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Author Archive: "Roman Krznaric"

Six Life Lessons from Leo Tolstoy

It's 150 years since Leo Tolstoy put pen to paper and began writing his epic War and Peace. While most people think of him as one of the 19th century's greatest novelists, few are aware that he was also one of its most radical social and political thinkers. During a long life from 1828 to 1910, Tolstoy gradually rejected the received beliefs of his aristocratic background and embraced a startlingly unconventional worldview that shocked his peers. Tracing his personal transformation offers some wise — and surprising — lessons for how we should approach the art of living today.

Tolstoy was born into the Russian nobility. His family had an estate and owned hundreds of serfs. The early life of the young count was raucous and debauched, and he gambled away a fortune through a reckless addiction to cards. As he acknowledged in A Confession:

I killed men in war and challenged men to duels in order to kill them. I lost at cards, consumed the labor of the peasants, sentenced them to punishments, lived loosely, and deceived people. Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, murder —


Should You Turn Your Hobbies into a Career?

More than a century ago, the French writer François-René de Chateaubriand made the following observation:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

His words capture one of the most enticing ideas of modern working life, which is to find some way of merging our personal interests and passions with our careers. Some people I interviewed for my book How to Find Fulfilling Work were convinced that this was the key to career happiness. Others, however, believed it was a terrible mistake, raising the dangerous prospect of contamination. You might love building model trains, but starting up a company selling them online, with all the stresses involved, could drain all the joy from your passion and make you nostalgic for those rainy Sunday afternoons tinkering with ...

What Is the Greatest Book on Working Ever Written?

Studs Terkel / Photo by James Warden

What is the greatest book on working ever written? Easy. Studs Terkel's Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do. The Chicago oral historian and radio host died in 2008 while I was researching my own book, How to Find Fulfilling Work, and I dedicated it to his memory. Every day a copy of his 1974 classic sat on my desk while I was writing, providing inspiration, solace, and a reminder of the universal themes that shape the everyday experience of working life.

Terkel's book offers his own special brand of oral history — recordings with workers from all walks of life talking about their memories and thoughts related to their jobs, each edited down to around five pages of vibrant text, with people speaking in their own voices. Between the covers you will discover the lives of steel workers and janitors, receptionists and cab drivers, professors, jockeys, stockbrokers, and dentists.

The opening lines of the introduction tell us that Working ...

How to Find Fulfilling Work in 15 Minutes

When The School of Life launched its new practical philosophy book series, we celebrated with an event in London where each of the six authors — amongst them philosopher Alain de Botton — did a 15-minute talk distilling the most important and inspirational ideas from his or her book. We did our very best to live up to the promo poster, which promised the audience "An Evening of Fast and Furious Enlightenment."

Below you will find the video of my own talk on How to Find Fulfilling Work. In it I discuss five essential insights on the art of finding a job that is big enough for your spirit:

  1. Confusion is perfectly normal
  2. Beware of personality tests
  3. Be a wide achiever, not a high achiever
  4. Find where your values and talents meet
  5. Act first, reflect later

As you'll see, in the middle I managed to get a thousand people talking in pairs about this question:

Imagine three parallel universes. In each you have a year to try any kind of work you want. What three jobs would you be excited to try?

I can recommend all the videos ...

How to Write a Personal Job Ad

How are you supposed to discover your ideal job? The standard method is to fill out lots of questionnaires about your strengths and weaknesses, take some psychometric tests, and spend hours researching various professions. Well, here's an alternative. It's an exercise called The Personal Job Advertisement, which I devised for the courses on career change I teach at The School of Life in London.

The concept behind this task is the opposite of the standard career search: imagine that newspapers didn't advertise jobs but rather advertised people who were looking for jobs .

You do it in two steps. First, write a half-page job advertisement that tells the world who you are and what you care about in life. Put down your talents (e.g., you speak Mongolian, can play the bass guitar), your passions (e.g., ikebana, scuba diving), and the core values and causes you believe in (e.g., wildlife preservation, women's rights). Include your personal qualities (e.g., you are quick-witted, impatient, lacking self-confidence). And record anything else that is important to you — a minimum salary or the desire to work overseas. Make sure you don't include any particular ...

Should We Aim to Be “Wide Achievers” in Our Careers?

For the last century everyone from career advisers to nagging parents have been telling us that the best way to use our talents is to become a high achiever — an expert in a narrow field. But one of the surprising discoveries I made while writing my latest book, How to Find Fulfilling Work, is that there is mounting evidence that this is neither a likely route to job satisfaction nor smart thinking in our current era of job insecurity.

Is being a specialist really the most effective way to use our talents? Of course the world needs skilled surgeons, and we can gain personal satisfaction and a feeling of pride from exercising our expertise. Yet the cost of being a top specialist or high achiever may be that we forgo the benefits of being a generalist or "wide achiever," which are to nurture the many sides of who we are and to use our multiplicity of talents.

Few career counselors today would advise you to be a wide achiever: they remain obsessed by the ideal of the specialist. But if you had gone to a careers fair during ...

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