Getting the Right Perspective on Your Relation to Work
Parallax is a technical term used in astronomy to describe a certain visual effect when there appears a shift in the position of an object, or displacement, in relation to your viewpoint (as the observer). It’s calculated in relation to three points—observer, object observed, and the background.
A simplified example from Space.com:
“[H]old out your hand, close your right eye, and place your extended thumb over a distant object. Now, switch eyes, so that your left is closed and your right is open. Your thumb will appear to shift slightly against the background. By measuring this small change and knowing the distance between your eyes, you can calculate the distance to your thumb. That's trigonometry.”
A slightly different example:
In website design the “parallax effect” is used to create a 3-D scrolling effect, where the background and foreground remain stationary, while the middleground image moves. Think of a night sky background, a mountain range foreground, and a moving (setting) full moon middleground image.
In more general terms, we can think of parallax as
the change in perception of an object against a background or context of meaning, such that the object in view is no longer what it once seemed to be.
How Does Parallax Apply to Work Life?
Think of your job or career as the object in focus.
We often enter a job or career with a specific set of expectations and intentions. Let’s call this viewpoint A.
However, as our life changes (as we get older!), the original set of expectations no longer holds. We find ourselves wanting different things from work because our life has changed. Let’s call this viewpoint B.
Here’s a somewhat controversial claim. Life hasn’t really changed. Life has always been about finding meaningfulness. What has changed is what we take to be meaningful. So let’s call the distant background meaningfulness in life.
Viewpoint A involves mostly, if not entirely, making enough money and building experience to make more money. Viewpoint A can range from meeting economic necessities to meeting social status expectations (not just making a living, but making a living that you want others to admire and respect). Think value in terms of money.
Viewpoint B involves wanting to find your work as a means to a fulfilling life. Think value in terms of meaningfulness.
The distant background? Life has always been about meaningfulness. But it often takes a lifetime to realize in what that consists. Most cultures refer to that understanding as a form of wisdom, which comes only with experience.
It’s the existential idea that if we could live our lives backwards (from the point where we gained wisdom), we’d be in a better position to live.
So, to determine whether your work life suffers from parallax,
you need only ask yourself if you have a yen for something more fulfilling. Does your work add real value to your life and to the lives of others?
The cynical/realist view is that work rarely does such things.
Cynical views serve a purpose for critical thought. But one thing in which they lack is the ability to inspire and innovate. Genuine innovation begins with cynicism and overcomes or passes through it. This is because, as humans, we always end up wanting to affirm meaning. Denial or criticism is simply a means towards affirming some greater meaning or value (hopefully for the common good).
So, the parallax experience of work can be constructive.
What changes do you want to make individually?
Or, are you in a position in which you can help innovate the culture of work?
On the latter, I often say, work is a form practice – that is, practicing a good life.
Philosophy2u offers a range of free and paid diagnostic tools and resources to get you on your way to make the right changes in life before it's too late!
About Dr Todd Mei
Todd Mei (PhD) is former Associate Professor of Philosophy and is currently a researcher and consultant in meaningful work. He is founder of Philosophy2u. With over 20 years of experience in teaching, researching, and publishing in the philosophy of work and economics, existentialism, hermeneutics, and ethics, Todd enjoys bringing insight, innovation, and worklife revolution to organizations, businesses, and individuals.
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