Autotelic: The Word of 2013

Those that frequent this space will know I started a tradition in 2011 by instituting a “word of the year“.

In 2011, I urged people, teams and organizations to demonstrate reciprocity. I go into further detail about the act of reciprocity in my upcoming book, Flat Army, but in simple terms it’s the behaviour of both giving and taking equally. This is one of the more important traits to employ if you want a Flat Army like organization or team.

In 2012, I believed we all could be better interlocutors; capable of acting as a perpetual liaison between groups, ideas, knowledge and people. If you missed it, I thanked a number of interlocutors in my life who have consistently demonstrated this attribute through the blog postings of the goats, ClaireCole and Cate. I am grateful for their connection to the goats, but for also providing opportunities for them to learn from the comments they left or the sage experience or links they shared. They are truly interlocutors.

I believe, however, that in order to achieve the holy grail of high organizational engagement, people in said organization need to be absorbed in meaningful work. We all need to have a meaningful purpose at work in and not apart from itself. That is, if we — the worker bees in an organization — truly want to be happy at work and tell great things to our friends, family and network about where we work, we had better be actually doing things in our jobs that make us feel this way.

To be absorbed in meaningful work is the quest for 2013. It’s your job — and the equal responsibility of leaders — to become autotelic.

That’s right … autotelic is the word of 2013.

So how can we become autotelic?

That’s a tricky question and I don’t think there is a common answer for us all. The first step may be, however, to look in the mirror and ask yourself an honest question:

Am I in a job or am I following my passion?

If you’re simply in a job — and have mentally conditioned yourself to accept that you’re merely collecting a paycheque to pay the monthly bills — it may be time to rethink whether you’re in need of a career change. Are you dreading work? Do you dislike your organization, your responsibilities, your teammates, your boss or your customers? If such is the case, you may be in a job and not in a passion. You may not be, therefore, absorbed in meaningful work.

I’m reminded of a gal I used to work with. We’ll call her Mary.

Mary was an instructor, then a courseware developer, then an instructional designer, then … I don’t know, I forget. She was bouncing around from one job to another in our organization. Now Mary was an absolutely wonderful gal. She was vivacious, bubbly, people-oriented and grounded in the rights and wrongs of society. She was beyond ethical. She had charisma. She was deeply troubled by the less fortunate in our world and sought to leave her job to follow her passion. That passion being the not-for-profit sector and aiding those in need.

Funny thing is Mary continued to go from job to job to job, even though she felt she was following her passion. She got the passion right, but her bosses in each new organization didn’t see Mary for what she brought to the table. Mary struggled, but continued to sort out the rights and wrongs and was determined to become absorbed in meaningful work … not just a job. She was determined to be autotelic.

career2Fast forward to 2013. Mary is happy, smiling and a full-blown autotelic. Her current situation is now a passion and she is fully engaged. It may have taken a while, but her perseverance and dedication to finding that ‘sweet spot’ paid off.

It’s the story of Mary that brings me hope for a world full of employees who are being (or becoming) autotelic.

There is meaning out there. The grass may not be greener in another organization however. To find meaning in your current position of employment — to become absorbed — may require some inner soul searching. Maybe you have to talk with your direct manager to discuss your options. Maybe you’re being underutilized. Maybe you need a job rotation. Perhaps you have an idea that might help improve work processes or a more efficient way of how the team operates. The bottom line is you may have to get creative — or at least flexible — in order to achieve an autotelic state.

Whatever the scenario, I hope you have the opportunity to become autotelic in 2013.

I’d also love to hear of any autotelic stories out there … if you’re willing to share, publicly or privately.


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'Autotelic: The Word of 2013' have 8 comments

  1. 01/03/2013 @ 8:59 PM Steph

    Dan, what a great word and a great story about “Mary”. I hope to be more autotelic on Dec 31, 2013 than I am today. I thinking becoming autotelic takes consistency and finding out what your passion and what you are good at.

  2. 01/04/2013 @ 12:21 PM Dan Pontefract

    Thanks ‘@Steph’. :-)

  3. 01/06/2013 @ 8:24 AM Brian Reid

    It is medieval days and we come across three stone masons. We ask them what they are doing. The first one says: “I am chipping these stinking stones so they will fit properly in the wall we are building.” The second one says: “I am building this wall.” The third one says: “I am building a great, soaring Cathedral where people will gather to worship for hundreds of years!”

    Pretty sure the third guy is an autotelic mason! Sometimes it is just about how you see what you are doing. In any event, great word. It is opening my mind about what autotelic activities I will engage in this year! Stay tuned. :)

  4. 01/06/2013 @ 6:04 PM Dan Pontefract

    That is a wonderful piece @Brian. Can’t wait to hear what activities you’re going to get into.

  5. 01/07/2013 @ 12:50 PM Mike Desjardins

    I was going to add a comment but instead I’m going to applaud Brian for his eloquent and succinct synopsis!

  6. 01/09/2013 @ 8:17 PM Michelle Driscoll

    Wow…just had a long conversation about this very topic today. It’s definitely on my to do list for 2013. Was not, however familiar with the term. Autotelic I will be! Thanks!

  7. 01/09/2013 @ 9:06 PM Dan Pontefract

    I agree @Mike.

    Well hello @Michelle … we can discuss all things autotelic Saturday night.

  8. 01/20/2013 @ 5:27 PM Nancy Slawski

    Really enjoyed the message of this post, Dan. Thanks for inspiring me to go back and re-read some Csikszentmihalyi (while I await the launch of your book, of course). Here’s to finding that flow in 2013!


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Dan Pontefract | dp at danpontefract dot com