The smells of sunscreen, ice cream, and sweaty beach-bound people are filling our nostrils. It can only mean one thing: summertime is upon us. Many people take the opportunity to take a, undoubtedly well-deserved, break from their daily business. My own break is pretty short this summer, but my flexible approach to work, means I can write this blog post while catching a few rays, sitting on the beautiful city walls of the town of Maastricht, making it feel pretty much like down-time, anyway.
“…fundamental inspiration and ethical awareness might get lost when society is engaged in a constant rat race to get the maximum out of every second…”
For me, this kind of down-time is the ideal time reflect on life, work, and the meaning of it all. This summer, my thoughts are increasingly shaped by the latest book by Dutch novelist and philosopher Joke J. Hermsen. She has titled her book Kairos, after the Classical Greek god of weighing your options carefully and grasping the right moment. Her main argument is that fundamental inspiration and ethical awareness might get lost when society is engaged in a constant rat race to get the maximum out of every second. Taking more down-time will allow us to weigh our options more carefully and take better, more ethical, and more timely decisions, leading to more control over our lives and not having to live in a constant state of rush.
In my own workplace, I can see her arguments unfold in front of my very eyes. Most of my older colleagues are gen X’ers who made their professional break during the economic boom of the mid-90’s. They still adhere to the “work hard, play hard” ethic that was prevalent during that era and they keep their lives under rigid planning to keep every minute of the day filled to “live to the max”. Over the last few weeks, a few of them have returned from summer breaks a bit more reflective than normal, possibly in reaction to the horrible plane crash in the Ukraine that has left a deep mark on Dutch society and confronted many with the fact of how fragile life can be if you are at the wrong place at the wrong time. However, a mere two weeks later, deadlines have appeared on the horizon and business is back to usual as agendas fill up and old habits play up.
It constantly strikes me how different the attitudes are of the millennials working at my company. Working hard seems less of a priority than doing the right thing. An attitude shift that I also encounter when talking to my friends. Many of the millennials around me seem more than willing to engage in wishful thinking about what the future should look like. Quite a few of them have managed to grasp the moment and have turned their ponderings about the future into concrete projects, ranging from instigating change within their companies to starting their own socially responsible businesses or even starting a transatlantic movement of social awareness, like the founders of leadarise did.
All this makes me pretty hopeful that the generation of millennials storming the labour market will have a profound impact on how business is conducted in the world. It makes me hopeful that we can shift from squeezing every lemon dry, to taking a step back and determining whether it was a good idea to plant a lemon tree in the first place. There are still challenges ahead, however. The constant blips and beeps of our social media feeds are an alluring distraction from deeper thoughts and the vast pool of unemployed and underemployed young people have strengthened some archaic-thinking entrepreneurs in their “for every one of you there are twenty-five others, so shape up or ship out” attitudes. Still, I advise everybody to wind down from time to time, dare to daydream, and chase big ideas. It will help you to prepare you for that moment you will get the opportunity to take a great leap forward. Where and when that will be, you never know, but it will definitely come at the right place and the right time. May Kairos be with you.