Detecting the "want-to-be" versus the "have-to-be": contributes to the maintenance of the mental health of individuals at work

Marie-Josée Michaud

Marie-Josée Michaud

Author, consultant in psychological health at work, leadership and human resources mobilization.

An article written for career guidance professionals but can also help coach your young adults!

As career development professionals, there is a social, societal as well as an individual objective to be met: to help an individual understand how, through a chosen role (career), he or she will be able to contribute positively to the development of today's society, while at the same time growing personally in and around that role.

During your practice, there are people who come to you with many ideas, or on the contrary, with no ideas. Others are convinced that only one career is possible or, on the contrary, that all are possible, as long as you put the will to it! You then take out your toolbox, your experience, your expertise and your know-how to help them target what will be as close as possible to what they really are. You take the time to do all this because you know or have probably seen and experienced the sometimes dramatic results on physical and mental health that can result from the famous duality between "should-be" versus "want-to-be".

The term "duality" is used to refer to a dissonance between the roles we have chosen (should-be) and the role we really want to play in our lives (want-be). Duality is therefore created when the reality we experience is not in line with the reality we desire.

With the help of neuroscience and brain imaging, we now understand more and more how our worldview and our need to survive influence our perception of reality. In order to survive as a species, we have developed the ability to anticipate danger that may threaten our existence in both the literal and figurative sense. Since nowadays and in most of the environments we know, we are no longer in danger of being "attacked by a lion", we replace this danger by a feeling, by the perception in our modern environment of "what pleases" and "what displeases". In other words, if I like, I am not in danger and if I don't like, I am in danger of not being able to exist in the chosen role and even in society in general.

And this need to please at all costs, because it is unconsciously linked to the notion of survival, can not only lead to a harmful duality in the individual you are coaching, but can also prevent you from detecting this famous "desire-to-be" which is an important factor in the feeling of happiness at work. I am not telling you anything new by saying that someone who loves his work, who feels he is making a positive contribution and who feels free to choose, even at the risk of displeasing others, will have a better chance of achieving a feeling of fulfillment that will preserve his psychological health.

Let's remember that "having to be" most of the time leads to chronic stress, because this goal is often in place only to meet our need for survival. And humans are not meant to be in survival mode. This feeling of perpetual danger leads to chronic stress which, in the long run, could lead to anxiety disorders, burnout or even depression.

Why did I say earlier that this need to please at all costs could also prevent you from detecting the "desire-to-be", despite all your good will?Because the brain is also able to do what is called motivated reasoning. Motivated reasoning is when you think like a lawyer pleading your case. We will sometimes redraw reality in order to arrive at the desired result, the one we believe should be, the one that helps make our story plausible. So it could be that some people who come before you manage to outsmart your tools; their logic seems implacable while you think you see inconsistency in them but can't seem to make them see it. You can't find the right words to express your discomfort with his vehemence in proving that he is right to want to do this job, when you detect that it is probably not the one that will make him happy.

Go back to the basics with this individual. Revisit these notions learned in psychoeducation or through the cognitive approach:

  1. Who does this job make you think of?
  2. Why does it make you think of him or her?
  3. How do you think it will help you get to work every morning and still have energy at the end of your day?

I offer these questions, knowing that you probably have much better ones in your tool bag. Feel free to share them with your colleagues in the comments. Be creative in adapting them to the individual in front of you with the following sole objective in mind: to help them find the way back to the child they once were and who was full of dreams and hope. To help him/her see how he/she has transformed himself/herself in order to please, in order to exist in the eyes of others and this, at the risk of not existing anymore in his/her own eyes!

On the radio, I heard the singer Marc Hervieux say something like this, "My father was very proud of my job in computers, I excelled at it and I liked it. But after his death, I chose to sing, I came back to my old loves.



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