Flow Day, an all-school 8th-period activity held on March 21st, was a runaway success. The brainchild of TJ English teacher Kate Lewis, the event gave members of the TJ community the opportunity to make short presentations about anything that “gives them Flow” and gave students an opportunity to learn about something completely new. The concept grew out of TJ’s 2013-2014 “One Book,” Drive, in which author Daniel Pink focuses on the close relationship between Flow -defined by the psychologist who coined the term as a state of complete absorption in a challenging activity for which an individual’s skills are perfectly suited – and intrinsic motivation – the motivation to accomplish a task because it is fulfilling. Pink posits that extrinsic motivation – the motivation to accomplish a task because it will lead to a reward – can block the attainment of Flow.
The fifty-four Flow Day participants included approximately 20 teachers and staff members; 20 students and alumni; the parents, siblings, and friends of students and teachers; and even a Fairfax County School Board member. The alumni were a diverse group that included entrepreneurs, musicians, athletes, and two members of TJ’s faculty.
Finding Flow Between Boredom and Mortal Fear
Gabe Boning, TJ ’12, is finishing his second gap year. He had intended to take only one, but was having too much fun working as a software engineer, coaching lacrosse at TJ, cycling, and rock climbing. Slides and video from some of his climbs at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia; Lake Placid, New York; and Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier in Washington State, illustrated his presentation on finding Flow while pushing his physical and mental limits.
He taught his rapt student audience a bit about lead climbing, high-elevation snow climbing, and the very serious risks involved in each. Then he showed video footage of falls – his own and another climber’s – to drive home his point that the ever-present mortal danger inherent in the sport is an integral part of the enjoyment of it. “Flow is characterized by being absorbed in the moment,” he said, “does [focusing on] not dying count?”
Building an Organization that Flows
Timur Aleshin, TJ ’10, is President of Engineering Students Without Borders at UVA, a student chapter of a national organization that focuses on applying sustainable engineering methods to carry out local and international projects. When he joined the group as a freshman, it consisted of fewer than ten members working on two projects. Now the group boasts over 100 students working on a dozen projects at home and abroad. He explained how he helped this organization find its Flow.
It’s all about the “why,” he said: Only when an organization has a clear and compelling purpose can its members be inspired to fulfill that purpose. Effectively engaging his TJ audience by asking them to choose the best of several sample mission statements, he described how he involved all members in drafting a new mission statement for the chapter and how he continues to make sure to hear everyone’s ideas. He told students to “savor these four years – they’re amazing,” and concluded by urging them to “try a leadership experience. I wish I had done a little more of it at TJ.”
Finding Career Flow
Tom Song, TJ ’89, shared lessons he learned over a twenty-year career in the financial industry. A member of TJ’s pioneer class, he initially intended to study Civil Engineering but in the course of his four years became fascinated by economics and international affairs (chatting after his talk he mentioned having co-founded TJ’s Model United Nations club along with classmates Shawn McDonald and Ashley Miller). After graduating from the University of Chicago, he worked as an investment banker on Wall Street, where the narrow focus left him intellectually and emotionally unfulfilled. Today he is still working on deals, but loves his job.
The differences between his work as an investment banker and his current job as Senior Vice President for a major hospitality chain, where he directs the company’s Mergers & Acquisitions work and innovation initiatives, are many. His purpose – to grow the company – is not narrowly defined. However, as he describes it, the most important difference is that his current job lies at the crossroads of technical know-how and liberal arts wisdom, the intersection that Steve Jobs maintained was at the root of Apple’s creativity and insight. M&A work requires more than quantitative abilities: Conducting thorough due diligence on a potential acquisition involves teasing out the real story from not only the data but also the employees of the target company; negotiating a deal, like playing poker, involves understanding your competitors enough to predict and influence their behaviors. It is in working with numbers but also with people, with the rational but also the emotional, that he finds Flow.