in connection with the challenges of telling stories about workplace bullying, both to educate the public generally and to advocate for passage of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.

Of course, it’s relatively easy to summarize frequent bullying behaviors, their prevalence, and their destructive effects on individuals and organizations. For example, I start a lot of my talks on workplace bullying with a quick section that covers these basics. I often find a lot of people nodding their heads in recognition of the behaviors I’m describing and how people are affected by them.

Similarly, stories of overt, in-your-face bullying behaviors are pretty easy to summarize. This form of workplace mistreatment is probably the closest thing we have to common schoolyard bullying or verbal domestic abuse. The facts are fairly straightforward and easily comprehended.

But the bigger challenge is how to convey narratives of more insidious, covert, and multi-layered forms of workplace bullying that defy quick summaries. They can take hours of patient listening and attention to grasp the full context and detail of what occurred, even when the person recounting the story is relatively concise and specific with his or her words. However, once understood, they can be among the most bone chilling examples of workplace bullying, often revealing the deft minds and malicious intent of the abusers.

Over the years, many individuals who have experienced more complex forms of bullying at work have shared their extended narratives through long personal statements, social media, and self-published books. The inherent problem is that very few of them translate easily into digestible summaries that maintain the attention spans of legislators, journalists, and the public. I know of many other instances of severe workplace bullying that are hard to comprehend in their entirety without a strong understanding of all the players and institutions.

By their very nature, some stories are complex. They require time and effort to get their significance. In an age resistant to detail and nuance, the challenge of finding receptive audiences for these complicated stories of bullying at work yields no simple answers. This will continue when the Healthy Workplace Bill becomes law. The storytelling challenge will then move from the court of public opinion to courts of law. It will be up to legal advocates to help craft these narratives with, and on behalf of, their clients.

Success vs. significance on the job

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Fast Company co-founder Alan Webber, in an excellent blog piece for Next Avenue, recounts a talk he attended featuring Dr. Aravind Srinivasan, a pioneering eye surgeon:

Here’s what Srinivasan said: “There’s a difference between success and significance. Success is what happens to you. Significance is what happens through you. Success is what comes to you. Significance is what you give away to others.”

The good doctor’s observation caused Webber to reflect:

It’s the kind of distinction that, when you hear it, makes you stop and think. You think about the difference between success and significance. And you think about your own life and the culture in which we live.

We live in a culture that worships success. Money is the default setting we use to measure success: The more money you make, the greater your success. The greater your success, the more you are deemed worthy.

We tend to equate wealth and success with intelligence and talent. If you are rich enough, famous enough, successful enough, you are qualified to have important opinions. You’re worth listening to. You may even be qualified to run for President.

Beware of avaricious success seekers

If “success is what comes to you” and “significance is what you give away to others,” then let me say: Beware of grasping, covetous success seekers.  They rationalize raw ambition to the exclusion of so many other qualities and values. They walk over and through other people; the skillful ones do it with smiles on their faces and may be appear, at least from a distance, as charming or even “friendly.” They may manipulate and bully as necessary, especially if someone is in their way. Whether due to insecurity, entitlement, or some combination of both, they believe that the brass ring should be theirs for the grabbing.

I have seen these folks in higher education, as I’m sure you’ve seen them in your vocation. There’s another odd dynamic that I’ve noticed about this type of individual in my business: They have a knack for racking up accolades relatively early in their careers, even when it’s not clear that they’ve accomplished anything of . . . well . . . significance. It’s almost as if they’re getting public brownie points for building their resumes. These honors and recognitions fuel their belief that future kudos are their birthright.

Instead…

Generically speaking, most of us want to be “successful,” however we might regard the term. Indeed, aspirations, goals, hopes, and dreams are all fine. So let’s pursue them with authenticity, guided by an inner ethical voice that says we should strive to make contributions of significance and treat others with a baseline of dignity.

Commencement time: Books worth reading

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Every year around this time, I offer a nod to the commencement season. This year I thought I’d go back to some previous posts to identify books that may be especially meaningful during this time of completion, transition, and starting anew:

Pictured above is a thick anthology, Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (2006), co-edited by Mark R. Schwehn & Dorothy C. Bass, both of Valparaiso University, my undergraduate alma mater. The book examines topics such as authenticity, virtue, vocational identity and selection, living significantly, work-life balance, authority, individual choice, personal stories, and death. It’s a bit too weighted toward American and “Western Civ” authors to be called a multicultural reader, but it gathers an eclectic group of writers nonetheless.

My guess is that more undergraduate seminars have used this book than have adult education classes or reading groups. Nevertheless, I think it’s an excellent choice for those in midlife and beyond who are thinking in big picture terms about their lives.

Allow me to especially recommend one of the selections: Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilych (reprinted in full as the Epilogue) is especially powerful and wise.

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Brené Brown‘s Daring Greatly (2012) draws its title and inspiration from a 1910 speech that former President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris, titled “The Man in the Arena.” One particular passage from the speech has become rather famous as an inspirational call to living a courageous, engaged life:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Brown’s conceptualization of daring greatly draws us away from the kind of boyish, chest-thumping image that characterized Teddy Roosevelt’s public persona. Rather, she associates vulnerability with daring greatly. According to Brown, only by being vulnerable to setback, rejection, disappointment, and failure can we reach these higher places in our work lives, personal lives, and other endeavors.

Charles D. Hayes is a retired, largely self-educated writer and practical philosopher whose books and essays on finding meaning in life are hidden gems. Here’s the opening to his Preface from The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning (2004), my favorite among his wonderful books:

When thoughts of our own mortality begin to crop up with increasing frequency, it’s time to pause and contemplate our legacy. We’re reminded to ask ourselves what of value we intend to leave for posterity. After the tangibles of the estate are settled, what will our successors remember about us? Is there something we can do now that will generate a lasting, positive effect in the lives of our descendants?

Some of the most instructive and inspirational books are written by folks a generation (or two) ahead of us who graciously share their life lessons with their successors. Hayes writes especially for those in the “September” of their lives, but anyone can benefit from his wisdom.

One of the most personally influential books I’ve read is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (1956). Frankl was a psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor who lost almost all of his immediate family in the Holocaust. The first part of the book details his concentration camp experiences. The second part explains his theory of logotherapy. Frankl believed that life’s essence is about a search for meaning: “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.” Logotherapy is based upon these premises.

In 1991, the New York Times reported that, based on a survey conducted by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress, Man’s Search For Meaning belongs to a list of “the ten most influential books in [the United States].”

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We usually associate graduation with celebration, and often rightly so, but it also can be a time of significant transition. To understand these processes, looking inward can help us to weigh options. On this note, William Bridges’s Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (rev. ed., 2004) may be very useful. Here’s a brief passage:

People who have discounted or blocked out the inner callings from the future have cut themselves off from the very signals that really vital people use to stay on their paths of their own development. It is no wonder that people who have silenced those inner signs find meaningful careers difficult to launch and to maintain, or that when they encounter times of transition, they are so confused and distressed.

Overall, this is a wise and helpful book for those who want to get beyond quick advice and breezy self-help manuals. It’s especially helpful for folks who are transitioning during mid-life and beyond and who are eager to think deeply about how they want to create the rest of their lives. For those completing degree programs later in life, it may carry extra relevance.

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