A bartender turned high-level salesman of wholesale financial products has been seeing Peter A. Crist, a psychiatrist and business consultant with a Ringoes-based practice, because of anxiety issues related to his job.
He had been very happy as a bartender, where his “real gift of gab” and high energy served him well. When he decided to “take a step up from bartender” the man thought that sales would be a natural fit for him. “But,” says Crist, “he discovered that the gift of gab doesn’t work in a corporate environment.”
The former bartender, who is enthusiastic, energetic, and excitable, also thought that he would excel at giving presentations, but Crist says that an overwhelming fear of criticism is holding him back in a structured environment very different from the freewheeling culture of a bar.
Can this man find joy on the job? Crist is sure that he can, and that most other unhappy workers can too. He gives a talk, “Are You Satisfied with Your Work Life?,” on Saturday, February 2, at 4 p.m. at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts in Princeton. Suggested donation: $45. Call 732-821-1144 for reservations.
The key to finding an ideal work fit is to match work with nature, which Crist says is inborn. The former bartender had chosen well in his first career, finding work that perfectly suited what he and Crist determined to be his greatest joy — helping people.
He loves to be around people and has the energy for lots of interaction. He thought sales would be a great fit, too, but sales at the corporate level didn’t satisfy his need to help people. What’s more, the presentations that were a part of his job exposed a deep insecurity that arose from his character, which Crist says consists of the layers that are added onto a person’s nature by outside influences and events.
There is an answer for Crist’s patient, one that is giving him great joy at work, no job change required. “He is wonderful at mentoring younger workers,” says Crist. “It fulfills his need to help people.” As for the presentations, he has identified incidents in his past that have caused him to become acutely sensitive to criticism, and he is working at becoming more comfortable in front of audiences.
Identify your nature. This is the first step for anyone who wants to find satisfying work. And work, Crist points out, is far more than a job, and may not even involve a salary. “Work is what you would do even if you were not being paid,” he says. Sometimes, this is easy to identify, and may be particularly so for young people.
Crist recalls that, as a medical resident, he saw waves of third-year medical students move through his department as part of a rotation that would give them experience in many medical disciplines. He made a game of predicting which specialty each student would choose, just based on observing their natures, and says that he was often right. One young woman struck him right away as a surgeon.
“I wouldn’t usually predict surgery for a woman,” he recalls, “but there was just something about her. She was so incisive, so results-oriented.” He shared his observation with her, but she insisted that she had no interest in surgery. Six months later, however, she came to see him. She had finished her surgery rotation, absolutely loved it, and had chosen surgery as her life’s work.
Find work that fits with your nature. Crist points out that there is more than one career that is a good match for each person’s innate nature. Especially in a tough economy, with entry into many jobs restricted, it is a good idea to learn about lots of alternatives.
Crist says that his 28-year-old daughter, Tara, is a “perfect example of someone who is struggling to find a good fit.” An accomplished horsewoman, she took a job training a horse and was soon asked by its owner to go to Spain to study dressage. She did not like dressage, and returned to the United States to become a doula, a professional who helps women about to give birth.
Crist describes his daughter as a person with many talents who tends to get excited about each new thing. She has worked with a sculptor, and as a writer. She has worked in retail in Arizona, and driven a horse and buggy in Austin, Texas.
Not too long ago, Tara told her father that she was thinking about applying to graduate school to earn a teaching certificate for elementary education. But, he recounts, by then she was aware that she had a tendency to get “over excited” about each new career choice. “She knew herself a bit better,” says Crist.
So instead of going to graduate school, she secured a job with AmeriCorps, an organization that provides teachers to schools in poor areas. “She loves it,” her father says, and is now applying to graduate schools where she can become certified to teach. It’s been a long road, but it appears that she has found work that is deeply satisfying.
Find satisfaction outside of your day job. Crist will not minimize the importance of job satisfaction, something that he says is rarely even discussed any more in a decade when just having a job is often seen as a minor miracle.
But he thinks it is vital. “Love and work,” those are the two most important things, he says, the things that are at the heart of every issue his clients bring to him. But Crist is also a realist. He knows that work nirvana is not always possible, especially when there are big mortgages and several kids to be put through college. But all is not lost, even when a day job is a drag.
Crist’s wife, Hilary, is an actress, now starring in a production of Chekov’s “The Seagull” in Philadelphia’s Allens Lane Theater. He knows from her stories that it is “very, very hard” to make a living in any of the arts. “She talks all the time about her friends’ ‘day jobs,’” he says. Sometimes the work that people do after regular work hours is their real work, the part of their work life that gives them tremendous satisfaction.
Sometimes a day job is a means to an end. “There’s a fellow who is doing very well at sales,” Crist says of one client. “He is not satisfied with his work.” But he is not unduly troubled by it. “In five years I can have a nest egg and I can study political science,” he has told Crist.
Work never ends. For most people, reporting to a job will stop at some point, but, says Crist, work is such a vital part of life that it should never end.
His father, John, a family life and sociology professor, retired from Louis and Clark University in Oregon at age 65, but his next 22 years or so were rich. “He loved organic gardening,” recalls his son. “He also loved to travel and was a gifted photographer.”
But as the elder Crist was no longer able to be involved in active outdoor pursuits, he became significantly less happy. He lived for another half a decade, to the age of 93, and Crist suspects that he would have enjoyed those years much more if he had been able to find more sedentary activities that engaged him, that had become his new work.
Crist’s work journey had some bumps in the beginning but soon assumed an arrow-straight trajectory. One of four children, he moved a lot as a child as his father completed his own education in Missouri, took teaching jobs in Ohio and later in Oregon, and took the family to Europe on sabbaticals.
His late mother, Varley, worked a bit as a secretary and earned a bachelor’s degree when she was in her late 50s, but what she really enjoyed was leading student groups on American Friends Service Projects.
Crist attended Lewis and Clark University for a year and a quarter, then, in 1967, went with his girlfriend to live near the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. During the next couple of years he hitchhiked back and forth to his parents’ home in Oregon 18 times, worked as a mailman, was asked to join a dance troupe despite the fact that he wasn’t a dancer, and took a job with the Forest Service fighting fires. After carrying giant canisters of water on his back up steep mountains he decided “I think I want to go back to school.”
Enrolled in San Fernando State, he soon transferred to UCLA, where he earned a bachelor’s in zoology and later completed a residency in psychiatry. Crist also started therapy with a psychiatrist trained in orgonomy, a small, controversial branch of psychiatry based on the teachings of Wilhelm Reich. The Austrian psychoanalyst believed that “orgone energy” forms the basis of all life and that character structure is the result of social processes that can build up armor that needs to be broken down if a person is to reach his potential.
Crist says that he was painfully shy as a child, afraid even to walk across his classroom to sharpen a pencil, and that orgonomy helped him tremendously. He decided to become a practitioner, and never wavered. His education took him to several universities and hospitals, including St. Vincent’s in New York and Rutgers Medical School, a precursor to UMDNJ. He completed his psychiatry residence at U.C.L.A. at the age of 34 and then returned to the New Jersey, where he has lived and worked — with great joy — ever since.
In addition to his private practice in Ringoes, Crist has a business consulting company, Ergonexus LLC, which works with companies on creating a positive work character, or culture.
Like most people, Crist spends a great deal of time at his work, and believes that work life should be as satisfying as love life. He thinks it’s nonsensical for anyone to say that a person should be happy “just to have a job.” After all, he says, “Would anyone say to an unhappily married person, you’re just lucky to have a wife?”