27 September 2023

When work severs us from reality

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Arianna Huffington* previews a science fiction movie that has uncomfortable similarities to some real-life workplaces.

Sometimes the best way to understand the reality we’re living in is to see it heightened and distorted in fiction — or science fiction.

That’s why I’m looking forward to viewing Severance, Adam Scott’s new show on Apple TV+.

As described in Alexis Soloski’s New York Times profile of Scott, the show is an “unnerving workplace drama” that “takes the notion of work-life balance to new extremes.”

The title comes from a voluntary surgical procedure in which your work self has no awareness or memories of your home self.

It’s a vivid way of illustrating the emptiness of defining ourselves only by our work.

Like many a chilling premise, the conceit at the heart of Severance is extreme — but not that extreme.

How many of us, depleted and burned out from pursuing a warped definition of success, have realised — with horror — that we’ve disconnected from some of the most important parts of ourselves.

It’s as if we really have been severed from what makes us fully human.

It’s a lesson that Scott himself has had to learn over the years.

“My boundaries are all over the place,” he said.

“I’ve often put far too much of my self-worth into whether I’m working or not and the perception of my work once I’ve done it.

“That’s unhealthy.”

After struggling as an actor for 15 years, he also says that fame and success weren’t what he thought they’d be.

“I started getting recognised, and it just felt completely different than I had imagined that feeling for those 15 or so years,” he said.

“It didn’t feel like this warm acceptance and hug.

“I always thought it would feel like love or something, but it’s a weird, isolating feeling.”

It was a feeling heightened by the shooting of the show during the pandemic, which meant that Scott was away from his wife and children for months on an isolated set.

An even deeper parallel was that Scott’s character, Mark Scout, is grieving for his late wife, and Scott was still processing the death of his mother, who died shortly before the pandemic.

In any case, I can’t wait to see it.

It’s my kind of show: Escapism that teaches us something about ourselves and the real world.

It’s our broken definition of success taken to its logical — and surgical — extreme.

To borrow from philosopher, George Santayana: Those who ignore science fiction may be condemned to live it.

*Arianna Huffington is the founder and Chief Executive of Thrive Global; the founder of The Huffington Post, and the author of 15 books, including, most recently, Thrive and The Sleep Revolution.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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