The Peak Work Experience!

Author: Matt Morava

Peaks and Valleys

A question that I’ll ask my students in “Selective Hiring” goes something like this, “Given that the two candidates are equal in every way except one: one is coming off a tremendous win (a peak work experience) and the other is coming off a major failure (a valley work experience) which one do you hire?”

It’s natural to want to pick a winner.

My response is that it depends, as context is everything. Are the conditions in this position similar (to the peak or valley) and how is the candidate responding to their last position? Are they looking to change things up or keep the ball rolling? And how conscious are they in terms of what’s driving their success or failure?

We all have ups and downs in our careers and sometimes there’s nowhere to go from a peak work experience but down and sometimes there’s nowhere to go from a valley work experience but up.

Careers typically are made up of peaks and valleys. When I start career coaching with a client, I’ll ask them to map out their careers in terms of peaks and valleys.

Here’s a mockup of an exercise I run with clients on evaluating their career…

(You can create your own chart… simply start by listing all the positions you’ve ever had and then evaluating them on a 0–10 scale. +10 being ABSOLUTELY AWESOME and -10 being ABSOLUTELY AWFUL. You have to make sure that at least one position gets rated a +10 and one gets rated a -10. The rest of the positions you’ve had fall in from there. Then create your graph.)

You can do a ton of great coaching from a chart like this… “What’d you do to go from a low to a high?” “What happened when you came down from your peak career experience?” Etc.

What is a peak work experience?

That’s a great question.

So, I love Robert Sternberg’s “Theory of Consummate Love” and in his theory a peak relationship contains Intimacy+Passion+Commitment. Or more simply said, “We like each other, we’re lit up by each other, and we’re totally committed to the relationship.” Visually it looks like this,

I think a peak work experience looks similar…

A peak work experience would consist of flow, great compensation, and meaningful contribution.

Flow

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work identified six factors of flow:

  1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. Merging of action and awareness
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. A distortion of temporal experience
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as a autotelic experience

Compensation

Formal: Salary Bonus Structure, Stock Options, Medical, Dental, Disability Insurance, Life Insurance, Retirement Plans, Paid Time Off, Paid Parking, Travel Reimbursement, Gym Membership, Employee Assistance Programs, Relocation Expenses, Tuition Reimbursement , a Company Car…

Informal: Positive Working Environment, Prestige, Career Advancement, Professional Development, Competency Training, Meaningfulness, Challenge, Variety, Personal Growth, Friendships, Sense of Accomplishment, Sense of Belonging, Interesting Travel…

Contribution

Contribution consists of…

  1. Knowing your signature strengths
  2. The use of these strengths to belong to and contribute to something larger than yourself
  3. Contributing to a positive organization or institution

It is possible, as the diagram shows above, to have just one or two of the three key components of a peak work experience. It’s only when all three come together in one position that you’d have a peak work experience.

Robert Sternberg states that “Consummate Love” is often a temporary condition, not a victory condition, and that even in the best of relationships it’s not 24/7 year after year. I believe the same to be true with peak work experiences. It won’t be awesome 24/7 year after year but there will be long periods where you have flow, great compensation, and meaningful contribution all at the same time.

There can be many peaks in a career and maybe only when that career is over can you truly evaluate and state which position was the ultimate experience. It’s possible that your 9 would be someone else’s 5, as we value different things than others do, and it’s also possible what we once considered a valley or peak might change in retrospect.

Two things to consider…

  1. Flow versus Presence — If you hang out with any Buddhist long enough, you get the importance of being present in the moment. In Boulder it’s called consciousness. Many in Boulder are trying to raise their vibrations and level of consciousness. (I often refer to Boulder as the “Cult of Consciousness” tribe.) But if you study the concept of Flow, as its understood in the psychology of happiness, then you’ve got a conflict: as Flow is not about being in the moment. The zone, I’d argue, is a very different way of being than in being Present. In fact, sportscasters used to refer to being in the zone as being “unconscious.” Maybe these two concepts align at some point but to my mind and experience they are very different experiences. Both are valuable but Flow is where time, minor aches and pains, concerns, desires… all slip away into an intense focus on work.
  2. Success versus Failure — If I’m correct that peak work experiences are made up of Flow, Compensation and Connection then maybe we start to think about failure and success differently. Both more readily identified and easy to measure.

What do you think?

Are peak work experiences important to identify? Do I have the right points of the triangle? If you look at your own peaks and valleys can you see what was missing or what was present?

Let me know, love to hear from you.


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