A New Core Anchor for a Different Voice: Connection
So, back to Bali and the seminar. My driver, Wayan, safely delivered me to the Sudamala conference center. After a blissful group exploration of shrines, terraced rice fields, coffee plantations, a silkscreen workshop and then returning to the resort to end the day with a swim, neuro-feedback, and Balinese massage, it was time for our formal studies in Cross-Cultural Coaching to begin. Early on in the course, we explored the topic of core anchors. A core anchor is defined as our prime priority in our work. Edgar Schein, a professor of organizational management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the 1990’s, noted that people have eight priorities in their work careers. He listed these priorities, or “career anchors” as the following: Technical/functional competence, general managerial competence, autonomy/independence, security/stability, entrepreneurial/creativity, service/dedication to a cause, pure challenge and lifestyle. (Bergquist and Mara, 2017.)
The population Schein studied to identify these themes were primarily employees and managers of organizations. Given this population, I wondered if the people he studied were predominantly white males. Given the decade of the study (1990) it would be safe to assume that most of the managers were male and that the corporate organizations he studied were primarily male-dominated. In class, we were asked to identify our own core anchor. When I reviewed Schein’s list, many of his anchors were important to me, but none felt primary. In my work, I like to have a flexible lifestyle and creativity. I am dedicated and passionate about treating trauma survivors and addicts. I like to enjoy financial security, but obviously, if making money was my priority, I would not have gone into the less than lucrative profession of social work or have enrolled in a clinical psychology doctoral program at age 60! I couldn’t select just one anchor. I was puzzled. What is the central purpose of my work and life? What, above anything else, makes my work meaningful?
When I reflected on my career and various jobs, I noted that the work and school environments where I thrived were ones where I felt deeply connected to my peers, my colleagues, my group and my clients. For example, when I was the founding director of the Child Sexual Abuse Assessment and Treatment team at the Cambridge Hospital at Harvard Medical School, I worked seventy-plus hours per week, but I didn’t feel overworked or burdened, as I loved my colleagues, the work was new, creative, original, exciting and our research was groundbreaking. We worked closely as a group and had meaningful friendships, as well as an important mission.
While I valued our mission, it was the relationships with my colleagues that sustained me and made me want to go to work every day. Another example is, that while I have studied hard at PSP and it has been difficult to juggle work, family and school responsibilities, I have enjoyed my classmates, professors and the cross-cultural education so greatly, that for me, school is a joy, not a drudgery. I love my PSP community and friends. In fact, I am dreading graduation, a dangerous sentiment for a student needing to finish her dissertation!
When I am connected to people, when I belong to a group, I feel a sense of purpose and meaning. My core anchor is Connection. The times in my life when I felt emotionally disconnected from my peers or the organization where I worked were the times I hated my job and felt a general sense of loneliness and alienation. I suspect many psychotherapists have a deep need to connect with others. I cannot imagine any other profession outside of psychology holding my interest for any length of time.
Connection is a core value for many women. All human beings are hard-wired to connect. Infants who are unable to bond fail to thrive and die (Sapolsky, 2018, p. 201). However, Western men are often less aware of this need than Western women, being acculturated to view the need to connect with others as weak, not masculine and therefore, shameful. Perhaps “connection” did not appear on Schein’s list as he was male and studying primarily male-dominated organizations. If connection is thought of as weak and shameful, it would be unlikely for most men to think of it as a core anchor. Furthermore, if there were limited women in the organizations Schein studied, that would further limit the number of subjects who would define connection as core.