Anna Miller-Tiedeman and David Tiedeman
The Risk for Midlife Shock: How chaos science and positive psychology can help
This interview represents Anna Miller-Tiedeman’s world view. She would be the first to say that many exceptions exist around all possible comments, which means how you see any one thing depends on your background, values, beliefs, and a host of other things. This takes us to the new science: it’s all perception. Second, chaos theory and positive psychology are fields of study, not techniques. However, value rests in knowing about these two fields of study in order to make the application that seems appropriate. But that means knowing both theories fairly well, which suggests reading and study. This interview will define Chaos Theory in its simple form, give a brief synopsis of how the culture managed to place work in the crosshairs, and point a possible way forward.
Anna Miller-Tiedeman, Ph.D., is director of The New Careering Institute, Inc., in Huntington, WV, and author of How NOT to Make It…And Succeed: Life on Your Own Terms; Lifecareer: How It Can Benefit You; Lifecareer: The Quantum Leap into a Process Theory of Career; Learning, Practicing, Living the New Careering; and the forthcoming book The David and Anna Connection: A Story of the Appointment, the Love, the Accomplishment, and the Legacy. Miller-Tiedeman lives in Huntington, WV, Her electronic information:firstname.lastname@example.org, www.life-is-career.com.
We live in very tumultuous times. Many people in the U.S. seem to be in overwhelm. What can we do about that?
How can chaos science and positive psychology help mid-life shock?
My first suggestion would be to at least browse the Internet and read about both fields of study, because it is difficult to incorporate anything into your practice that you don’t understand. Once an understanding is gained, if the presenting problem is about finding work again, you can handle those concerns, but toward the end of the session, find a way to connect the unemployment problem to the line faults (chaos points) in the culture that shattered the work pattern we had become so accustomed to in the 20th Century.
What is your understanding of Chaos Theory?
I like to think about Chaos Theory as a double-decker phenomenon; that is, there are events that set chaos in motion and then there are systems that exhaust themselves and fall into chaos. In other words, the system gets stressed beyond what it can tolerate. When that happens, systems get thrown into disorder, mayhem, disarray or confusion. It’s like an automobile tire that gets worn and imbedded with a nail or two but continues to run until one day a tiny pebble causes it to blow. That’s a chaos moment.
In general, chaos continues to oscillate, searching for order. You could think of order and chaos as intimate partners. On one hand, chaos is always seducing order to fall toward it; and on the other hand, chaos is continually seeking order. In other words, all systems have the potential to fall into chaos and work themselves back to approximate order. (Gleick, 1988)
Can you name some primary chaos points in the culture?
There are at least two ways to initiate chaos and destabilize the system. One is by a new invention, like the automobile, and the other is within ordinary systems. For our purposes here, two different events set up major chaos in the employment arena: (1) the development of fiber optics in the 1970s which came into full use in 1996 when American communication firms installed fiber-optic cables across the Atlantic and a Pacific cable entered service in 19961, and (2) the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed December 17, 1992, and placed in force January 1, 1994, not to mention the smart technology revolution and the continuing robotic development.
Let me stop here and introduce the Butterfly Effect 2, one of chaos theory’s fundamental principles, named for the assertion that a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo can impact weather patterns in Chicago. This suggests that what may appear as insignificant changes to small parts of a system can have exponentially larger effects on that system.
Applying the Butterfly Effect to both fiber-optics and NAFTA, each shook the occupational structure in different ways, but had and continues to have major impact on employment, even though on the surface they might not appear related. Small glass strands (fiber optics) and a signature (NAFTA) effectively placed employment in the crosshairs.
Fast transmission of information worldwide dove-tailed with the passing of NAFTA and corporations were on the fast-track out of the United States. Not much was made of this exodus, except that the newspapers were reporting almost daily the lay-off of thousands of workers. It was described mainly as moving the base of operation to another country. In some cases, employees were only given 30 days notice. It didn’t take reading too many newspaper articles for me to understand that the number of plant closings and job losses wasn’t going to be reversed. This pattern was a runaway train and few took notice. No attempt was made to educate the public about this major shift. The rhetoric was that the market would correct itself and all would eventually be well. Thus the general public remained somewhat in the dark about the shift.
Looking at this from the standpoint of the Quantum Physics Principle of Complementarity, when you focus on one thing you miss others, it follows that business is about directing public attention to products they want to sell; they don’t usually assume the role of delivering pink slip news to their employees. Savvy employees could have discerned a major rumbling in the occupational structure if they had noticed all the news accounts of major layoffs and movement out of the country. That is exactly how I started to see the pattern. After reading multiple articles about the movement of corporations worldwide, in 1983 I wrote an article entitled, “The Changing Face of Work,” in which I said:
We are all living in a different world than the one we grew up in. We can no longer afford to take our cues from the past or from the experiences of someone else, because for the most part their experiences are rooted in the Industrial rules which are different from those of the post-industrial time we are now a part of. For example, occupational pathways are now more difficult to discern. Change has rearranged everything and blurred the livelihood-making pathways for both what we do and how we do it. A pattern for livelihood-making has almost disappeared.
However, this article didn’t raise any eyebrows or garner much attention.
Say a little more about work pattern.
Well, let me quote another paragraph from “The Changing Face of Work:”
During the Agricultural Era, we had about 3,000 years to see this pattern for livelihood develop. That is, parents passed down their successes and failures to their children, and the children could depend on their own experiences as not being too much different. This also remained somewhat true in the succeeding years of the industrial period, which lasted for about 300 years, thus giving enough time to see the pattern in livelihood-making develop. However, Toffler, in his book The Third Wave (Toffler, 1980), suggests that the post-industrial period we are now living in may not last more than a few decades. This, then, may not be long enough for an intergenerational pattern to be established. (Miller-Tiedeman, 1983)
Now fast forward to 2010 and you find the former work pattern not in decline, but it has largely vanished. That offers another layer of stress. Here’s one example of change from Tom Friedman’s book, The World is Flat (Friedman, 2007). Some McDonald’s establishments in the Midwest are using Pakistani workers to electronically take orders from customers at the drive-in window and flash the information back. The customer then picks up the food with no or little awareness that someone in another country is now working the former $7 an hour window jobs vacated by an American. This has impact on the local community and the country at large because no tax is being paid, since the worker does not live in the United States. That’s just one example. Notice this answer may not sound like it relates to the topic, but it does. Think about it as the Butterfly Effect, mentioned above, that seemingly small changes can effect large changes in a system. Without world-around communications, flashing orders across the world would not be possible. Those tiny glass strands (fiber optic) kick up a lot of unemployment dust.
How can individuals be helped with the resulting unemployment?
I would start with sitting down and thinking about budget and lifestyle to determine the best use of the money available. In my work, the phrase is ALL ROADS LEAD TO MONEY, not in the sense of greed, but in having emergency money for that surprise layoff. I would also encourage individuals to think of something they could start that might generate extra money, some kind of entrepreneurial activity. This is different for all of us. What you can do and what you feel drawn to may not be the same. Hence, we each have to figure it out for ourselves. In addition, you have to spend money (again the need for money) in order to buy experiences to try out. After several tries, you’ll have information that will lead you to something else.
What else can counselors do?
They can start working with groups of people and individuals using what I’ll call, a “pretend scenario.” Let’s imagine you woke up tomorrow and discovered your company was moving to France. You worked for that company for 20 years, and now you are 55 years old, with a mortgage, a car payment, and three children. What would you do? “The first answer would probably be, freak out, because you hold a paradigm that things will remain as they are. Oh, sure you hear people from time to time talk about losing a job, you see where AT&T lays off 5,000 employees, but that’s not your company, so you continue to go on your merry way living month to month without a Plan B. It’s the American way.
Now the problem with counselors working with groups is that people don’t usually want to pay for it. This is where you might go to the community businesses and ask them to support a one-day experience. But you say, “I don’t like to ask for money.” Well, there should be at least one person in the group that can work the room, so to speak. If not, ask a staff member in the development department in your local university, or ask a businessman to do it for you. They are usually good at that and would love to help out.
Here’s another idea: If you’re working with people on money management, then the investment manager at your local bank would most likely love to partner with you. They even have conference rooms they might let you use.
We just have to change our minds about how we work and then reach out for partners. Lewis Thomas has a wonderful quote that goes something like this:
The urge to form partnerships, to link up in collaborative arrangements, is perhaps the oldest, strongest and most fundamental force in nature. There are no solitary, free- living creatures; every form of life is dependent on other forms. The great successes in evolution, the mutants who have, so to speak, made it, have done so by fitting in with, and sustaining, the rest of life. Up to now we might be counted among the brilliant successes, but flashy and perhaps unstable. We should go warily into the future, looking for ways to be more useful, listening more carefully for signals, watching our step and having an eye out for partners.
-- Lewis Thomas, The Key Reporter (Thomas, 1980)
How do you get people’s attention?
Offer to pay their tuition. That’s tried and tested way to fill a room. Then advertise your message on the local radio stations. Hammer away at the message as frequently as possible. That’s what advertisers do. They don’t run just one ad; they keep it up and pay millions, if not billions of dollars, to make a track into the customer’s psyche. Educators don’t have that kind of money, so it is very difficult for them to get their message out.
Should counselors care about science?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I read The Dancing Wu Li Masters (Zukav, 1979), I was hooked, so it depends on where you are, your experience, your destiny, and many other factors. I’m certain I made the link between Quantum Physics and its use in life direction because I was born with a cognitive patterning mechanism that throws unlikely ideas together and offers feedback from the future. My mother has that same gift. Here’s how it worked for both of us in real estate. We could look at the worst of houses and visualize how they would look remodeled. Not many individuals looking to buy a house have that kind of foresight. That’s one reason a few people make a living helping sellers gingerbread (fix up for eye appeal) their homes. A good entrepreneurial idea for someone talented in organization and design. Well, here I am on an off ramp wondering how to get back on the main highway of our interview. This reminds me of the Lewis Thomas notion that the wonderful part about language is that it keeps you from sticking to the point.
What books would you recommend?
First, reading isn’t like our smart technology; it takes time but it has potential great rewards in practice, in consulting, and even in your main-line work. So here’s my list:
Suze Orman’s books on money management. Her site www.suzeorman.com
The End of Work (Rifkin, 1995)
The World Is Flat (Friedman 2007)
The Aquarian Conspiracy (Ferguson, 1980)
The Universe is a Green Dragon (Swimme, 1984)
All these books can most likely be purchased el cheapo at www.amazon.com.
Ferguson, M. (1980). The Aquarian Conspiracy. Los Angeles: Tarcher.
Friedman, T. (2007). The World is Flat. London: Pan Macmilllan.
Gleick, J. (1988). Chaos: Making a new science. New York: Penguin Group.
Miller-Tiedeman, A. (1983). The changing face of work (Insert in the Individual Career Exploration (ICE) Survey). Bensenville, IL: Scholastic Testing Service.
Rifkin, J. (1995). The End of Work. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.
Swimme, B. (1984). The Universe is a Green Dragon. Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company.
Thoms, L. (1980, Autumn). Attitude of nature. The Key Reporter .
Toffler, A. (1980). The Third Wave. New York: Bantam Books.
Zukav, G. (1979). The Dancing Wu Li Masters. New York: William Morrow.