The following is an excerpt from my new book, Clueless at The Work: Advice from a Corporate Tyrant, which is now available for purchase at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. (Kindle & audiobook versions coming soon!) Published by Stairway Press.
The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits. — G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Have you ever met a happy, joyful person who celebrated their lack of knowledge or understanding? Someone so thrilled at knowing nothing that they cannot resist sharing it with the world?
Of course not.
We celebrate achievements and meaning. Heck, even a birthday is a celebration of life and living another year. Given that a majority of humanity is dead (about 100 billion) and we (about 8 billion) are privileged to be alive, we absolutely should celebrate.
We also celebrate graduations, religious ceremonies, marriages, pregnancies, victories, completed projects, and more. We don’t celebrate losses, deaths, getting fat, breakups, or failures unless we can find a way to spin those situations into positives. We celebrate because we’ve endured. We’ve learned something. We’ve crossed the finish line. We’ve brought new life into the world. While we can celebrate the problems we don’t have, we will never celebrate the knowledge we don’t have. Throwing an “I don’t have cancer” party is not quite the same as an “I’ve never read The Brothers Karamazov” party.
The word “clueless” has an interesting connotation. No one wants to be clueless, yet we cannot know everything. The more we learn, the more we realize there is to know and how clueless we were in the first place. The more we learn through the joy of learning, the more we want to continue learning.
Genius is rare, knowledge is infinite, and “ignorance is bliss.” So, what do we pursue? Knowledge or cluelessness?
Some pursue cluelessness and believe their lives are better for it. They don’t realize they are sacrificing joy, fulfillment, potential, and a whole host of other wonderful benefits of living a full life. Meaningful knowledge — the antidote to cluelessness — can only come from joy. When we find joy by living a life highly aligned with our values, we can apply it everywhere. We bring joy into relationships through knowing others and developing trust. We bring joy into our hobbies through practice, discipline, achievement, and expression. We bring joy into our work through showing up, being awesome, demonstrating expertise, and navigating through and around problems.
It is impossible to find lasting joy through cluelessness. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi outlined the conditions to experience flow, also known as “being in the zone.” In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, he states:
The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
So, what are these conditions and how can we maximize our chances of finding flow across all of our life? Here’s how I describe them:
- You know what to do.
- You know how to do it.
- You know how well you’re doing.
- You know where to go and how to navigate.
- You perceive challenge in the work.
- You sense your skills are high enough to beat the challenge.
- You are free from distraction.
Can a clueless person achieve any of the above? Can clueless people stretch their minds to the limit in a voluntary effort to do something difficult and worthwhile?
Of course not.
Clueless people choose to violate the very conditions that could otherwise offer the best moments of their lives. Csikszentmihalyi calls people who enter flow “autotelic,” which is derived from a Greek word meaning “having a purpose in and not apart from itself.” He says, “An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding.”
I don’t know about you, but my heroes are people who know what to do, know how to do it, know they’re good at it, know how to navigate their work, challenge themselves, practice to develop the skills they need, and are focused on their work.
What about your heroes?
Do you think your heroes spend a majority of their time watching entertainment? Scrolling social media? Living a life of regret?
The cost of cluelessness is a life not well lived. I don’t want to look back on my life with remorse over the choices I should have made, the people I could have known better, and the experiences I might have had if I was more intentional. If you’re reading these pages, then you probably want to get the most out of your life. You want to find fulfillment in your work and your relationships. You want to look back and say, “I can’t believe I did that.”
This book aims to give you enough feedback, advice, and reference material to make that happen. I’ll leave you with the testimonial of a person who went through this framework: “I feel like I’ve been given the cheat codes to life.”
Learn more at CluelessAtTheWork.com.