Implications for treatment
What then can the analyst help to potentiate in the analysand so that he is willing and able to embrace without reserve an outlook and behavior that allows him to experience his work as a calling? As I have emphasized, work experienced as a job (or even a career) feels like being obligated to do something for a paycheck, while work experienced as a calling feels like being graced to do something that can make a positive difference (i.e., it reflects one’s core beliefs and values).While this is a complex and challenging question that in part involves the murky issue of choosing the “right” career in the first place (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”), a subject I have dealt with elsewhere and is beyond the scope of this chapter (Marcus, 2017), I want to mention a few aspects of the aforementioned outlook and behavior that is correlated with experiencing work as a calling, a constituent aspect of a flourishing life. For if the analysand (with the analyst’s help) can discern what it is in his mode of comportment to work that needs to be actualized (and impedes him), he has a better chance of potentiating in his everyday work its spiritually animated dialogical potential as conceived by Buber and Marcel.
According to researchers Hagmaier and Abele (2014), a persons job can be aptly described as a calling if it has three specific elements: 1) a sense of a perfect or near-perfect “fit” between the persons skills and interests and the demands of the job; 2) a sense of meaning/purpose and altruism (i.e., prosocial behavior) in the work; and 3) the sense of a life- and identity-affirming transcendent animating/shepherding force (e.g., suggesting Marcel’s previously mentioned “spiritual reality” and “illumination” and Bubers “eternal values”). The researchers reported (based on respondents’ self-reporting) that people with a calling described having a greater sense of engagement with their work, in addition to a higher sense of self-congruence, that is, the perception that their “real” self is in accordance with their view of their “ideal” self.The respondents also reported more life satisfaction or happiness. Other vocational psychologists have similarly noted that those who view their work as a calling had three critical elements: 1) an “action orientation,” that is, a more assertive-like “doing” mode versus a more passive-like “being” one; 2) “a sense of clarity of purpose, direction, meaning, and personal mission”; and 3) a “personal intention,” or what calls to mind the notion of agency, a wish to fashion the world into an improved place (Compton & Hoffman, 2020, p. 250).
Following Marcel (and in many ways Buber), I have suggested that creativity, conceived as “creative testimony” especially but not only in the ethical realm, is the dimension of the spirit from which one is most likely to experience the “exigency of transcendence,” including in the workplace. Experiences of radical self-overcoming, self-mastery, and self-transformation of the “renewal of being” emanate from genuine experiences of intersubjectivity (i.e., dialogical partnership), ultra-meaningful relational experiences that point to the “eternal and absolute thou [God] that is the heart of all communion” (Gallagher, 1962, p. 95)—that is, communion as the emotional and spiritual closeness that is evoked in any relationship characterized by other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving forms of fellowship. In more straightforward psychological terms, I am referring to the important role of the previously described emotional creativity in generating the psychological and moral conditions for entering into the dimension of the spirit that tends to potentiate the experience of a for-the-other transcendence. By way of concluding this chapter, I want to briefly suggest a few ways that emotional creativity, the spiritualizing of passions, is an important precursor, if not psychological prerequisite, for the experience of Marcelian- (and to a large extent Buberian-) conceived transcendence or for flourishing in the workplace.
Emotional creativity, as I use the term,10 refers to the human capacity for using one’s emotions, both positive and negative, to fashion more aesthetically pleasing, meaningful, coherent, and inspired contexts for inventive everyday living. Emotional creativity—for example, transforming one’s anger, grief, or sexual desire into something original, imaginative, and life-affirming, such as assertiveness, joy, and love—is a form of sublimation that psychoanalysts have aptly described. As Averill points out, for emotions to be conceived as creative products, they must express three interrelated qualities: 1) they must be novel, something new, or different; 2) they must be effective and have a desired or intended result; and 3) they must be authentic and animated by one’s dearly held beliefs and values (2009, pp. 251—253). Needless to say, there are a wide range of individual differences to emotional creativity—from those who suffer from alexithymia (extreme difficulty in feeling, describing, and expressing emotions, like the Holocaust survivor in the novel 77ic Pawnbroker) or from inhibitions and other forms of neurosis, to those capable of expressing and actualizing deep and wide love (think of the great writer/poet Goethe, who was also a humane person in his everyday life). Likewise, there are a wide range of individual differences in terms of the childhood experiences and developmental influences that account for a particular persons capacity for emotional creativity. Indeed, the question whether there are patterns of emotions experienced by most creative individuals, and understanding exactly how such people apply and transform varied emotional experiences to facilitate creativity, is a widely researched but still debated one.
Indeed, both Marcel and Buber point to the disadvantages of misplaced emotion and, in particular, to the inordinately narcissistically driven subjectivity that is its underpinning. Instead, they advocate cultivating a different outlook, a way of being in which one sees and respects things as they are, as “thou,” without the undue interference of our narcissistically driven strivings. By “thou,” Marcel means “that which I can invoke rather than that which I judge to be able to answer me” (1952, p. 200); and for Buber, “The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being” to the radically other (1958, p. 3). It is from this psychological and existential context that one is better able to engage in “creative testimony,” in other words, to recognize, honor, and serve the other and the otherness of life, in love, faith, and hope, the very basis and expression of felt and lived transcendence. As Marcel noted, “The term transcendence taken in its full metaphysical sense seems essentially to denote an otherness, and even an absolute otherness” (2001a, p. 48). And for Buber, transcendence only occurs in dialogical meeting between an I and Thou, which is incapable of being described. Most importantly, following Marcel and Buber, I have argued that creation as we have been discussing it, as “creative testimony,” does not inevitably refer to something external to the person; it is not mainly to produce an object like a work of art. What Marcel and Buber are affirming is that a most worthwhile goal for each of us, including the analysand, is to be a creator, to bear witness to a creation, especially through our “for the other” relationships, what is called prosocial motivation in vocational psychology and “generative altruism” in psychoanalytic theory. Generative altruism “is the ability to experience conflict-free pleasure in fostering the success and/ or pleasure of another” (Seelig & Kosof, 2001, p. 947). Such people, few as they may be, observes Marcel, stand out “by the radiance of charity and love shining from their being.” It is through their numinous and creative presence that they add a most “positive contribution to the invisible work which gives the human adventure the only meaning which can justify it” (2001a, p. 48). Put differently, to the extent that psychoanalysis can potentiate in the analysand the will and ability to engage his work as a sacred activity—one that points to “something more,” “something higher,” and “something better” and that requires an other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving outlook and behavior—the chances of his experiencing work as a calling are greatly enhanced. Such a person is quite likely to feel the lived reality of dwelling in a different dimension of being, the realm of the spirit, where receptivity, emotional attunement, and dialogue are what matter most.