The Work-Life Balance

Question: How can we conceive of alternatives to work?

 

Alan Webber: We used to talk at Fast Company about the Department of Lost Souls and it’s unfortunate but true that an awful lot of people do lose themselves, they lose track of what matters to them or they never are challenged to think about it.

Speaking of newspapers and journalism, there was a terrific piece in the New York Times about a week ago about young kids graduating from business schools, I think in particular, they were looking at Wharton and this one quote just jumped out at me the way sometimes a message is just riveting.

A young woman said, “I didn’t know. Until Wall Street was no longer an option for my classmates and me, I didn’t know how interesting my classmates were.”

And that is an example of how habits of minds or assumptions or the dead hand of the past or a way of keeping score that puts money ahead of everything can scream out things that are either much more interesting or much more important, what this young woman was saying was once it wasn’t about getting the highest paying, most prestigious job, all of a sudden my classmates and I started talking about things we would like to do, things that we would enjoy doing, things that we would learn from or contribute by doing.

One guy was going to work at a jazz club, another person was going to go into social services and these are things that weren’t options when the game was winning at all cost, winning defined as whoever dies with the most toys wins. She suddenly realizes; she didn’t realize it, I read it and interpreted her realization as there’s a different game here, we can play this game with a different scorecard and a different set of values so rather than saying whoever gets the job with the biggest job title and the biggest check wins, it’s the person who finds something that really matters to them who wins, who’s able, yeah, put food on table but put meaning into their life, put something into their existence that really feels good, feels right for them, that may not be the only thing they ever do right? And this is not the vow of poverty, chastity and silence, but when the game changes to go back to where you and I started, when there is discontinuity in how you keep score or what the game even is, people are challenged to make sense a different way.

One of the ways we start making sense is not just looking externally for validation but looking internally about what really matters to me. And when you get a little bit of quiet either forced or intentional, the monkeys in your head stops chattering, the world slows down a little bit, you’re not racing after a Wall Street gig, you’re saying to yourself, that’s not on the table, what would I like to do, who do I want to be when I grow up and how do you I want to feel about what I’m doing?

Again, I don’t want to sound Pollyannaish about isn’t it great to be poor and the more people who lose their jobs are really lucky because now they can get in touch with themselves, that’s not it. But there is a pragmatism that’s very clean here and the pragmatism is I really didn’t want to do what I said I was going to do, I thought I had to do it.

Now, that option doesn’t work, what would work?

And wait a minute, what do I mean by work?

What would be workable?

What would be a good way to work?

What would be a work life combination that would really meet my needs and will be a pragmatic response to a tough situation?

So I don’t think it’s Pollyannaish to say you can be both win at your work and really be a happier or at least more engaged person who’s looking at what you’re doing with 8 to 10 hours a day of your work life and having it actually be valuable.

 

Recorded on: April 23, 2009

 

The business expert imagines what we might do if we weren’t going to work everyday.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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