Podcast #5 Work: Finding Who We Are


If you prefer to read rather than listen, here is a transcript of the podcast.
(Also available in PDF format.)
Note: portions of the text may be slightly edited for clarity in written form.

Dr. Jerry: Good morning. This Dr. Jerry at the psychotherapist corner, 1490 AM on your dial, WGCH.

As I’ve said before, the psychotherapist corner is little place in your mind, where you can just think about who you are as well as how you want to live. Actually, as we know, thinking, when we’re able to think like that is one best ways of being happy and satisfied in life.

This morning, I’d like to talk about work; why we work, should if work is work just a burden, or, is work something that can help fulfill as human beings.

Before I get to that, let me summarize, a little bit, from last week. We spoke, briefly, about love, in terms of our human need to feel love and give to love. As I mentioned, while a romantic occupation is part of love, I spoke of it more in terms of just willing something good to another person, taking care of, being considerate of, even being polite to a person, I believe, are small signs of love.

As I mentioned this morning, I want to talk, a little about work…work, love, and play, are integral to understanding ourselves.

What does work means to us? Many people, as we know, define themselves by what they do, for better or worse. Understanding how work defines us, also, can very helpful. We have to ask ourselves, do we work just to produce things, just to get things done. I think if that’s our understanding of work, ultimately, we’re doomed to extinction. After all, computers and drones will, eventually, do a lot thing’s that have to be done. Therefore, the notion that we work, merely, to get things done, I think, is pretty limited.

We have to ask; does work serve human function besides just a necessary function? I think, in order to answer that, I want to step back a little bit, be a little bit academic, here, this morning, for a few minutes, so that we can understand how work functions in our human societies.

As you know, man is really a creature, man and woman, excuse me, we are really creatures that are pulled in many different directions. We are creatures who experience a lot of conflict, pleasures, or work. We have impulses towards love, impulses towards destruction, self-reference, and responding to other people. This is the human condition and it’s important that we know that and we don’t whitewash it.

Pathology is not evident by the fact that we are pulled in many different directions. Pathology is evident by the fact that we don’t know that. It’s very important that we know that we are creatures in conflict. Right back to 3000 years B.C., in the deserts of Northern Africa, Zoroastrianism spoke about light and darkness. All of the great religions and philosophies of the world, have reiterated those notions of good and bad, reality and pleasure, and self and other.

In my story, in the first few sessions of our discussion on these programs, I spoke about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The queen, in a very simple way, represents just doing things for yourself, whereas, Snow White, as some of you recall the story, not only when the little dwarfs find her and they leave her in the little cottage in order to go off to work, actually, what Snow White does, before she goes to sleep, she is very tired since she was abandoned in the forest, she makes soup for them and then she goes to sleep. Isn’t that interesting, she does something for somebody else and then she goes to sleep.

We have to ask ourselves, does work serve a function besides putting bread on the table? I’m not knocking putting bread on the table; we all have to do that. I think it does serve a function and, actually, many of the philosophers, though out the ages, think that. More up to date, Freud and I’ve studied a great deal of Freud, Freud wrote a little book and he called it, “Civilization and Its Discontents”. What was he saying with civilization and it’s discontents? He’s saying, in a sense, now Freud was a little bit pessimistic, a European pessimistic, a little bit, but he was saying that human beings have to renounce many immediate gratifications. That is, they have to not always give into their immediate pleasure, if they are going to build a civilization.

Frankly, the best little story, not even a story, a little image that I have that represents that, someone told me many years ago when I, I think I was in class and someone said well, “Give me an example of what being civilized is,” and they said, “Well, here’s an example of civilization. You’re driving and it’s 12:00 at night and you’re in Vermont and you come to a red light and there is no one and you wait until the light turns green.” You don’t give in to impulses to go through, you wait. So, controlling our impulses is an essential part of being able to work.

What does it mean, just controlling our impulses? In the sense, why should we control our impulses? What do we do with that energy? I think, one of the things we have to do with that energy and one of the functions of work is to develop competence and skill; competence, personal skill, and creativity. That energy that we use that doesn’t immediately find expression in what we want to do at that moment because we want to do it, that energy can be directed to developing our competence and our skill. Competence and skill has it’s own reward. That’s what I meant by something more than just putting bread on the table.

Skill leads to creativity. We human beings feel better when we do something creative. Creative doesn’t have to be a great work of art or a great musical composition. Creative can be, frankly, hopefully, how we raise our children, how we handle the garden, do we take care of our pets and sensitivity, with some sense of imagination. All of that is creativity. When work goes well, it combines the necessity to support us with the pleasure of competence.

Let’s stay, a little bit more, with competence. I believe, in one of our past programs, I quoted that wonderful Greek expression, an ancient Greek proverb, “Happiness is the full exercise of personal competence.” “Happiness is the full exercise of personal competence.” I don’t mean by happiness that we reach a stage and we’re always happy. That’s simplistic, foolish, and unrealistic. We’re not made to always be happy nor should we think that it’s a goal life. We should be sensibly happy. Sometimes great sad things happen to us, in which case, we should be sensibly sad. “Happiness is the full exercise of personal competence,” meaning, when we’re able to express and possess skills, whatever they are, we feel more real, we feel more alive.

Again, one of the quotes that I’ve, if you recall, for those of you who have been to listen to the programs, the wonderful English pediatrician psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, said, “Oh, God, when I die, may I be alive.” What was he talking about? He was talking about experiencing the full extent of his competence, the full extent of his creativity.

Learning to do things well, physically, mentally, or both, is rewarding for us human beings. Work, as I mentioned, while serving our individuals needs, ties us to each other in communities. It’s one of the glues, work is the glue, not just of getting things done, it’s the glue that ties together as a community. We are group creatures. Individually, in our history, if we went out to slay a big mammal, we’re probably lost. It’s only when there’s four, five, six, or seven who get their spears together and did it as group were they able to survive. That’s the nature of who we are and that group experience is as integral today, and perhaps, even more so, than it was a million years ago.

What we recognize today is that if we want to experience personal happiness, we have to get to a place where work is experienced not just as a necessity but in some ways, an opportunity as well. It’s an opportunity to see us as increasing personal competence. When that doesn’t happen, when we don’t experience that, when just doing something, when we’re have a drone type of job, unfortunately, we feel frustrated and angry. If we have an superior or a boss, who doesn’t let us develop personal skills, frustrations and anger very easily follow. Actually, nothing undoes a sense of competence as quickly as a feeling of depression does.

I want to give you an example, I was speaking with a friend of mine, he worked for many years with a very famous national bank and he was in the investment area and when this very known national bank absorbed a stock company, recently, why, after many years of service, they let this fellow go, which was rather shocking and upsetting to him. He’s a man with four children in probably his late 40’s.

Well, of course, it took about a week or two to overcome the shock because he had been, certainly, according to his judgment, a very good worker, and it’s just that the bank went in a totally different direction. Luckily enough for him, he was able to find another job and when I asked about him about it, you know what he said to me was, “You know, I, actually, am going to enjoy this new job. I have fewer clients. I can service them better. I am going to feel more real.” I am going to be able to experience my competence, my words, or more to the effect. I think it was because he had that basic feeling that he had developed competence, that he didn’t just collapse into depression, anger, and frustration at being fired, at being given a pink slip.

As we know, today, lots of people are being given pink slips and what we have to be careful of , particularly, in many cases, is to recognize that this frequently happens through fault of their own, it isn’t that they did a bad job, that their being let go. What we have to be particularly careful of is falling into a sense of depression and frustration. Nothing clouds one sense of personal competence as much as depression. A person begins to feel worthless, unappreciated, and even sometimes guilty. Not withstanding the fact that an employer has been, specifically, aggressive towards or indifferent to us. When we get depressed, we start to feel guilty, as if it’s our own fault.

Depression can be seen not only in the person who sits alone and does not want to do anything but also in the husband or wife who argues over every issue, is irritable with themselves and their family. It’s understandable if one is let go of a job all of the sudden and yet, it’s a red flag. Depression can also show itself when a person is so anxious about his or her future, as we’ve spoken about before, that they are not able to focus, they have constant upset stomachs, and they suffer little sleep at night. Anxiety or depression has taken over the field and legitimate, mobilizing fear, which helps us focus, is gone.

My friend was able, fortunate for him, to mobilize his fear and recognize he couldn’t give into depression; he had four children to support. He knew that he knew what he was doing. That is the point I want to make. It is very important we hold onto that inner experience that we know what we’re doing. Whether the world recognizes or not, we want the world to recognize but it doesn’t have to depend on the world. If we can hold onto competence, we can’t be fired from ourselves and that’s crucial to remember.

As I said, my friend had four children, he simply could afford to let anxiety and depression cloud out his need to focus his energies and get another position. He had to think of his family and forget any personal insult after so many years of good service. He was able, with the help of some friends, to do that. That’s why I think I’ve started off and keep referring, frequently, to the fairytale of the queen and Snow White.

The queen’s narcissism really is a kind of endemic virus; lately we have been made aware of the swine flu. There are psychological flu’s that go around. One of the dangerous psychological flu’s we all can get is something like the queen narcissism. We can wind up getting so self-preoccupied, we, literally, forget to relate to other people. We relate to them only in terms of how they serve us. That kind of virus we have to be very careful of. It’s dangerous because, a lot of times, we don’t know we have it but when we suddenly feel isolated and not connected to people.

When we no longer feel real and that life’s terrifically enjoyable for it’s own sake, it should raise some suspicion that maybe we have to think about the fact that we live in community and that we owe the community and ourselves a sense of competence and a sense of skill and out of that competence and skill, we can start to experience feeling creative, that the world doesn’t have us, so to speak, we have the world. We are able to relate to the world in a way that fulfills the world and fulfills us at the same time. Isn’t that really what creativity is? We fulfill the world in some little way and we fulfill ourselves.

I’m going to take a break for just a minute and we’ll be back in just a second.

Dr. Jerry: Welcome back to the Psychotherapist’s Corner, 1490 on your dial, WGCH and this Dr. Jerry talking to you.

We’re talking this morning about work and how works serves us as human beings. We’re talking about the opposite of work, the opposite of experiencing our competence, the opposite of experiencing creativity, namely depression and frustration. I’m focusing on depression and frustration because their understandable reactions when we’re fired, when we suddenly have a reversal of fortunes. Of course, one is prone towards depression and frustration, there is nothing wrong with that in it self, we have just have to be aware of it.

When I spoke before, the fact that we are conflict creatures, that we’re pulled in so many ways; we’re pulled toward love, we pulled towards hate, we’ll pulled towards altruism, we’ll towards selfish, towards giving and caring for some else, and for just caring for our self, that’s part of our human situation. We don’t have to be ashamed of it; we just have to know it. There’s a big difference between being ashamed of it, denying, or just knowing quietly. When we know it, we have a handle on it. When we don’t know, it has a handle on us.

Depression, as I’ve spoken about before, is using our energies up in wasteful ways. It’s like leaving a cellphone charger plugged in even when we’re not connected or leaving the lights on upstairs and then goes out all day working. Depression is most frequently anger and frustration that have gotten locked up inside of us. Like soot in the chimney, it’s need to cleaned out. As you remember, I’ve often spoken about the talking cure, as chimney sweeping. What we cannot see or feel, unless we look up the chimney, can, never the less, do a lot of damage. If we accumulate a lot feelings that we are not aware of, if we accumulate a lot of anger, collect a lot of frustrations, very human, very human, but if we’re not aware of them, they can collect in the chimney of our minds and then start to do some damage.

If irritability, anger, frustration at work or at home, all though stimulated by current situations, usually have deep, unseen roots and, obviously, can have very damaging consequences in our life. The reason I mention this, particularly in this rather difficult financial times that we’re all going through right now, is that if a parent, mother, or father is experiencing this, I will just let you know that children, in particular, frequently think, that they are fault if mom or dad is irritable or angry. I’m not suggesting a Pollyanna solution to life difficulties but I am suggesting, and that’s why I think I’ve called the show The Psychotherapist’s Corner, that all of us need a little place in our minds were we can sort things our and understand what the situation is, so that we don’t just simply react on impulse to what life happens to give us.

Actually, now, if you think about it, our lives, what I’ve been saying throughout all these programs, our lives should be a work in progress. We have a level of competence and skill and creativity to how we live our life. That’s what I mean when I’ve spoken about how do we become real in life, that’s really what I’ve been trying to get at. Real doesn’t just mean successful, there’s nothing wrong with being successful, but in itself, it guarantees nothing. If we don’t experience a sense of personal competence and personal creativity, success becomes just a burden because then we spend the rest of our life just being successful period and making sure we stay successful.

Finding out what it means to be alive. Each of us, obviously and clearly, is unique. We have to find our own personal way and very few formulas will help us. Now, when we live in a complex society, as we do, we are herded one way or another but certainly with our children, we have to give them a certain freedom to know that they don’t have to imitate us. They have to find their personal competence. They have to find their skill. They have to find how work fits in and makes them not only put bread on the table, obviously, but also feel more that they have fulfilled what they wanted to do in life. Incidentally, if we’re able to do that, maybe 40% or 50%, we achieved a great deal. Our dreams, frequently, outreach our capacities and the human situation.

To be able to work experiencing our particular competence is, also, I think a form of play. Next week, I want to speak a little bit more about play. Remember the definition I gave you last week about play; play is what we do when we’re free. Aristotle said that, the Greek philosopher Aristotle, play is what we when are free. What does that mean? Does that mean we’re not in prison? Well, all too frequently we can be in prison in our minds. We’re not able to experiment. We have to be able to try different things; try different paintings; to try different recipes, it doesn’t make any difference. Creativity transcends, go from one to the other.

Competence, personal skill, is ultimately, if you think about it, the playground for the expression of our freedom, that’s really the role of competence. It’s a playground. I don’t mean the playground of just games, it’s playground where we can feel effective, where we can feel free because we know what we able to do and we know what we’re able not to do. One of the most important inheritances we can give our children is an opportunity to develop their individual competence, easier said then done but necessary, nevertheless. Without such ability, the idea we are creating ourselves as we go through life becomes meaningless. Creating ourselves becomes just a nice little Sunday morning phrase, in a sense. We have to create ourselves and we have to understand why we have to create ourselves. When we start focusing on that a little bit, we suddenly appreciate our life on a deeper life.

Now, Eric Erikson, I’ve spoke about Eric Erikson before, Erik Erikson is a psychoanalyst. He wrote a number of books, two of them in particular, if you folks remember it, “Childhood and Society” and “Identity in the Life Cycle.” He’s written about the different stages of life and in future programs, I hope to talk you about that. For now, we can say, work is experienced personal levels at different stages in our life. The different periods or stages in life offer us different strengths. When we call on those strengths, we are less likely to locked inside ourselves and more available to the world.

Believe it or not, when we’re available to the world, we are paradoxically more available to our selves. Just think about that. When we’re available to the world, we’re more available to our self. That is we’re able to master just a little portion of this wonderful world we live in. Mastering a little portion of the world, no matter how seemingly small, is what we have been talking about this morning, finding and developing personal competence. Mastering a little portion of the world and that’s okay.

If there are too many roadblocks, if we have lost any sense of the personal, if work is just a burden and not in anyway an opportunity, then I suggest some chimney sweeping is in order. Sometimes, it is a burden but if it’s just a burden then chimney sweeping is in order. Think about the talking cure. It can help us find the sunlight. That’s really one of the functions. When we clean out the chimney, the sunlight will come in a little more. Not only we eliminate fires in the house but also we have a better flow of the energies from the fire out. This is what we want in our lives. We want a flow of energy. We don’t energy locked up.

A lot of times, I’m simplifying it a little but pathology, a rather serious word, but pathology is locking up the energies inside of our self. We’re not designed that way. We’re designed to be responsive and interactive. When we’re not responsive and interactive, when we’re sitting alone in the room, either literally or figuratively, in our heads sitting alone, we’ve locked up something inside and depriving ourselves of contact. We do not survive that way; we’re not that kind of creature. We must have contact.

I hope some of the thoughts we said this morning is a benefit to you, particularly, in terms of appreciating that work, even in trying financial times, even though it may preoccupy us in terms of guarantying a certain level of income, work has to be experienced, should be experienced, and can be experienced as fulfilling us as human beings. As finding out who we are and in the process of finding out that we can work with another person.

You can work alone and still work with another person. We always are having a dialog in our head. With the services that we perform, even if we happen to working alone, we have, in fact a community function. That’s crucial to understand because it then gives us experience of connecting with each other. It’s connecting with each other that help us feel real. It’s connecting with each other that lessen the pain of, frequently; the isolating memories of many of us bring from our childhood to our adulthood.

The isolation serious setbacks bring. As you know, many the 60’s, the song of the Beatles, “I can by with a little from my friends.” It’s, actually, a very profound philosophy, terrific song but also profound philosophy. We can get by with a little help from our friends. What is the function of the talking cure, to come back to what psychotherapy is? It’s not to tell people what to do. It’s not to give them formulas. It’s not to give them dictates. It’s really to help them find the world again so they can by with a little help from their friends.

I hope, this morning, this has been helpful. Next week, I want to talk in more detail about play because I really believe, if we can just hold these three words in our head, for the time being; love, work, and play, we’ll have a better sense of where we are and who we are.

I want to thank you, again, for the listening to The Psychotherapist Corner on 1490 AM, WGCH. This is Dr. Jerry and if I can be of any help to you, please don’t hesitate to call. If you have any suggestion of what you’d like me talk about, again, please don’t hesitate to call. Have a good day.

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