"Have you ever thought of subjecting your personal management style to a 'self-actualisation' test?" a well-meaning HR executive earnestly suggested to me recently.
I was in the process of employing more staff and had decided to hand over the interview process to a professional sieving consultancy.
"Self-actualisation?" I mumbled defensively. Suddenly, I sniffed something oddly contradictory in the air. I thought I was me who was doing the hiring, not the other way round.
Apparently that's how it is in the brave new world of employment contracts.
Employees want to know if I measure up as an employer, before I get the chance to hire.
"I'm slightly unclear what you mean by 'self-actualisation'?" I continued cautiously, believing this was simply mumbo-jumbo dreamed up by HR gurus, who traditionally tend to hide behind waffle when trying to impress potential new clients.
"You'd find the test results interesting and they present a broader picture for finding compatible employees, to assist you grow your business," I was assured.
As the 'self-actualisation' test involved about three hours, I was able to excuse myself from that particular marathon, promising to report back at a more suitable time.
"What's a 'self-actualisation' test?" I asked the caregiver over dinner.
"Somebody telling you to get real," she suggested.
When I explained that our HR consultants wanted me to undergo the assessment, she dryly reminded me that because I'd spent most of my life living in a state of non-reality, they might find their test criteria unable to measure such an extreme case.
Retiring to my study with her quip stinging my ears, I decided to research the subject and was surprised to find that 'self-actualisation' had been around since the 1930s.
As expected, the term really means "the full realisation of one's potential" and was well-documented and labelled by eminent psychologists at a time when writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Kierkegaard were spouting weighty, unnerving visions of what life was all about.
Sartre's pessimistic view was that we were all hopelessly stuck in some ghastly, mud-filled pit, leading a passive and rather boring acquiescent existence, and unless we understood the absurdity of our situation, we'd never escape and enjoy the full potential of a prosperous and well-ordered existence.
"Sounds like being married with children ..." I sagely muttered - making sure the caregiver didn't overhear my take on Sartre's rather uncompromising beliefs.