Nathalie Jonsson

Science Writer 

Just don't spend too much time on it...

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When I was working as a writer for a large company I was told that one of my weaknesses was my seemingly obsessive need to always work on the visual impact of my pieces. I was expected to write words, make sure that they were supported by scientific data and then proofread those words for spelling errors. Anything else was considered a waste of time (and a waste of the client’s money) and as such, it drove my colleagues in charge of budgets crazy.

During annual reviews and goal-setting exercises, I always had to reflect on why I experimented with colour-coding and visual elements to convey scientific data. Every time I would have to promise to only explore it when given the opportunity, but the truth is that I couldn’t control it. I didn’t know why I so often ended up with visual output when I was only asked to “write”. And it made me miserable.

Today, when I am not in that job anymore, I feel less apologetic about it because I am just an autotelic person and we are always on the hunt for flow. Flow is a state at which your concentration is sky-high, time flies and you experience being at one with your work. Maybe one way to describe it is that point at which “the work writes itself”. We need it so bad that we often engineer situations to let us escape into flow.

You probably know the type, these are the people who would rather stay at their desk, immersed in their work task than chit-chat with you. Don’t take it personally though, compared to the average person they are just better at getting into flow and at holding on to it. They also goddamn love it, much more than others.

The autotelic person is able to mix business with pleasure and manage to build skills while enjoying the play of identifying the hidden challenges. They find enjoyment in breaking down problems deemed impossible by others (be it an angry rambling client or a complex scientific theorem), but also show persistence and concentration at tasks in a way that helps to acquire new skills.

So maybe that colleague that always completes work in an unexpected way is not such a big problem. Maybe it’s their personality type and fighting it would be fighting the actual person? Maybe there are strengths in that personality type that could be harnessed and used to its advantage?

Maybe you could just “go with the flow”?

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