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Work Daze – Trying Hard To Not Try

You’re a modest person, I know, but you have to admit – there is one thing that you do better than anyone else. That’s doing nothing.

It’s true! No one does nothing better than you.

When you are in line for an important assignment, your first reaction is to disappear, at least, until the possibility of having to do actual work has passed. When you approach a hot deadline, you spring into inaction, focusing like a rocket on developing excuses that will get you off the hook.

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Most impressive of all, you weren’t one of those lucky individuals born with an innate ability to slack off. It’s because you’ve avoided work for so much of your career, you’ve become an expert at doing nothing.

In all honesty, it is possible that your laziness default mode may have counted against you on the job. The traditional expectation of the traditional boss is action and accomplishment. You were supposed to be proactive, when, most times, you were simply prone. But things are changing, my indolent friend. Your innate ability to respond to any situation with no response at all may now elevate you to the highest heights of upper management.

How do I know? I know, because I woke up from my own personal lethargy to read John Tierney’s recent column in The New York Times. Titled “A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying” Tierney tries to explain the research of Edward Slingerland, a professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia.

Clearly a man who refuses to take his own medicine, Slingerland has roused himself from his own somnambulism to write a book, “Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity.” It is in this book that we learn the paradox of “wu wei, the Chinese term for ‘effortless action.'” According to Tierney, wu wei is “a theory of spontaneity based on millenniums of Asian philosophy and decades of research by psychologists an neurologists.”

[Decades of time wasted, if you ask me. If these researchers really wanted to understand the art of doing nothing, all they had to do was spend a few days hiding under your desk. Assuming that you weren’t already there, sleeping.]

The point of wu wei is that the best way to do something is to do nothing.

For example, consider the typical advice for a job interview. Everyone tells you to “Relax. Act natural. Just be yourself.” Can you see the problem here? What is less likely to make you relax than trying hard to fake relaxation? This is where wu wei comes in. If you’ve got wu wei, you don’t try to do anything. As result, you are perceived to be 100 percent authentic. A wu wei master like yourself can probably feel so relaxed that you fall asleep before the interviewer can ask you where you want to be in five years. And, of course, you would get the job. With that kind of confidence, what company wouldn’t hire you?

It’s the same when you’re actually on the job. Your overachieving supervisor taps you to develop a critical marketing plan. You have 10 days to complete the assignment. You react by spending nine days shopping online for additions to your collection of porcelain Star War figurines. On the 10th day, when the boss comes around to hear your plan, she finds you asleep at your desk, surrounded by Hummel Darth Vaders. When you wake up, you claim to know absolutely nothing about the assignment.

For the average worker, this would put the third degree in your 360-degree review meeting, but with your ability to exude wu wei, your supervisor has no choice but to be totally pleased with what you didn’t do.

Surprised? Shouldn’t be. As Slingerland explains, “In many domains, success requires the ability to transcend our training and relax completely into what we are doing, or simply forget ourselves as agents.”

In other words, you ability to transcend your training – and your assignment – and relax completely into what you are doing – or not doing – has made your supervisor question her own interest in completing the project. Instead of looking at you like a worthless cipher, and a black hole in the org chart, she will start seeing you as what you really are – a guru.

Raises and promotions are sure to follow. And, trust me, you are perfect for upper management. What better place for someone who spends all day doing nothing, without ever even trying.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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