Personal Effectiveness and Responsibility
Leading Ourselves Successfully
If you spend time in bookstores these days (whether it is an online or physical bookstore) the number of books that are available in the self-help section run into many thousands. This apparent explosion of advice in the last twenty five years or so is arguably the result of four major societal trends:
- The weakening of the family as a social structure
- Greater social mobility
- Greater emphasis on individuality
- Huge changes in the average employment contract
This is not to say that there are not a variety of other trends that have an influence but rather to say that these four individually and on a combined basis lead to having to work much harder to cope with life in general and in the workplace in particular. Let’s therefore look at each of these one by one.
1. The weakening of the family as a social structure
Two world wars did a lot to change family dynamics (as many fathers did not return) but the resultant single parent families and the increasing rates of divorce and remarriage have destabilized this institution further in more recent times. In the western world in particular, divorce rates have reached almost 50% and the incidence of one parent families, and step and half-siblings has become commonplace. Some families accommodate these changes well and maintain a tight unit and safe environment for all of its members. However, it is much more commonplace for families to become dislocated and far less frequently the safe and comfortable havens that they were. Individuals from such families are therefore left to cope more frequently with less support and help when they need it.
2. Greater social mobility
Only a few decades ago, the vast majority of individuals would grow up in one town or city and go to work in the same broad location (having perhaps gone to college away from home or having travelled “abroad” for a little while). Today, almost half of all individuals in the western world work at least 25 miles away from where they grew up and in some cases this is much further (another county, State or even Country). Apart from separating individuals from friends and family where they grew up, relationships in general in the less familiar surroundings are fewer and shallower. In fact, many modern general opinion surveys now suggest that many people say that their relationships are “transactional”.
3. A greater emphasis on individuality
Although there are differences in emphasis between the east and west on the concept of individuality, the emphasis on the common good has diminished greatly in recent years (again partly influence by less family cohesion and greater social mobility). However, this has mainly been pushed by Government policy in the western world, which have emphasized the need to individuals to fend more and more for themselves and become more competitive in an increasingly competitive world.
4. Huge changes in the average employment contract
Up until the late 1960’s the majority of individuals would work for one or two employers for their whole career, which might span 35, 40 or even 50 years. Today, an individual expects to work for many employers and to even have two or even three careers over a similar period of working. Employees have therefore changed employment contracts greatly in at least two major ways. Firstly, the length of employment contract is shorter-sometimes as little as a year, but rarely going beyond three years (with individuals just leaving if there is no interest on the employer’s part to renew). Secondly, many contracts are now temporary (and may be part-time or with zero benefits) allowing employers to utilize individuals at call and dispose of their services at will.
So what does all this mean?
These four trends mean that individuals are left to cope much more on their own than ever before and this has led to a huge increase in the requirement for every person to have to be responsible for themselves and manage their own ongoing emotional health. In other words, family, friends, and the employer are far less available for support than they were in the past and the individual has therefore to fend for themselves. In theory, this may be no bad thing – a society which has adult individuals able to mainly fend for themselves is probably a good thing. However, not every individual is able to cope with this requirement on a consistent basis and practically all people have problems from time to time and need to be able to get help when they need it (even if they have to pay for it). However, the self-awareness to know when help and support is necessary is critical.
In the chart at the top of this article, which was produced by the Abraham-Hicks organization, is the Emotional Guidance Scale. This chart simply illustrates that all individuals should appreciate that there are two possible emotional “spirals” which operate for everyone. On the left is the upward spiral in which our emotions (and with it our self-esteem build progressively from what might be mild contentment through stages such as optimism and enthusiasm to eventual joy (if they get to this of course). Although research suggests that most adults operate slightly on the positive side of things (as opposed to the negative spiral side here), getting to high levels of joy is infrequent for most people and when it happens it is often fleeting but memorable.
On the right of the Abraham Hicks chart is the opposite downward spiral that often starts with boredom or listlessness and goes through phases of worry and even anger before reaching its bottom with fear and depression. Clearly this is very much an unwanted spiral but nonetheless real for many people and just as memorable when it happens (however fleeting this experiences may be). Unfortunately however, descending on the negative spiral is much harder to take in terms of self-esteem and much slower to recover from. Hence, most people need to guard against such a descent much more assiduously.
Life for most adults (and in the workplace in particular) has changed in the last few decades as a result of significant societal trends. We are consequently much more frequently left to fend much more for ourselves than ever before. As a result, we must be more aware of our emotional health and learn to recognize how to avoid entering a downward spiral and where possible maximize our chances of climbing an upward spiral.