This Terrifying Psychology Experiment Made Me Realize Why I’ve Made All of My Career Decisions.

The one variable that determines whether or not you’re doing the right thing in life and in work… By Nick West
control7.jpg CONTROL control7.jpg

Think back to a transitory point in your career, or in school, when you decided, I no longer like this job, or I can’t stand my major. What goes into such disaffection? Candidly, I’ve never even thought about where my own change in attitude truly originated. I just felt it, and then acted.

Admittedly, this wasn’t the most cerebral way of navigating some of life’s most important decisions.

Since I graduated college, I’ve worked at three companies in about 10 different capacities.  Looking back on each individual decision, the book Stumbling on Happiness, made me realize the key variable that helped to sway my career action one way or another.  In helping you to understand your own psychological decisions, I’ve transcribed the terrifying study that author Daniel Gilbert cites in the first chapter of his bestselling book:

“Human beings come into the world with a passion for control. And research shows that if humans lose their ability to control at any point between their entrance and their exit, they become unhappy, helpless, hopeless, and depressed…and occasionally dead.  In one study, researchers gave elderly residents of a local nursing home, a houseplant. Half the residents were assigned the high control group, and these residents were told that they were in control of the plant’s care and feeding. The remaining residents were assigned the low control group and these residents were told that the staff person would take control for the plant’s well-being.  Six months later, 30% of the residents in the low control group HAD DIED. Compared to only 15% of the residents in the high control group.”

That is scary.  He elaborates,

“A follow up study confirmed the importance of perceived control for the welfare of nursing home residents. But, the experiment had an unexpected and unfortunate end. Researchers arranged for student volunteers to pay regular visits to nursing home residents. Residents in the high control group were allowed to control the time and duration of the student’s visit, and residents in the low control group were not.  After two months, residents in the high control group were happier, healthier, more active, and taking fewer medications than those in the low control group.  At this point, the researchers concluded their study and discontinued the student’s visits. Several months later, a disproportionate amount of residents that had been in the high control group had died. Only in retrospect did the cause of this tragedy seem clear. The residents who had been given control, and who had benefited from that control when they had it, had been inadvertently robbed of control when the study ended. Apparently gaining control can benefit one’s health and well-being, but losing control can be worse than having never had any at all.”

 My. God.

We’ve all heard the stories of the business legend who retires in his/her 80’s and dies just weeks after he ends his life’s work. Joe Paterno once told Brent Musburger that he was afraid he’d die if he ever walked away from football…. Legendary Alabama football coach, Bear Bryant, suffered a fatal heart attack just one month after retirement. The control is eliminated, and so we must wonder, does the will to live go with it as well?

In the past, I was in direct sales for an e-commerce company.  There were so many variables that I couldn’t control.  What territory would I be selling into?  Do I have the same amount of opportunity as the other sales consultants that I was indirectly competing with?  Are the purchasing behaviors in the south going to negatively affect my ability to be successful relative to those connecting with our northern counterparts? I loved the invaluable skills that I was learning in the sales process, but this loosening grip ultimately caused me to go in a different direction. (There were obviously other reasons, but this was a main determining factor)

Call it excuses, or call it whatever you want, but these were the exact thoughts that drove me to a feeling of lost control.

I didn’t want someone else’s game plan to determine the end score to my career.

It’s the same feeling that I believe many are having as we watch the legend of the rockstar entrepreneur become a growing infatuation in the developed world.  Look at these people.  They start their own companies. They control their own destinies.  How utterly terrifying, and admirable all at the same time.  Just this week, one of the most popular articles flying around the tech circles was entitled ‘Why I Left Google.’ 

The author, a six figure making Googler, writes after having an epiphany in Joshua Tree, California, “It was that moment that I realized I was truly free to do whatever I wanted in this world and it was completely up to me to make it happen.” She’s now developing her own startup company, Mend.

Freedom = control.

And so, some of us strive towards a quest for control.  If you didn’t like your major, maybe the mathematical foundation (or lackthereof) you had built didn’t allow you to feel control over the content in your dropped engineering major.  Or maybe, you didn’t put in the work to understand how you could gain control over the learning process at a particular job.

The biggest challenge is in deciding when to make a clean break, and when to further invest yourself in your current cause. Do we subscribe to the same theory that many people have on love? “You’ll know right away when you meet the person who you’ll be with for the rest of your life.” Then again, 50% of the time, that ends up being a crock of shit. So, as much as I’d love to offer up some great advice, I’d rather just leave you with a poignant quote, and have you re-read this to figure things out for yourself.

“Find something you love and let it kill you.”

It’s a lot better than letting something you hate kill you. Because either way, baby, we’re going down, down, down.

Highly Recommend Stumbling on Happiness…it’s in fact, not really about happiness.

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3 thoughts on “This Terrifying Psychology Experiment Made Me Realize Why I’ve Made All of My Career Decisions.

  1. Dude
    September 10, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Good try but this is essentially all the same old, same old self-help stuff. You’ve changed some phrases, and there’s little originality to your posts. I also suspect that your ego is playing a game with you, and this is really just self-promotion disguised as self-help. That’s sad, bro. Time to man up.

    1. Nick West
      September 10, 2013 at 10:36 am

      My first hater! Putting this one in the baby book. Thanks for reading anyway, it truly means a lot to me!

    2. Chick
      September 10, 2013 at 11:58 am

      Looks like somebody’s a little frustrated with the fact that all of that “same old self-help” stuff he’s so familiar with has yet to fix his low self-esteem and projection issues.

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