External Relations - Emerson Csorba
Written by: Makena Kigunda
As seen in the October 2017 issue.
Meet Emerson Csorba, a University of Alberta Philosophy alumnus. An involved student, Emerson served as Vice President Academic of the Student’s Union, founded a student-run online magazine called The Wanderer, and launched a recruiting company that has evolved into an international consulting group. Emerson has since gone onto complete a Masters of Philosophy in Education at Cambridge, and is currently enrolled at Oxford pursuing a doctorate in Theology. An avid writer, his work has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, New York Times, and Globe and Mail. Come April 2018, Emerson will publish his first manuscript: one that focuses on the importance of solitude in millennial culture.
In your upcoming book, Millennials in the Modern Workforce, you touch upon themes including personal reflection and solitude in a hyper-connected society. What do you hope millennials take away from your novel?
Society values productivity, taking action in the world, and doing things that have outcomes attached to them—solitude does not fall within that paradigm. Solitude is less about taking action and more about being, and finding who you are as an individual. Spending time in solitude often becomes a source of anxiety, because a person can’t really quantify it, or say that it gives them short term measurable results. Solitude needs to be deliberate, but the person also should embrace the fact that it’s not necessarily going to feel good. It’s not something a person can really see as productive even though in the long term, it is.
Is this something that has been the core of your research through schooling?
The philosophy that I did at the U of A was an introduction. I was heavily influenced by a professor, Don Carmichael, and he got me really interested in these topics. Part of it came out of business work as well, and growing increasingly critical of the millennial narrative: where many of my peers are all about progress, achieving their potential, doing more, and taking action. The whole Nike saying of “just do it”—that’s part of our culture. It’s about seeing the benefit in that but also seeing a lot of the anxiety it produces, and thinking about the extent to which individuals are responsible for that anxiety, as well as the extent to which structural issues contribute to the challenges that people face. Even about the fact that more people go to university nowadays than in the past, the way in which courses are set up with large classrooms, that there’s less time for dialogue, and there’s more focus competition on competition and grades.
I guess what I’m saying is that part of this has been informed by business and part of it has been informed by philosophy.
Aside from being an author, you are also an entrepreneur, co-founder of The Wanderer, and Csorba & Co. Ltd, a consulting company. What does Csorba & Co. offer it’s clients and how did you enter the field of consulting?
A large number of people around me had run companies and they were influential in helping me get around the idea that it’s actually possible to start a business. The first contract that we had was $1000 dollars. That became $2000, then $4000. We got a $20K project and it just kind of went from there. So growth has been organic in that sense.
The service we provide is a combination of social network analysis and scraping social media data, then making sense of that. It comes with a lot of research: the more scholarly for the more academic clients. Then, a lot of network building.
What do you think are the benefits of hyper-connectivity and immediacy & do they outweigh the cons?
It’s possible to meet somebody online, get to know them over the course of the year, work on projects with them, and have that report before you meet in person. That would not have been possible 30, or even 20, years ago and now it’s seamless. Our constant connectedness also contributes to people thinking more about their stories. For some people it’s fun. It’s fun to do that, and they build their personal brand. So in some ways, all these things are really good.
What I think it takes away, ironically in many cases, is a real individualism. It’s possible, in people’s efforts, to curate personal brands: to portray themselves in a particular manner for a particular audience that they think about what other people want to see. They think at a superficial level about the kind of experiences they’ve acquired, the things that they’re interested in, and how those things can be tied together and showcased. I think that’s a real problem, because a person can then live in cheap security. They can be content with portraying themselves in a manner that receives validation from others, so it feels good. It feels like the person is on the right track, but in many cases they’re not. There’s a stress in this activity, in having to portray oneself and spend time online and in online conversation. I’m not sure that is as beneficial for that person in the long-term as actually spending time alone, and asking, “who am I? What kind of things do I care about? Am I moving in a direction that is right for me?”
Do the cons outweigh the pros? I’ve argued it in a New York Times piece that they do. The familiarity with one’s self, with who a person is, is the basis for taking action in a way that is meaningful, and that actually endures. Action is really important. But that sort of reflection needs to be there. And when it’s not? It makes it really difficult for a person to have solidity in their lives—doing things but on a precarious foundation.
How does your awareness of the importance of being an individual first shape your personal approach to goal setting, work-life balance, and solitude?
One of the lessons entrepreneurship has taught me is things take time. Patience is really important, especially when a person is going after clients. When they have to do business development, it’s really important to work with clients that share similar values and vision. It may lead to actually forgo projects that might be lucrative, financially, where those other points aren’t there.
What one piece of advice would you give to students & young professionals who are just entering the workforce?
Be serious, but not too serious. I’ll explain that. To be serious means a person should put as much effort as they possibly can in things that deeply matter to them. But they should not be too serious, in that they do not take themselves too seriously and understand that things take time.