Coming Alive

I’m a bit of a fan of MasterChef, a current TV series where contestants are eliminated and the best chef wins.  This year, there are accountants, auditors, IT consultants, and lawyers to name a few. Almost invariably, when the contestants are asked why they’re on the show, they say they’re just marking time in their jobs (or words to that effect), but when they’re cooking, they come alive.

The “coming alive” is my expression. They describe the feeling as “time just seems to be suspended”, or “there’s a smile on my face”, or “I feel at home in the kitchen”. The concrete renderer said he’d come on the show to “start a new life”.

One young man in his early twenties – the auditor, made the point that he only became an auditor to please his father, but midway through the competition, he’s recieved his father’s blessing to pursue the dream of becoming a chef and owning his own restaurant.

The great thing is that these individuals have realised that their current profession – while they may well do a great job – just isn’t them. It’s not their niche. It doesn’t play to their strengths. In their own way, they’re saying that when they cook, they experience “flow”.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi author leading researcher on creativity coined the term “flow” to describe a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored. When people are experiencing flow, they’re doing something that they’re created for. They’re good at it, and it comes naturally. It’s a strength.

The sad thing for me, is that so many people spend so long in careers and activities in which they are not strong. They may be competent, but it takes away from them – it makes them less… them! And for some reason, so few have the balls to get out of what they’re doing and make a sideways or downward shift, to find that very thing in which they come alive. I’m fairly confident that there would be less burnout if people were supported in discovering and playing to their strengths and building a career out of them.

What makes you come alive? Do you play to your strengths, or are you stuck in a career in which you just long to get out of and find the very thing that makes you “come alive”?

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