08/05/2010 01:39 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The 4.0 Career, "Harnicissism" and Becoming a Good Ancestor: New Pathways to Healthy Living

In my previous post I wrote that "forgetting yourself" is a key pathway to psychological health and resiliency in today's world. Here, I describe some ways to do that in three important realms of your life: your work, your personal relationships and your life "footprint."

I explained in the previous post that "forgetting yourself" doesn't mean neglecting your own legitimate needs or concerns. Rather, it means letting go of the human tendency to overly dwell on ourselves -- our own concerns, needs, desires, slights, complaints about others and so on. Psychological health and resiliency in today's world grows when you can do that and put your energies in the service of something larger than yourself: problems, needs and challenges that lie beyond your own personal, narrow self-interest.

That may sound like a paradox, but it's based on a new reality: Today's world is changing more rapidly than you can imagine and is becoming immensely interdependent, interconnected, unpredictable and unstable. In this new environment you can't create or sustain a positive, healthy life through the old ways of reactive resiliency, of trying to cope and hoping to rebound from setbacks or unpredictable events.

In fact, I think that chronic unhappiness, dysfunction and overt emotional disturbance lie in store for people who remain locked in to thinking too much about themselves; who use old solutions to achieve success in relationships and at work. For example: Trying to achieve power and domination over others and thinking you can hold on to that. Fearing collaboration and avoiding mutuality with people who are different from yourself, or with whom you have differences. Looking for ways to cope with stress and restore equilibrium or "balance" in your life, and overall, being absorbed by your own conflicts, disappointments and the like

The latter are inevitable, and dwelling on them is a breeding ground for resentment, jealousy and blame. That's a dead-end. The consequences are visible in people unable to handle career downturn, who experience mounting relationship conflicts and who suffer from a range of psychological problems like depression, boredom, stress, anxiety or self-undermining behavior.

In contrast, positive resiliency in today's environment is the byproduct of aiming towards common goals, purposes or missions that are larger than just your own narrow self-interests. That's what keeps you nimble, flexible, and adaptive to change and unpredictable events that are part of our new era.

That brings me to the title of this piece. The 4.0 Career, Practicing "Harnicissism;" and Becoming a Good Ancestor are three ways you can move through self-interest. Each describes a shift, or evolution from the older, reactive form of resilience to the new, proactive form. I know those descriptions sound odd. In future posts I hope to elaborate on each of them. But this overview will help stimulate your thinking about what they look like in everyday life.

Upgrade To Career 4.0

The most savvy men and women already know that today's workplace requires a high level of collaboration with very diverse people. You need to align your talents and skills with common objectives, whether a product or service. That means diminishing your ego in the service of teamwork towards that larger purpose -- while also constantly looking for opportunities for learning, growth and having impact. In essence, that's the 4.0 career upgrade.

To oversimplify for the sake of contrast, the 1.0 career describes doing whatever kind of work is necessary to survive. The 2.0 orientation is what most people think of as "careerism" -- aiming for increased personal power, authority and position within an organization. More recently, the rise of Career 3.0 over the last 20 years reflected a growing desire for more personal meaning and sense of purpose through work.

But today, the emerging 4.0 orientation transcends the largely self-focused 2.0 and 3.0 career. It's a shift away from self-promotion and purely personal ambitions -- whether for increasing authority and power, or for personal "happiness" -- and towards effective, creative contribution to goals larger than the purely personal. The 4.0 careerist looks for ways to have impact on something that matters, as he or she continues to learn and grow capacities and talents.

From the 4.0 perspective, you move through self-interest, not into it. You're tuned in to the larger picture, in which you're one player, while finding ways to make a positive contribution to the service or product. It includes being aware of how you're perceived by others, and scanning for ways to be collaborative rather than self-promoting at others' expense. As a CEO recently commented, "the definition of success is the company, not the individual."

Practice "Harnicissism"
Don't go looking it up, because there's no such word. I made it up to describe the second pathway. "Harnicissism" is shorthand for learning to harness your narcissism. I don't mean that everyone is narcissistic in the pathological sense. Most people have tendencies towards self-interest and self-absorption, and those are often reinforced and promoted by cultural norms and values. They impact and distort our romantic and sexual relationships, as I've written in another post here. Those same tendencies cripple effective interactions and relationships in general, and therefore will undermine positive resiliency and psychological health.

In fact, research shows that we're not innately narcissistic. So, a second pathway to health in today's world is stretching yourself towards mutuality and equality in relationships -- "power with" rather than "power over." With the perspective of "Harnicissism" you're aware that you're serving a larger purpose than just your own agenda: the "third entity," the relationship itself. It's that third entity that supports and strengthens your intimate relationship, that with your children, co-workers or groups that you're a member of.

The shift, here, is from primarily self-interest towards openness and mutuality in service of shared goals. For example, it's a shift away from maneuvering, dominating or subtly manipulating others to get your own needs and desires met at the expense of the other person -- or even, as is often the case -- at the expense of the relationship itself.

You can practice "Harnicissism" through transparent exposure and two-way openness, in contrast to transactional and commercial ways of relating; operating with a "return of investment" philosophy. In fact, research shows that more effective, productive relationships are forged through cooperation and mutual support rather than by power struggles. Those latter actions are fueled by both empathy and "indifference," as I described in previous posts.

Become A Good Ancestor
This third pathway refers to everyday actions that reflect a sense of responsibility for a healthy, sustainable planet -- for the benefit of your own life, your children, your community,\ and all humans around the globe. Others who come after you will live with the "footprint" you leave behind. That's why I call this becoming a "Good Ancestor."

Growing recognition of climate change, along with the impact of climate disasters like the Gulf oil eruption and increased political upheaval around the globe have raised awareness that everyone's well-being, security and future way of life are highly interconnected. We've all become global citizens. Your individual actions and "footprint" will directly impact the health of the planet and the lives people who come after you.

"Becoming a Good Ancestor" represents a shift from selfish consumption of resources, from fear of others who are different, towards actions that help sustain the health and well-being of both the human community and the planet.

For example, within the mindset of a "Good Ancestor" it's harder to enjoy and consume pleasures for yourself when you're highly aware of the suffering of others -- whether from famine, natural disasters, polluted water, torture. All such events circle back to impact each of us. Your actions as a good ancestor strengthen your capacity to deal with the disruptions and upheavals that are in store for all of us; your capacity to handle a "non-equilibrium world with flexibility and positive actions.

All three of these pathways to psychological health and global citizenship (they are increasingly converging) rest upon being able to "forget yourself." They are the vehicle for acting with empathy, a broadened perspective, and sense of responsibility for not only yourself and immediate relationships, but for the human community and the planet. Then, you're better able to maintain stability, success and well-being through our tumultuous times, like a gyroscope that keeps a ship stable through choppy waters.

Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a business psychologist and psychotherapist, is Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, DC