The Goldilocks Dilemma – Part 1

Well, this is my real first post. Let’s see how it goes. It took awhile tonight to figure out again how to get back on the website and write something. But here I am.

Today, I wish to address a leadership/management issue that all good professionals have encountered or will at one point of their career. I am reading a book by Dr. Steven Berglar titled “Reclaiming the Fire”. In it, he addresses issues of burnout by highly successful people and how they occur. Obviously, the intent is also to provide some advise and possibly move out of what he calls the Supernova Burnout and move on with life, hopefully with a renewed freshness and zest.

One of the major issues he discusses in the book is what he calls the Goldilocks Dilemma. You know the story about the family of bears that goes out for a stroll before dinner and the little rude girl called Goldilocks. She enters their house unbeknownst to them and makes a mess out of it. The girl’s dilemma, in the story and while she explores her new environment, is to find what is comfortable or suitable to her. The chair is too big or too small, the soup is too cold or too hot, the bed is too hard or too soft. Goldilocks always finds the middle ground and chooses one of the three chairs, or one of the three soups, or one of the three beds that are suitable to her level of comfort. Dr. Berglar tells us that, as time goes on, professionals usually become creative and self-directed. Ultimately, though, everyone of them reaches a point where the need for eustress (positive stress or healthy stress) and the predilection to feel in control and protected from the embarassment or shame of failure achieve a perfect balance. At this point, according to our good doctor, the Goldilocks dilemma ensues, which is: Endure an already mastered task whose challenges are too cold (understimulating and likely to precipitate frustration and ennui), take on challenges that are too hot and threaten to disrupt self-esteem, or find a mechanism that will free you from remaining between two undesirable alternatives.

So, how many that are reading me have experienced the Goldilocks dilemma in their careers? There is no age rule for this to occur. Some face it later in their career, and some face it sooner. But sooner or later, all of us will face it.

I am facing it. Right now! So I ask myself: What should I do? How do I find that balance? Dr. Berglar suggests that directing people to resolve this dilemma by adjusting the challenge in their career to a level that is ‘just’ right is equivalent to telling them to climb Mount Everest by putting one foot in front of the other, planting a few pitons, and moving upward. In other words, people cannot transition from a point of optimal satisfaction and reward to one that introduces invigorating challenge unless they are forwarned about, fully understand, and take steps to cope with the way challenges can become threats to self-esteem.

So what does Dr. Berglar suggest? And what do I think I should do? I will let you ponder on this article first and in the next few days, I hope to have an answer, or a few, that may be helpful to me, and, why not, to some of the readers.



7 thoughts on “The Goldilocks Dilemma – Part 1

  1. Well I dont think I will climb Mount Everest, even one step at a time. What I did do this past week was volunteer for the Special Olympics. Every one of these people have thier own “special” Mount Everest to climb….. and climb they do. I watched a person with one functioning hand ,score in basketball, a lady in a wheelchair compete in rythmic gynastics, and I could mention many more. It kind of puts a different kind of perspective on the ‘goldlocks syndrome”. When you have the ability to choose the hot, cold or medium, the hard, the soft, the just right thing you are indeed blessed. So many do not have this choice, thiers is the hard, and no ability to choose the other options. Its making the best of the hard and then rejoicing in the little you have. Maybe a really different thought on the whole thing. Jon

  2. Hi Alberto,
    I have facing this goldilocks dilemma recently myself. I work in the shrinking and unstable forest sector with 20 years of employment still left to go. I make a fairly high salary and realize that I will have to drop down to transition out. That initially was a concern, but after thinking of the future personal stress and consequences of staying, I am ready to make that move. As I get older, I seem to need less money and seek to make a difference instead. There might be some kind of transition in all of us to seek quality vs quantity later on in our working lives. I cannot tell you how many times I have talked to people who have retired who say they wish they would have done so much earlier, but feared making the transition. On the other hand, the issue is an especially tough one when you are raising young children and feel you are being selfish to go after finding that balance. There are a lot of dynamics at play pulling one from one side to the other, but I think that a move to a richer (non-monetary I mean) experience in life will lead to eventual happiness.

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