When most of us think of flow at work, we may think of charts, project plans and deadlines. But there is another kind of work flow that is incredibly important, especially for entrepreneurs.
Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized the concept of “flow” in the early 1990’s. According to his theory, flow manifests itself when a person’s natural skills align with the challenges they face.
When people operate outside of their flow, problems arise. For example, if an individual works in a highly challenging environment in which their natural skills are outclassed, they tend to experience terrible anxiety and stress.
Conversely, if an individual’s advanced skills are wasted in an industry that is neither interesting nor challenging, boredom and apathy quickly set in.
In the world of business, this situation occurs when an individual’s natural skills and proclivities are simply not a fit for the career they chose.
That’s why I believe that finding the right fit, both in terms of natural skills and interest, is the most important factor when it comes to success.
Finding your personal flow in the context of work can be incredibly challenging. Fortunately, there are a few key lessons I’ve learned over the years that can help you find your place in the workplace and reach your true potential.
Know your strengths and weaknesses
I began my career in consulting, because that’s what young business school graduates do. I wanted to do something more creative and entrepreneurial, but I was afraid to take on the risk at the time.
These were tough years for me, because no matter how hard I worked it just didn’t feel right. I tried so hard to conform to the ideal of what a hot shot consultant should be, even though I knew that wasn’t who I was. As a result, I was constantly anxious about my performance relative to my peers and stressed out over everything.
It was only when I took the time to be honest about who I really was that things started to improve. I grew to understand that my natural strengths were found at the intersection of finance and the humanities instead of analytics.
Once I began to see myself as someone with the soul of an artist trapped inside of a finance guy’s body, things started to make sense. I realized that I’d never be successful or happy as a consultant and that my ideal state of flow would be found elsewhere.
This ultimately sent me down the path of entrepreneurship and ultimately led to the founding of my company, BodeTree.
Don’t let yourself get too comfortable
Now, the thing about financial consulting is that it generally pays pretty well. The personal comfort that came along with the job that I hated was the one thing that gave me pause when it came time to quit.
I found that I could put up with a lot of short-term pain as long as I was well compensated. Of course, this was an utterly miserable way to live my life, but I’d be lying if I said that money wasn’t a consideration.
Ultimately, my desire to make a dent in the universe outweighed my desire for a comfortable lifestyle, but that isn’t the case for everyone.
For too many, the allure of comfort and the fear of financial hardship prevents them from ever making a positive change. My advice is to avoid getting too comfortable in a career that you know isn’t right for you. Once you pass the metaphorical point of no return, you’ve committed yourself to a path that is both stifling and unfulfilling.
Learn to take risks
I’ll never forget the day I told my wife that I wanted to quit my well-paying job and start a company called BodeTree. She was months away from giving birth to our first child and here I was, proposing to eliminate any semblance of stability we had in our lives.
Still, despite the risks we both knew it was the right thing to do, and she gave me her full support. I was lucky in that when the opportunity for me to find my flow presented itself, I had the ability and support to take advantage of it.
Many people aren’t able to make that sort of a jump, and as a result, miss out on opportunities when they present themselves.
Life is messy, difficult, and complicated. Nothing ever comes easy, and timing is rarely on your side. If you find yourself waiting for the perfect time or circumstances to make a change, you’ll never be able to move forward.
You have to get comfortable taking risks, both big and small if you want to find your perfect state of flow. This can be both scary and difficult, but risk and reward go hand in hand.
Finding your personal flow is important not just for finding success in your career, but happiness and balance in life.
Life is too short to live it in quiet desperation, so be honest with yourself, don’t get too comfortable, and learn to take risks. You’ll be happy that you did.