Inhabiting the Self-Work Romantic Utopia: Positive Psychology, Life Coaching, and the Challenge of Self-Fulfillment at Work

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Much has been said about the rise of work as a central identity marker in modern society. With the recent popularization of self-help and positive psychology, this identity marker broadened its signification to include new emotional needs such as love and passion, creating a new cultural imaginary: the “self-work romantic utopia.” Sociological studies have criticized this utopia as a myth that serves capitalist neoliberal structures, leading to frustration and self-blame. However, little is known about how workers themselves confront this myth and the strategies they employ when attempting to inhabit it in today’s precarious job market. Based on 60 in-depth interviews with upper-middle class Israeli workers who hired life coaches to improve their work experience, the author identifies five strategies used to inhabit this romantic utopia: starting over, healing, idealization, polygamy, and vision. Through the analysis of these strategies, the author illustrates how even the relatively privileged workers need to adapt the self-work romantic utopia to their life circumstances, inhabiting the myth in partial degrees. Such flexible implementation turns the “myth” into a cultural tool that directs workers’ lives and actions even in a precarious, unstable job market, maintaining subjective experiences of agency in a sphere characterized by growing structural constraints. Yet paradoxically, these strategies eventually strengthen the precarious, noncommitted, and individual-oriented structure of the job market, yielding flexible, individualistic solutions that replace workplace responsibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-69
Number of pages30
JournalWork and Occupations
Issue number1
Early online date22 Mar 2020
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • emotions
  • life coaching
  • passion
  • positive psychology
  • precarious work
  • self-fulfillment


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