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Scott Fitzgerald's definition of an artist was someone who is capable of holding two conflicting positions at the same time, whilst continuing to function effectively.
Over the past decade, we have had lots of fun, got married, had lots more fun, had two great careers, had a daughter, had twin boys, and felt very deeply privileged, extremely lucky, and blessed.
Then we had an annus horribilis.
The death of William's* father was both sudden and tragic. The career side of things became comical bordering on farce. The kids were all essentially fine throughout, but winters in Brussels can be long, cold and dark, and when you have a 3-year-old and two 1-year-olds and everyone is ill all at the same time, and when both of you are really supposed to be in parallel meetings in two separate countries (neither of them the one in which you live) then something has to give. It did.
We both like to think that we have an artistic side, but even invoking Scott Fitzgerald proved to be woefully insufficient as it turned out. Enough Schadenfreude (for now), however. This book is not about what happened, but what we think we have learned along the way.
Because whilst many, if not most, people in the world have much more serious things to worry about on a daily basis (and we know that we are very lucky indeed), we are pretty sure that we are not the only household on the planet that is trying to juggle family responsibilities, corporate realities and the wish not to forget how to have fun.
So this is mainly a book about corporate leadership and its discontents, but not because we hold any grudge against either of our employers. We don't. Really. Both organisations were outstanding in the circumstances when things got tough.
But because in life, sadly, grandparents die, children get ill and parents get exhausted, or at least very tired. And they always will. These are immutable facts of life in times past, time present and time future. We might wish we could change them, but we can't.
The way that the world of work is organised, on the other hand, and the "narratives" that people live out - and maybe even, just occasionally, cling to - about "success", "leadership", "effectiveness" and all the rest can be changed. At least in theory.
We don't claim to know all, or quite possibly any, of the solutions, but this book is the sort of manual that might help you to apply the karmic brakes slightly earlier than we did. We hope, more than anything, that you enjoy it.
Modern corporate and political life is harsh. Few people like to admit it, but it's true. The signs are everywhere, from Barack Obama's grey hairs to David Cameron's bald spot.
The ultimate reason for this is the seemingly limitless human capacity for envy. While we may admire great leaders from Winston Churchill to Steve Jobs, we all know in our hearts that they had to climb greasy poles and deal on a daily basis with the seething resentment of their peers before ascending to the peak of invincibility in their respective fields, at least for as long as it lasted.
Now there exist a few people for whom this is nothing but an unalloyed delight. It may just be the case that Donald Trump, whatever his follicle situation, genuinely thrives on inculcating fear in others and worries not one iota about the grievances and antipathy that he creates along the way.
But most of us are not like this. And wisely so. For whilst talented people always will and indeed should strive to rise up the pecking order in organisations, few of them will have failed to notice the strains that corporate and political leadership places upon those at the pinnacle. Or to put it another way, why is it that in Game of Thrones the advisors generally seem to outlive the rulers?
Bookshops and Kindle stores are full of treatises on corporate leadership, both how to attain it and how to practice it once obtained. We humbly recommend these titles to aspiring Donald Trumps.
This book attempts something more subtle: to put on paper the sum total of more than forty years of corporate and government experience in the interests of assisting those who wish to be citizens as well as corporate citizens. That is to say, to have a career but also to have time for a life beyond.
Not by doing anything radical. You can keep the iPhone and video conference to your heart's content. You might want to think twice, however, about getting a reputation for always replying immediately to your bosses, or for delivering quantity rather than quality.
The early 21st century is dripping with information. Most of us are constantly drowning in it. Anyone seeking to exert domination or total control over the flows of data that represent our modern corporate lives will ultimately fail. But it is fun watching The Donald try, and we wouldn't want to you miss out on that either.
If, however, you aspire to getting the best out of both your career and your life, then this book is here to help you give it a try – and hey, even if it doesn't work out, pretty much the worst that can happen is that you'll smile a bit more often whilst staring at your screen.
How the book is organised
Charlie Parker, the great jazz saxophonist, was once asked how he could play with such virtuoso improvisation. His reply: "First you have to learn the rules, then you have to learn how to forget them".
Well, life doesn't get much better than listening to Charlie Parker, so we are going to try to follow his advice. The book is therefore divided into four musically-themed sections.
The first section, "A Prelude to Karma" introduces the main ideas and concepts that we develop later in the book.
The second section, "Classicial Karma" gives you the techniques that we hope can help you to find a better balance between work, life and changing nappies (or similar).
The third section, "Jungle Boogie" goes off-piste and outside of the office to tackle those all-important coffees, lunches, cocktail receptions and – if you can stomach them – dinner parties.
And the final section, "Futuristic Karmic Jazz" tells you how we think things could become just that little bit more karmic in the future.
- A Prelude to Karma -
1. Cracking ego (in secret)
All politics is local and so it is with corporate life. If you want to enjoy the privileges that come with insightful corporate living, you'll need to do a bit of work on yourself. This means getting to grips with your ambition. Not killing or choking it, just managing it.
Bosses hate this for one simple reason. The nakedly ambitious are among the easiest of office types to manipulate, by which read get to do more work for the same recompense. The core of this is pride – a recurrent theme of this book.
Our favourite example is "young man syndrome" or – for those with younger children and/ or longer memories – "Scrappy-Doo syndrome". If you need a reminder, Scrappy-Doo, nephew of the more insouciant Scooby, was the cartoon dog with the catch-phrase "Let me at 'em Uncle Scoob" whenever he was confronted with injustice or wrong-doing.
His enthusiasm wasn't the issue, nor indeed were his undoubted crime-fighting skills. The problem was that he had to have them permanently on display in the hope of getting a pat on the head. Psychoanalytically, it is perhaps not surprising that Scrappy's father seems not to have been around for much of his life. But that is for another book.
Back in the real world, we know many outwardly successful Scrappy-Doos fighting crime (mainly metaphorically, but in some cases literally) in corporate hierarchies the world over. They work hard all of the time, battle for everything, and then wag their little tails whenever Uncle, or Auntie, Scooby gives them a cookie. And bosses love them for it. Note also that scrappies may be bright and capable, but this is certainly not a requirement for moderately – in some cases hugely - successful Scrappy-hood, however exhausting it may be.
The karmic corporate employee must learn to smile inwardly at these cartoon antics. On one level they are childish, but they can also be a highly effective route to advancement under the protective wing, or paw, of Auntie Scoob. So we immediately come to a second central theme of this book: envy.
Now taking pride in one's work is a great thing, and without a bit of envy to go with it, many of us might start to question the value of getting up in the morning. At the very least, sales of higher-end personal grooming products would surely plummet.
But when 50- or 60-hour work weeks are normal, with emails and texts into the evening, and Twitter to keep an eye on too, it is hard not to develop a resentful streak regarding the Scrappies, Scoobies and indeed anyone else who seems to be ascending the corporate ladder at a faster pace than oneself. This way madness lies.
From envy to action
So here are a couple of simple techniques for dealing with envy and resentment as you feel them starting to build. In our experience the trick is to act immediately to let the poison out, because festering jealousy is a bitter and bilious potion.
Tip 1 – Create an anger email address … and use it
You could set up email@example.com as the recipient address for your bile. But we are fairly sure that this one is already taken! Use your imagination, but the key point is that only you must have the password to this account! Once it's set up, you can safely fire off your feelings when the need arises, to be laughed at and deleted later on in the comfort of your own home with a glass of wine in hand.
As an additional safety measure for the cyber-paranoid, or if Scrappy happens to work in IT, you may need to permanently delete these emails from your office out-box after sending. But this is a detail that, in our experience, only mildly attenuates the soothing cathartic effect of releasing some pent up emotion into electronic oblivion.
Plus, think of all the problems you have avoided by not sending some ridiculous venting email directly to colleagues that you would only live to regret…
Tip 2 – Write it down so you don't have to say it
The snail mail equivalent comes into play if you are sitting in a meeting full of garrulous scrappies. They may not know what they are talking about, the objective of the meeting may not be clear, but that will not stop them from yapping. Yapping is, after all, the Scrappy way.
Even the most karmic corporate co-traveller can find these experiences tiring when repeated too often and in too similar a fashion. And it only takes a broken washing machine or a difficult morning school run to put you into just that place where you might break your Zen calm. This could lead to you doing something truly unwise, like speaking honestly and informing the room just how pointless this particular gathering is.
But out is better than in. Repression constipates. And constipation is not cool. If e-mailing in meetings is accepted in your organisation, you may need look no further than shooting off a rasping missive to "venomous.thoughts".
Alternatively, you can go old-school and simply write down your feelings on a sheet of paper. It will just look like you are taking a few notes. Plus you get the added pleasure of ripping the papers to shreds after your meeting has finished.
Tip 3 - There is no cure for pride and envy
Nor should there be. They are normal parts of the human psyche. The challenge for the karmic co-worker is simply to marshal these emotions in order to hit deadlines when needed and to generate some drive, rather than being ruled by them and pushed into full corporate prostration.
You'll only end up with a stomach ulcer.
The trickiest part of the art of self-ego management is that you can't flaunt it too publicly, and especially not to the chiefs. Even in the most enlightened organisations, managers need to generate ambition and purpose in their underlings: poking pride and envy inevitably become part of the policy mix.
Any whiff of sedition by not playing along with their game, however benign its intention, will certainly be picked up and quite possibly lead to a punishment of some sort. So be discreet.
To help you on your clandestine mission, Lucy Kellaway, the Financial Times columnist and one of the sources of inspiration for this book, developed the concept of the "office spouse" in one of her regular Monday articles on life in the modern corporate workplace.
The office spouse is a long-term office friend with whom you can exchange gossip, ideas and generally de-stress. But Lucy has worked in the same, relatively high-internal trust, newspaper environment for the last 25 years.
If, on the other hand, your working environment involves swimming with sharks on a daily basis, then we would err on the side of an extra private e-mail address and glass of wine once the kids are in bed.
You'll figure out what works best for you.
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"The ending gave the emotional satisfaction I look for in a great book"
And here are the full reviews from "Indie Book Reviewers"
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I really enjoyed and appreciated this book, “The Karmic Curve” by Mary I. William (the pseudonym for a husband/wife author team) and I’m glad I read it, as it was one of those books that genuinely makes you feel like a better, stronger, more enlightened and educated person for having done so. I thought it was excellently written with near flawless editing and pacing and formatting. It kept my attention from the intriguing opening to the satisfying and inspiring ending, and I liked how it is a mix of vignettes and “conversation-style’ dialogue, not just straight narrative and facts, which can be dry and boring. The authors do a great job of carefully developing the various concepts regarding work and home life so that we the readers are totally immersed in the points they make, and I like how they ask the questions or present ideas and then follow through with real life examples. This is a fabulous well researched and documented book that almost anyone can benefit from in some form or another. Was almost disappointed when I was done, but the ending gave the emotional satisfaction I look for in a great book, and is motivational as well. Recommend to fans of self-help/ inspirational books where you actually feel like you learned something useful that you can apply in your everyday life right now. I, for one, will be using the “anger email address” myself!! (5 stars)
This book was great. Once I started reading I didn’t want to stop until I’d finished the whole thing—It was all I could do though not to rush it. Although it’s a pretty short book (coming in at around 140 pages) this isn’t a ‘quick-easy read” by any stretch, but more like something you sink back with for a while and let it take over your soul. I enjoyed the authors’ narrative “voice” and style of writing. The various concepts were intelligent, well-developed and easy to relate to, and the various ‘true life’ angles and examples made it all the more applicable and easy to understand. I have to commend the authors on the way that they managed to tell not only a great story with a great, empowering message, but doing so in a way that felt so relatable to everyone, no matter where they come from- culturally or religiously or economically. EVERYONE could use tools for learning to find better success in the workplace and in their private life. Hats off for making such deep and profound observations about a wide range of things, supporting and demonstrating the precepts clearly, and presenting the whole thing in a highly readable and engaging manner. Chuckled a few times and agreed with several points and had more than one profound epiphany! Different from many books that I’ve read, and I really enjoyed it… Highly recommend to fans of self-improvement, motivational and communication books. (5 stars)
What I like about this book, “The Karmic Curve” is that it isn’t preachy, and the authors do not come across as some arrogant know-it-alls that so many of these types of books seem to attract. Instead they clearly and articulately explained in the form of a conversation with probing questions and insightful, profound answers that broadens our perspectives and makes us think. Not only is it very interesting to read and digest, but it is also very intelligently and coherently constructed in a way that truly engages the reader with thought-provoking questions and real life examples that further illustrates the points they are making. It’s not just abstract ideas, but real tips one can use right now. It is so easy to read, like really smart friends are talking to you and you just want to keep listening (this book is co-authored by a husband and wife who together have over 40 years corporate and government experience). Inspiring and relevant, I definitely recommend this book for anyone looking to make a positive change in their life.
I really liked the outline and overall construct of “The Karmic Curve" by Mary I. William. It was a practical read based on the authors’ own decades-long life and professional experiences, and helps people to understand some workplace issues better and hopefully help overcome challenges in life. I recommend it highly to anyone wanting to improve the value of their relationships and how they deal with stress and unhappiness and other emotional and communication barriers to finding success. It is a very engaging read because it’s not just lecturing or facts and figures, but relatable stories and interesting scenarios where the authors breaks down their points and uses them in real-world situations that we can all easily understand and apply. Thought the overall narrative was very well-written and was really engaging and helped to keep me interested throughout. Perfect editing and is fast paced - I read the whole thing in one evening, and it was as entertaining as it was informative. Great job! (5 stars)
I always go into books like this with a fair bit of skepticism, wondering truly if there will be any new, insightful information brought to the table that isn’t some gimmick, or worse— an insult to my intelligence and common sense. So as I started reading “The Karmic Curve” I was fully prepared to see the same red flags, set the book down and call it a night. (I never claimed to be an open-minded guy). So imagine my surprise as I started in with the reading and was struck by how real and informative and just honest it all seemed. The ideas presented here aren’t some vague or inapplicable notions, but something each of us can do… sometimes it just takes knowing that thinking a certain way can change so much of how you feel inside, no matter your situation. While I won’t claim that everything in this book was for me, I was impressed (to my surprise) with how down to earth and relevant it was. The information here will help many people if they listen to what the authors are saying. An excellent read that I recommend without hesitation. (4-5 stars)
After reading this book, “The Karmic Curve” I thought the best aspect of it was how the principles it teaches and the helpful tips and suggestions can benefit almost everyone on some level, one way or another, regardless of where they are in life or where they came from or what they do for a living. Clear and coherent chapters focus on different angles of handling job stress, problems, conflicts, and recognizing how to best assess our own situation and steps on how to change it for the better with strategies that are well defined and easy to follow. I thought the whole book was excellently written and quite inspiring, and I liked that it actually gives some solid solutions and tools that are easily managed, and that can make a huge difference in our lives. I was totally interested the whole way through and felt the whole thing from the formatting to the editing to the information was very professional and delivers a valuable message suitable for readers of almost any age. A great addition to the self-help genre. (5 stars)
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