Thomas Alva Edison famously said, “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 90% perspiration.”
Many people fail at work not for lack of perspiration, but for want of inspiration.
An inspired working life is possible only when an individual is enthusiastic and passionate about his work.
Sustained inspiration is consistent with what the American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as ‘flow.’ He characterizes it as a “breakthrough to new levels of thought and behaviour that occur without social reinforcement and immediate reward.”
The main dimensions of flow include “deep concentration, clarity of goals, loss of a sense of time, lack of self-consciousness, and transcendence of the sense of self…these characteristics are recognized in more or less the same form by people the world over.”
Flow describes the Eureka moment when a streak of lightning in the night sky of the subconscious illuminates a previously undiscovered acreage of ideas.
Creative artists, poets, song-writers, painters, and architects among other professionals are familiar with flow. The muses of ancient mythology who were held to govern the arts and sciences were personifications of inspiration for creative artists.
Athletes know this condition as ‘the zone’ – a state in which their abilities and their performances assume almost paranormal dimensions.
People who are engaged in doing what they love are surely familiar with the sensation of losing consciousness of the passage of time. “Time flies when you are having fun” is a common saying. The ecstasy we feel at such moments when we are completely involved in our labours indicates a profound truth.
It is no accident that these conditions resemble religious experiences. Flow is synonymous with what evangelical Christians describe as ‘the anointing’ – an impartation of divine ability. Under the anointing, ordinary men were transformed into prophets and poets, single warriors vanquished thousands, and craftsmen produced great works of art.
In today’s context, the ability to surmount seemingly impossible odds and deliver more with less is an attribute of anointed labour. The anointing is thus a metaphor of what happens when talent locates its highest purpose and priority and becomes a conduit of the highest power.
By all accounts, the key to an inspired working life is to locate our vocations in the marketplace. If we find our callings, and approach them with a sense of sacred duty, we vest our careers with immense meaning and power; power enough to transform workplace cultures and even whole economies.
Inspired workers bring an uncommon level of initiative, intuitive wisdom and problem-solving acumen to bear on their work. They are natural fixers.
Plato theorized that the realm of ideas was an infinite dimension of ultimate reality and could only be perceived by inner vision.
Creative people are capable of consistently transcending self, time and space to ‘download’ solutions, innovations and techniques from the realm of ideas.
A sacramental redefinition of work would enable us see our jobs not as something profane but as something profound; as nothing less than the projection of ourselves.
Workplaces would become theatres of transcendental experience. The doctor’s white coat, the factory hand’s overalls, the technician’s lab coat, and the policeman’s uniform, would become priestly garments. Offices would no longer be seen as prisons where strangers are detained in claustrophobic proximity and assigned to soul-destroying tasks.
Companies could become creative communities where true professionals with a common commitment to significance, productivity and excellence are fulfilling their callings everyday.
If all this sounds a bit religious, that’s because it is. The word company originates from the Latin com and panis which means to “break bread with.”
Breaking bread is an aspect of the Christian communion rite and in various cultures connotes spiritual harmony and fellowship. It isn’t difficult to see the basis for professional guilds and workers’ unions in this metaphor.
In summary, the pursuit of significance will lead us to radically review our most fundamental assumptions about work and life.
In fact, in one way or the other, frequently or infrequently, we all encounter the heightened consciousness which in turn leads to higher-than-normal levels of performance. We may not necessarily experience this on a job; it may be a household chore or some other task, but what is certain is that such transcendental experiences point to our callings.
- Chris Ngwodo
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