Why You Need Multiple Ways of Seeing At Work

I’ve written before about how important it is to hold your metaphors loosely. This is especially important when you go into work. The metaphors you use to define your work and your workplace relationships will end up defining how see work and work relationships.

Consider your coworker relationships. Are your coworkers your team – like sports buddies? Your family? Comrades in arms? These are all “true” metaphors – but none of them are true in isolation and in all circumstances.

Is your work a mission? A paycheck? An adventure? I’d suggest you have to view work as all three if you want to have any kind of sustainable relationship with it. You need a sense of calling – a mission. You need gratified self-interest – wealth. And you need discovery/fun – adventure.

Finally, consider your relationship with your manager or boss. Most people relate to their bosses as masters, or leaders. And to an extent, that way of metaphorizing the relationship is accurate. “He who takes the king’s coin becomes the king’s man,” and your boss does write the checks.

But that’s not all your boss does, and that’s not all your boss should be to you. Your boss is also your coach – teaching you (sometimes through grueling training regimens) how to be a better worker. In another sense, your boss is also your customer. You are providing a service – your labor – which he considers worth buying.

All of these parallel (and sometimes paradoxical) metaphors balance each other out, and they provide a fuller picture of the kinds of relationships we have with our work and fellow workers.

This entrepreneurial metaphor is a necessary balance to the “master” metaphor in our relationships with our bosses. You should neither disrespect your superiors nor give away your dignity and mind to them. The “mission” metaphor balances out the narrower present-focus of the “paycheck” metaphor. And the “team” metaphor helps us to realize that coworkers are sometimes more like fellow athletes than unconditionally accepted family members.

There’s something to be said for this F. Scott Fitzgerald quote (just substitute “metaphors” for “ideas”)

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Intellectual Credit: Jordan Peterson has made some excellent observations about the necessity of balancing metaphors and the danger of totalizing them.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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