Richard Erskine, a clinical psychologist, and author described OKness as:
“The belief and associated feeling of comfort that no matter what happens to me, no matter how bad the situation, I will learn and grow from the experience”
The concept of ‘OKness’ is probably familiar to most people and is a transactional model (TA) that is an immensely powerful tool for raising your awareness to your behaviour and even your overarching life position.
It is a core model of transactional analysis, both in terms of its philosophy, and of its contribution to the understanding of people and their interactions: the analysis of transactions.
OKness has been variously used to describe a philosophy of how we regard other people (Berne, 1972/1975), a frame of reference governing a person’s whole outlook on life, and the minute-by-minute behavioural responses to what happens to us (Ernst, 1971).
It was Ernst who developed the ‘OK Corral’ which shows the four basic positions we can occupy in terms of the way we view ourselves and others. We can be either OK or Not OK with ourselves, and either OK or not OK with the other person:
If I am in the position of, I’m OK, You’re OK then I will see both myself and “you” in a positive and accepting way – which may or may not include agreeing with you. If this is my existential life position, it will represent my predominant way of being in the world. I am therefore likely to “get on with” you in that moment, even though I may not like “your” behaviour. This arguably leads to difficulties people have when undergoing appraisal in the workplace, for example – any “negative” comments about their behaviour lead them to feel Not OK as a person.
Maintaining the example of the world at work, by adopting an ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ attitude, you allow room for optimism and collaboration. As a leader, you will come across as more self-confident in your own abilities and create a good team environment in which employees are less likely to self-criticise or critique their colleagues. Ultimately, this reaction is the goal for all forms of communication! It conveys mutual respect and allows for both parties to find a constructive approach to issues.
However, the other positions can create communication problems
I’m OK, you’re not ok
Maintaining this position can develop into an unhealthy competitiveness with others and can often result in looking for opportunities to highlight other’s mistakes.
I’m not ok, you’re ok
In some instances, people may have feelings of inadequacy to the extent of feeling powerless. In a work context, this is when you will often see employees withdraw from their role and even undermine their own abilities to do the job.
I’m not ok, you’re not ok
With this mindset, the result can be hopelessness and negative dialogues in response to a situation, mood, or behaviour. You might also note an element of stubbornness from a person or employee when asked to complete certain tasks.
So, the question is, how do we use this powerful model in our toolkit? It requires a certain amount of self-analysis, and you would need to ask yourself two questions:
- How do I view myself when I am ‘OK’?
- How do others perceive my OK status?
In order to adopt the ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ reaction, it is important for you to re-evaluate your own emotions before entering a discussion. You can do this by checking in with yourself and ensuring you are feeling confident. If you are feeling frustrated by a situation, begrudged by a person’s behaviour, or feeling apprehensive about a meeting, then put quite simply, the chance of having a constructive and collaborative conversation is limited!
Whilst everyone may have their particular existential life position, this may not necessarily fit with the observable, social level of their interactions with others. This model can be used with a person to assist them in understanding their transactions with others and to put words to some of their experiences. It can also be used from the perspective of a manager to help make sense of an employee’s responses in relation to others.
It has been successfully used in organisations with teams of individuals struggling to relate to each other in effective ways. In that context, once they recognise the patterns they perpetuate, individuals frequently make changes, or at least set out to make them.
Take a moment…, make a drink, check in with yourself…how is your OKness? If you are struggling with this, or the attitude in your team or group is not OK, perhaps you would like help. Why not take the FIRST STEP, and contact me?
Berne, E. (1975) What Do You Say After You Say Hello. London: Corgi. (Original work published 1972)
Ernst, F. (1971) OK Corral, The grid to get on with. Transactional Analysis Journal, 1(4), pp. 231-240
This is a paper I wrote for my Masters. We were required to submit a reflective writing piece on our careers in addition to writing a letter to ourselves dated 10 years from now. Whilst it has an academic approach with references, it clearly highlights my own process and is a very personal account of my life, values and aspirations as a coach, mentor and guide in my “Third Age”.
As the first blog post on my web site, it tells you so much about myself, which I hope will encourage you to make the “First Step” in contacting me.
I also hope it provides a catalyst for your own personal reflection.
The purpose of this paper is to reflect on my key learnings from the Practising Organisational Psychology module focusing on how they can be applied to my personal career development. In addition, to write a “ Standing in the Future” letter to myself dated 10 years from now identifying a fulfilling role for myself and how my experience and personal development since completing my Masters’ degree have prepared me for such a role.
My initial reflections on the question were both disturbing and quite profound. They initiated a range of self questions and internal dialogue, both negative and positive. As a 63-year-old man and cancer survivor who retired from work in my mid 50’s to become a full-time carer for my elderly & infirm parents, it begged the question, would I be around in ten years’ time at the age of 73. Also, what kind of role would be available and fulfilling for me at that age? Having already had a 40-year career, the career management element of the module prompted me to review it in line with the concept of the “intelligent career” exercise and reading on the module (Arthur et al, 1995). This represented the key leaning area for me. It provided an opportunity to review and affirm my previous career choices, whilst at the same time confirming and validating my thoughts about my future working career in my “third age”. This, in turn prompted an additional rich area of learning when we looked at the future of work. Applying the topic to my own situation led me to reflect on and research the idea of the ‘older worker’ and extending working life.
The new paradigm of the “intelligent enterprise”, which James Quinn talked about in his book of the same name (1992), as a competency based, learning centred organisation, resonated with me. The “Managing my Intelligent Career” exercise was a significant catalyst for reflection and awareness. My values provided the foundation for my aspiration of becoming a freelance coach following the completion of my Masters’ degree. The top 5 were as follows:
1. Helping/developing people
2. A variety of stimulating and challenging work and experiences
3. Achieving an acceptable and sustainable work-life balance.
4. Developing myself continuously on my learning journey
5. Achieving an acceptable degree of autonomy. Being in control of what I do
I can recall my thought processes and emotional responses as I was writing them down. They reflected my re-written ‘life script’. My father, influenced by his background and life experience, viewed the world of work through the prism of the old career paradigm with security being the most important dimension. Combined with unconsciously transposing various injunctions, including one that was ‘don’t make it, he influenced my thinking and choices at the start of my career many years ago.
However, during my Transactional Analysis training and therapy sessions a few years later, I learnt about life script and injunctions. (Stewart & Van Joines, 2000). Using script analysis technique (Hay, 1995), I was able to re-frame and re-draft my own negative script developed in childhood and adolescence and make it a positive one. This transformed my own perception of myself. I know it was the start of my own intense learning journey which led to me developing skills and acquiring qualifications in Transactional Analysis (TA), Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Solution Focus coaching. The ‘knowing why’ exercise validated my aspirations of becoming a freelance developmental and eventually, a transformational coach after my Masters’ which had been formulating over the course of this final semester.
The’ knowing how’ exercise identifying my strengths and skills provided further evidence to support my future career direction. They all focused around training, communicating, building rapport with people, coaching and mentoring. However, it was the’ knowing with whom’ process which eventually provided the most profound learning for me. It led to further reading about career theory. The process of looking back at my career, identifying the high points from the perspective of job satisfaction, was quite significant. The peaks of the graph corresponded so accurately to times when my career choices reflected my values. An academic review of the career concepts that emerged in the 1990’s identified the Protean career orientation which was driven by high values and high self-direction (Sullivan & Baruch, 2009). The concept emerged in Douglas Hall’s 1996 book; The Career is Dead- Long Live the Career.
The two defining dimensions of the concept were:-
(1) values driven in the sense that the person’s internal values provide the guidance and measure of success for the individual’s career; and
(2) self-directed in personal career management—having the ability to be adaptive in terms of performance and learning demands. (Sullivan & Baruch, 2009, Briscoe & Hall, 2006)
I remember how influential those dimensions were when I learnt about the concept and how they provided further affirmation of my thinking around my future career choices following the completion of my Masters’. Nevertheless, my initial response when completing the ‘Managing my Intelligent Career’ exercise was still one of uncertainty. It brought up several self-limiting beliefs around my capability and marketability at my age. It was only when I was able to take a step back, critically assess my own process, undertake further reading and re-visit my thinking on my values, that the learning really emerged for me. It profoundly influenced the decisions I consciously made following the career management element of the module. These were as follows:-
1. To ensure my further career choices adhered to my values and reflected my desire to help and develop people.
2. To be totally self-directed and freelance in my role.
3. To pursue a career as a freelance coach, building on my strengths, experience & qualifications.
A contemporary career concept highlighted in the Sullivan review which seemed to reflect my own experiences and process, was that of the kaleidoscope career model (KCM) (Sullivan & Baruch, 2009). Whilst a kaleidoscope uses three mirrors to create patterns, so the model suggests that individuals focus on three career parameters when making decisions. Those parameters or motivators are authenticity, balance and challenge. It was a light bulb moment for me how closely they mirrored my own intrinsic motivators and values. There are similarities to Self Determination Theory (SDT) (Ryan & Deci, 2000) and the three core growth needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness, in that they resonate so strongly with me. As I approach the completion of my master’s degree, I am so aware that I have a real, tangible opportunity to forge a “third age” career based on these lofty and some would say, unrealistic motivators. Whilst the parameters have been simultaneously active over my life span, they haven’t all necessarily been aligned as they appear to be now. Searching for the best fit in line with the context of your life situation, the parameters shift in response to your experiences and circumstances. Some recede into the background and lessen in intensity which reflect the current patterns of your life/career. Yet now in my 60’s they are aligning like an eclipse.
Authenticity: I can make career choices that will permit me to be true to myself without influence by my father, my family responsibilities, my health or my finances.
Balance: Achieving a sustainable work/life balance is one of my core values and I know I have the opportunity to work flexibly and part-time.
Challenge/Autonomy/Competence: The learning from my Masters’ has built on and added to my knowledge and skills “ toolkit” and given me the opportunity to choose for myself the type of work that will be rewarding and stimulating.
Relatedness: Coaching provides an opportunity to engage with, help, support and develop people, whilst simultaneously and continuously learning and developing yourself.
An additional area of learning for me which emanated from my concerns over my age and stimulated some research, concerned the future of work. Whilst we covered the concept of agile as the main topic, it was the concept of working after retirement or ‘unretirement’ that had the most relevance for myself. A recent study to examine unretirement in a general population sample from the UK (Platts et al, 2019), showed that retirement is not necessarily a stable state. A cumulative proportion of around one-quarter of participants in the general population sample used who were retiring from paid work subsequently reversed their full or part-time retirement over the next 15 years. It was more common among men with 25% more likely to unretire than women. Participants with no qualifications were almost 50% less likely to unretire than those with post-secondary qualifications, and those in excellent of good health were around 25% more likely to unretire than those reporting fair, poor or very poor health. There were limitations with the study, one of which was that it was restricted to participants with a record of employment or self-employment from age 40 onwards and didn’t include those who transitioned into retirement from unemployment or family care.
My concerns and self-limiting beliefs around extending my working life has created a vein of further study and learning. Reflecting on my conversations with my partner, my two sons and my friends about returning to work following both my period of full-time family care and my health episode, they were all supportive of my decision. It’s interesting how the role of emotion can shape and influence ideas. Getting the all clear from my illness was a pretty intense emotional time. It triggered a plethora of thoughts, reflections, internal dialogue and discussion, which ultimately led to my commencing my master’s programme to prepare me for ‘unretirement’. It seems that retirement has fragmented in many ways across different pathways and transitions affecting people in their fifties and sixties with another recent paper arguing that retirement has become a ‘contested’ institution in the 21st century (Phillipson, 2019). It identified a range of areas for achieving what they termed a ‘fuller working life’ linking debates with technological developments and changes affecting the workplace, developing new forms of training and continuing education and re-thinking the idea of the ‘older worker’ .In terms of my learning journey, it has opened up an interesting new area of study and research specific to my situation. There seems to be a gap in the research around social gerontology. Applying this very specific learning from the module to my personal career development, it could lead to a different academic path as an additional dimension to my third age career.
To conclude my reflection, the learning I gained from the career management element of the module has directly influenced my decision on the direction of my work. The concept of the intelligent career and the work we did around those three questions, knowing why, knowing how and knowing with whom, provided the affirmation of my values, how they were intrinsically linked to my past career choices and how they are influencing my future choices. If you add on the debate about extending working life and ‘unretirement’ which surfaced for me during the future of work lecture, it has provided yet another possible alternative academic direction and/or an additional career focus. An exciting and stimulating prospect. I just need to achieve my master’s degree for the next phase of my life to begin. (1869)
Dr M.L. Keegan
15th April 2030
Dear Dr Keegan
Firstly, as this letter is for myself, let me congratulate you on reaching the age of 73. As a cancer survivor it is reassuring that treatments these days enable people to view this condition now as eminently treatable, as opposed to one that is life threatening. Secondly, let me commend you for establishing yourself over the last ten years as a coach following the completion of your MSc in Work and Organisational Psychology at DCU. I recall how daunting you found it at the start of the course, wondering whether at the age of 61 after 8 years absence from work in the corporate world as your elderly parents full-time carer, you were lacking in confidence about your ability to undertake such a journey. I remember the questions you were asking yourself. Am I capable of applying myself to the discipline of study? Do I have the academic robustness? Can I overcome these self-limiting beliefs? Having effectively retired from the world of work, your aim in studying for a master’s degree was to renew your existing knowledge and acquire new, up to date knowledge and skills prior to returning to work. 10 years later, what have you achieved?
You are an established and respected freelance Developmental Coach with clients both at home and globally.
You completed your Doctorate in the field of coaching effectiveness
You qualified as a Gestalt coach
You became a Fellow of the International Coaching Federation (ICF)
You have undertaken research on the subject of the older worker and extending working life beyond traditional retirement.
You are about to embark on a journey re-defining yourself in a new dual role as a Transformational Coach and Presenter.
It is worth reminding you about the experience you brought to the table prior to starting your master’s degree, which seems so very long ago. You had an exceptionally varied career following your degree in Recreation Management and Sports Studies. Moving from Leisure Centre management into Financial Services training, then Management Training before becoming a Training Manager. Following this you became a Management Consultant specialising in Learning & Development & Coaching before retiring in your fifties to care for your parents and moving to Ireland. Along the way, in line with your strong personal development ethic, you acquired your Level 7 qualification in HRD from the CIPD and became a Fellow. You also qualified as a Developmental Transactional Analyst, and NLP Master Practitioner and a Clinical Hypnotherapist. This has provided you with a solid foundation to this new role you are about to embark on. One in which you have built on since achieving your master’s degree. Your coaching career has been one of progression from Skills Coaching with a goal related focus, through to Performance Coaching, which was more concerned with developing the effective use of skills in the work context.
Over the last ten years since completing your Masters, you have gradually progressed to working predominantly as a Developmental Coach helping people change, enabling them to engage in a different way with current and future challenges. Your focus has shifted from goal based to more needs based and has been on the longer term, more evolutionary perspectives of your client’s growth. This new role that you are creating, redefining yourself as a Transformational Coach, is very much a reflection of your own transformational journey. In simple terms, it is about ‘being rather than doing’ or enabling self-actualisation. The most important transformational coaching question that you have been asking yourself for many years now is “Who do I choose to be?”. You have been learning and doing what it takes to grow into the embodiment of that choice in being. You are now ready to support people to dive below the surface and immerse themselves in self-exploration, to examine their beliefs, images and interpretations about who they are and their purpose and place in the world. Qualifying as a Gestalt coach to add to your coaching toolkit has acted as a catalyst for this shift in approach to your work. Gestalt, as you know, is very much a needs-based approach to understanding human functioning with the emphasis on awareness. As a Transformational Coach you will be working with your clients to facilitate heightened awareness.
The second element of this new dual role that you are establishing for yourself is that of a presenter. You are due to present your first TED Talk entitled, the “Third Age” career, recounting your experience of retirement reversal or unretirement. Your decision to do a master’s and a PhD in your 60’s, together with working as a freelance Developmental Coach has provided the story journey. In addition, your second occupation and passionate interest in acting over 40 years together with your Advanced Acting Diploma at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, completed part-time whilst looking after your parents, has provided you with the skills of performing to an audience. I know how excited you are about this new direction to your work and your upcoming role as a presenter. You also have a second TED Talk in the pipeline entitled, Redefining “Elders” in Western Culture; aligning global cultures, ancient & modern to embrace the ageing process.
I am confident as you read this letter to yourself, that the self-limiting beliefs that were present when you started your master’s degree 12 years ago, have been erased from your psyche following your successful studies & research since then. Together with your progression and transition from Skill/Performance Coach to Developmental Coach and your own developmental journey, you are more than ready for what may well be your final and most rewarding role in life. Embrace it
Dr Michael L Keegan MSc, PhD.
Arthur M.B, Claman P.H, De Fillippi R.J, (1995), Intelligent enterprise, intelligent careers. Academy of Management Executive, Vol. 9, No. 4
Briscoe, J. P., & Hall, D. T. (2006). The interplay of boundaryless and protean careers: Combinations and implications. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 69: 4-18
Hall, D. T. (1996a). Long live the career. In D. T. Hall (Ed.), The career is dead—Long live the career: 1-12. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hall, D. T. (1996b). Protean careers of the 21st century. Academy of Management Executive, 10: 8-16
Hay. J. (1995) Transactional Analysis for Trainers. A Guide to potent and competent applications of TA in Organisations. Sherwood Publishing. pp 15, 62-68
Phillipson C. (2019) ‘Fuller’ or ‘Extended’ working lives? Critical perspectives on changing transitions form work to retirement. Ageing & Society, 39 629-650
Platts L.G, Corna L.M, Worts D., McDonough P., Price D., Glaser K. (2019) Returns to work after retirement: a prospective study of unretirement in the United Kingdom. Ageing & Society, 39, 439-464
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68.
Stewart. I., Joines.V., (2000) TA Today: A new introduction to Transactional Analysis. Lifespace Publishing. pp134-147
Sullivan S.E, Baruch Y. (2009), Advances in Career Theory and Research: A Critical Review and Agenda for Future Exploration. Journal of Management, 35 (6) 1542-1571