What is This Thing Called Home?

What exactly does it mean when we say, “Home is where the heart is”?

As social animals we all need and long for meaningful connection with others. In so doing we maintain our sense of well-being. We also have a sentimental attachment to the words from the television series “Cheers” where we long for a place where “Everybody knows your name”. But is name recognition all there is to satisfying intimacy? Is a pub where we really find durable connections? Sometimes maybe it is. Mostly no.

What then is this perennial search for intimacy all about? Is it something that we can fully realize? Or, are we setting ourselves up for failure with unrealistic standards?

I have traveled and lived all over the world. I slowly have come to the conclusion that what I am searching for cannot be fully found in one place or group outside of a primary relationship.

The other evening in a group of friends, all in our seventies, we talked of this common longing for connection. There was a time in all of our lives when we could recall a deep bond of friendships with others. That remembered ‘gold standard’ is seldom replicated. But we continue to search for it anyway. Those days are often way back in the forgotten mists of days gone by.

My deepest friendship bonds were in my twenties and thirties where factors like parenting, graduate school, and sporting activities bound my life with that of others. But this entire web of relationships fell apart when I graduated, migrated to the USA, and got divorced. Most bi-cultural people I know never fully feel a part of wherever they go.

Maybe this sense of being disconnected can also be due to my being male. I observe my wife’s close friendship bonds with other women and envy this “female” penchant for closer ties. However, I cannot use my maleness as an excuse for my tenuous connections. As an immigrant of nearly four decades I perpetually feel like an outsider and never a native. In our village you are only a native if your grandparents are buried in the local cemetery.

The fact is there are different levels of community. One of our longstanding friends is currently going through the death of her husband. There is a saying in our village “No person dies alone here“. Evidence of the latter was a rotating group of helpers that delivered meals, helped her lift her husband in and out of bed, and sat with him so that she could get a break from her caretaker role, and packed the local church for his funeral. Why does this not register with me as a durable or deep community bond?

These are the somewhat pessimistic musings of an introvert.

But could there not be another reason why it so difficult to find community? Maybe we set up impossibly high standards for companionship. Also most of us change as we get older and no longer place a high value on running with the crowd. Instead we place a greater premium on solitude.

What I’ve come to realize is that maybe I have been searching for personal relationship satisfaction in all the wrong places.

A solution to loneliness is by us going inward before we venture outward. 

So instead of the downer prompted by the “no close friends” and “you are an outsider” litany of woe (unadulterated self-pity and ego preoccupation on my part of course), there could be a more obvious solution.

The keys to real community are in my pocket not with others. It comes to light when I make the choice to see my true person withinmyself and others, appreciate our oneness, and celebrate what I see. This is more compassionate than viewing our world in terms of relationship deficits.

I guess that is what “loving your neighbor as yourself”is all about. That is the place of rapprochement, genuine human connection, and the building block of community. It is also a way of seeing myself in them, both the dark and light side. We all walk in each other’s shoes, share each other’s shadow self, and are united in both life and death.

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My Failure, My Friend

In a culture besotted with success how can we have a more productive relationship with our failures? And at the same time not lower our standards in the pursuit of excellence?

Some measures that we use in our organizations are helpful like the “voice of the customer or employee”. Such metrics keep us honest about the value and quality of our performance.

However, we are at a point in our national and personal history where we need a paradigm shift that keeps us from trying to avoid failure at all costs. Wallpapering our shortcomings to hide them from the world and polishing our perpetually successful image is not our real world. It is not the voice of our best self.

The good news is that we all fail by the standards of the perpetual success paradigm. For example,

·     A huge percentage of Start Ups don’t make it on the first (or second or third) attempt

·     We have all been laid off from our job at some time

·     Many of our relationships have not been satisfying or productive

·     And so on and so on 

How then can we make friends with our own mistakes and failings?  

1.  Don’t indulge in shame-based messages like “The mistake that I made is the mistake that I am”. It is how we view failure that counts. 

2.  Avoid catastrophic all-or-nothing thinking that views a mistake as the end of our world. Instruct your crazed mind that the failure was a “learning trial”.

3.  Look at examples of people like St. Francis of Assisi who did not take offense when he was insulted or criticized. Such a mature disposition adopts a detachment from the opinion of others. Or in the words of ancient Hindu wisdom, “Do your duty to god without your eyes on the fruit of your action”.

4.  Have the insight to know that the pursuit of perpetual success is what psychologist Carl Jung named our “shadow” or false self.

If degrees were awarded for failures in life I would have a Ph.D. Here I reflect on a recent meditation of Fr. Richard Rohr

One of the great surprises on the human journey is that we come to full consciousness precisely by shadowboxing, facing our own contradictions, and making friends with our own mistakes and failings. People who have had no inner struggles are invariably superficial and uninteresting. We tend to endure them more than appreciate them because they have little to communicate and show little curiosity”.

Your Story

How was your “failure” one of the best things that happened to you?

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Interview by the Executive Diary with Cedric on his Life’s Work

From the Diary Of 

Cedric Johnson 

Cedric is an expert in leadership transition and inspiring leaders to empower others. We are delighted that Cedric has agreed to answer some questions and provide us with the value of his insight into inspirational leadership

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Don’t Play Whackamo With Your Ego

We all have ego challenges. Our anthem often seems to be “I did it my way”. But this egocentric striving works against productive collaboration. It stifles the generation of new ideas and thought leadership. It divides us from each other. My way as the only way is the highway to the “othering” of those around me.

But trying to make the ego disappear just makes it stronger. So here is a roadmap for the management of this pesky part of our person.

Step One. Awareness

The worst thing I can do when my ego rears its ugly head and tell me I am the center of the universe is to deny its presence or try and push it out of my life. That denial strategy becomes like the arcade game of Whackamo where one hits mechanical moles with a mallet as they pop up from their holes. The more you knock them down the more they pop up. A better way of managing the ego is to say to it, “I see you. There you go again!”

Step Two. Compassion

When I judge myself for my small-minded ego responses the worse I feel. But when I laugh with (not at) the ego the more likely I set myself on course towards an authentic soulful response. I am not good at self-compassion because the ego tells me “You will give others an advantage over you”. My usual response to this ego voice is “tell me something I don’t know“.

Step Three. Choose The Opposite 

Some folks really rattle my ego cage. There is a leader that I know that has a huge ego, needs to be in control, and becomes a drill sergeant and bully when people stand in the way. My typical ego response is to joust with this person and push back hard. Surely there has to be a better way than conflict to manage such relationships?

I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza comes to the realization that nothing he does in his life works out for him. All his decisions seem to be the wrong ones. So he comes up with the stunt that from now on he will “Do the opposite”. There is often wisdom in comedy. So when I feel the ego cramping my style by suggesting mindless responses like “Fight back”, I ask myself “How can I demonstrate kindness towards this person?” In so doing this person becomes my teacher and not my nemesis.

Stage Four. Look for the true essence in myself and others

Often love, our energizing force, lies deep within us in the shadow of the ego. Any introspective venture starts with the question “Why?” Like the song of Mary in Jesus Christ Superstar I confess at times “I don’t know how to love you”. To even begin to fathom why our loving nature is constricted we need to go inward.

I need to take my needs, struggles, and ego out of the mix before I can even begin to express my loving self. I also need to be aware of what inhibits love like the struggle with its impermanence, arm wrestling with my ego, and fear that makes me believe that there is scarcity in the world resulting in my losing out in some way or another.

Now it would seem simple to say to myself “Choose to be your loving self and the other more negative stuff will melt away”.Easier said than done. At times you just don’t will yourself into loving. However one must be aware of our internal barriers that keep us from loving. 

The chief path to love is to see the value within each individual that connects us to them. Seeing their inner Buddha, Christ, or essence makes even the most gnarly character lovable. What’s there not to love about that? And then the final step is to access that inner essence in ourselves in quiet meditation and to respond to our crazy world from that place.

Often when I reach the end of all my resources and all my practice seems to fail me I come to the point of surrender where I confess “I can’t”. It is in that moment that I receive the gift of grace.

Surrender is a path to the soul-self.

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Why Community Is So Difficult to Find

I have searched the world over for community and come to the conclusion that it cannot be fully found in one place or group. The contentment we search for is a spiritual quest found on a journey inward to the home where the heart is. 

Last evening in a group of friends, all in our seventies, we talked of our common longing for connection with others. There was a time in all of our lives when we could recall deep bonds of friendship. That ‘gold standard’ seemed long gone and not replicable. But we searched for it anyway. Paradise lost never quite became paradise regained. Those days were often way back in our college years.

My deepest friendship bonds were in my twenties and thirties where factors like parenting, graduate school, sporting activities, and my then religious involvement bound my life with that of others. But all this fell apart when I graduated, got divorced, and migrated to the USA.. Being disconnected with our country of origin is a common challenge for most immigrants. And while assimilation to the USA way of life comes quite easily we are always strangers in a foreign land.

A few weeks ago one of wife’s friends asked me “Do you have friends in whom you can confide? “I had to confess that this is not fully found in one person.

What happened? We now live in a small village where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business. We also attend more social gatherings than ever before. Even with those contacts the social bonds consistently fall short of my somewhat idealized expectations. All in all, even after four years in this location I feel somewhat disconnected. I suspect that is true for most people no matter where they live.

Many studies indicate that personal happiness is correlated with a person having strong community bonds. But why does this happen less often than we think? Why are the suburbs some of the loneliest places on earth? Why do people describe their workplace as their family? I realize that there are factors that interfere with community formation like our frequent home relocation, differing personal and cultural interests, extremely busy lives, and varying expectations of what we want from community.

Maybe it is impossible to experience true community whatever that is. This dilemma reminds me of the ditty

To live above with those we love

Oh that will be glory.

But to live below with those we know

That’s a different story.

But I do not want to end on a pessimistic note.

What I’ve come to realize is that we are searching in the wrong place. The solution is by us going inward before we venture outward. 

Finding the right group of people is not the solution to my inner restlessness. Why do I say this? Well the evidence is very clear. People, including myself, are pulling up roots all the time for one reason or another. They then move on to the village or town de jour where all the ‘cool’ folks are migrating and report that it is a great place to live. We’ve done that several times with the same result.

So after a long downer prompted by the”no close friends” and “you are an outsider” or “what’s wrong with me?” tale of woe (unadulterated self-pity and ego preoccupation on my part of course), there was a more obvious solution.

Go inward. Experience my inner essence and that of others.

The key to real community is in my pocket not that of others. It occurs when I make the choice to see a person’e inner essence, appreciate our oneness, and love what I see, it is then that I experience the oneness that is the ground of community.

I guess that is what “loving your neighbor as yourself” is all about. That is the place of rapproachment, genuine human connection, and the building block of community.

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Is Work/Life Balance Really Possible?

I have yet to meet a person who has achieved work/life balance. This is due to daily changes in the landscape of our lives (life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans), there is always more piling up on our plates than we can handle, and that the metrics for balance are usually imprecise. 

Stop wasting your time on this quest because it is often a vague guilt-ridden aspiration set with the best intentions. The quest for balance is based on,

A false dichotomy between work and the rest of life

We bring the same person to work that we take home, to a house of worship, to the movies, and to the kids’ soccer games. Our needs and experience of our humanity does not change across venues. Rather than balance the quest would be better served if we asked, “How can I show up as my best self no matter where I am?”

An artificial view of time

W/L balance is based on a very Western view of time that views it as a scarce entity. As a result we fear that time will be “wasted”. In the David Lynch movie “The Straight Story” he presents his protagonist Alvin Straight as a contrast to the frenzied life. Alvin travels everywhere on a lawnmower. In so doing he experienced real human encounters. Contrast our lives hell-bent on speed with the Italian saying, “Who goes slowly goes safely; who goes safely goes far”. In this instance time is seen as plentiful. A high value in such cultures is not to rush from one appointment to another but to savour our time with each individual. 

A misplaced sense of priorities

If one places a higher priority on time at the office than one does on reading, socializing, family night, meditating, and exercise then, in Steven Covey’s terms, one is not “sharpening the saw” or replenishing one’s limited resources. One friend of mind thinks this way about being a slave to the clock, “Busy day today? Spend extra time in meditation”. All of life is sacred including sitting and doing nothing.

The fallacy that one can do everything

This unnecessary burden is especially true of women in the workforce, especially those with young children or  special needs family members. Society and especially some males take less responsibility for what is prejudicially labeled as “women’s work” The reality is that one can only juggle so many balls before they start dropping. The question then could be “How can we better share the juggling?”

Question

What are your best practices in living your priorities?

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So You Want to be a Visionary Leader

You can learn the ways of a visionary leader. In essence such a person can see around a corner into the future and inspire others to see and execute on that vision,

Now test yourself against common behaviors of such a leader.

I have known quite a number of remarkable futurists in my decades of consulting practice. Each took their organization to new levels of excellence and profitability. However, one stands out above all the others. I recently asked him “Do You See Blue Sky or Dark Clouds in your industry?” His business was going through a bit of a slump but he had an irrepressible sense for greater opportunities in the future. He saw blue sky.

o What made this leader stand out from his peers in the same organization/industry?

o Why was he like the optimistic child who viewed a pile of manure and started digging for the pony?

The thing about this leader is that he saw both the obstacles as well as new possibilities for the future.

What six behaviors made him such a remarkable visionary? 

He had a

1.  Global Business Perspective

The problem with many a successful business is that the leadership can become internally focused. What worked in the past is assumed to be the predictor for future success. However, this leader was able to appreciate and integrate multiple sociopolitical and global factors like the growing scarcity of water, nutrition needs of a greatly expanding and mobile world population, advances in technology like that of artificial , and the changing nature of the workforce that included millennials. He truly saw the bigger picture.

2.  Realist/Optimist Disposition

Futurists are not clueless or careless dreamers. They can look at the facts about their organization, good and bad, and press on to new business frontiers. That makes them courageous realists. However, what makes them stand out from the pack is that they see viable business opportunities where others see obstacles. They ask questions like, “How can we the downturn in the industry to our advantage?” Furthermore,their native optimism spurs them on in the face of opposition.

The motto of this leader was “They thought we were buried, but they did not know we were seeds”

3.  Openness to Change 

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with change. We may hear the drum beat “change or die”. We resist the imperative to alter our ways for a multitude of reasons. Ours may be conscious or unconscious, based on a fear of going out of our comfort zone, spurred by a tendency to rest on the laurels of our success, or a deep longing for the “good old days”. But in the end, the visionary leader has a compelling reason to lead change. And come hell or high water, change happens.

4.  Wide Network With External Thought-Leaders

Many senior leaders confine their network to their own organization. However visionaries have the opportunity to meet with thought-leaders beyond their own company and discipline. In so doing they enjoy the fruits of cross-fertilization. All this exposure to a wider circle enriches their capacity to innovate and expose their organization to new ideas. They also read widely. I saw that Gates reads an average of 50 books per year. An executive friend of has studied successful . Two factors makes these folks successful. A passion for what they do and a network of giving colleagues.

5.  Deep in the Arts and History

 I once taught a Humanities course in a Business Management degree program. One course assignment was for the students to visit a museum, art galley, cultural event from their ethnic , or read a biography of some important historical figure (other than in business). The assignment was then to relate this experience to their business context. The revelation was that many of them had confined their whole life experience to the business world.

Great visionary leaders not only read widely but they travel extensively, have broad experience in the arts, and are insatiably curious about everything around them. They then import this experience to their business context that becomes richer as a result. All work and no play truly makes “Jack/Jill dull-”. The leader I work with has all this intellectual and cultural breadth and it continually informs his work experience.

6. A Finger on the Pulse of the Customers

Every visionary leader has a research-based perspective on the present and future needs of the customer. In addition, both the leader and customer are in agreement as to this growth need. One stand out reason for the buy-in is that the cause being espoused is far bigger that any narrow perspective they may have. The cause also serves the common good. That data may be derived from voice of the customer surveys, trends in the industry, best practices of competitors, or break through technology emerging from R&D. In some instances it comes from the instinct of one leader. One IT Executive told me recently, “I can imagine a day when we no longer need apps .”

I realize that this article is based the anecdotal evidence of one leader who embodied all these behaviors. However,

My Question

What behavioral markers have you observed in true visionaries?

Please share your perspective.

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A Letter to my Younger Self

My dear younger self,

You are at the beginning of your career and first marriage and life is brimming with hope. You are deeply optimistic and have great plans for yourself and your new family. You believe that you made a career based on an inner calling and then set the course of your life based on this compass direction. The result is certain: things will turn out the way you planned. You work hard, stay focused, and good things will happen. Everyone roots for you and is deeply in your future plans.

Now listen up. Things are going to change.

In mid-life your whole universe may collapse. Most dreams you ever had will crumble. Instead of universal support you will run into a firestorm of opposition even from some of your closest friends. 

There are times when you will bomb terribly with mistakes that will embarrass you for years to come. Your family will not turn out the way you planned. Your career will be in in tatters. Death, divorce, and may stare you in the face. And everything in your deep-seated faith (It calls, you answer, and it happens) will be up for grabs. When it comes to your health you will have been through all manner of physical challenges. With your sense of despair sometimes at an all time low, you will sit there asking “What happened and what now?”

Here are some pointers that you will probably not believe and may completely disregard.

However, before you reject these views out-of-hand, consider this.

Right now in later life things have never been better. You may be living in the most exciting and fulfilling period of life. You learned that even bad things get better. You have come to embrace impermanence. As a result you embrace all you have today and you make the most of and are grateful for the good times

But for what’s its worth, here is my spin on the wisdom that I have discovered and the lessons learned through momentous loss, grievous disappointment, and the complete unpredictability of life. This concrete advice I offer to you my younger self.

Life is messy. It never turns out the way you plannedBut it could even get better.

In the end it is better to be a realist and not a dreamy idealist. Naïve idealism can lead to you becoming disappointed, depressed, and disillusioned. It can also keep you trying to control the uncontrollable, depend on people (as well as yourself) always behaving in rational and adult ways, and create fantasies of how you want things to turn out. In a strange way, this realization of the messiness of life normalizes things when you go through hurtful relationships, jobs that are disappointing, and broken dreams. It also helps us let go of the illusion that we are in control in life.

Success, as people define itis not everything that it is cracked up to be

We often define success as getting to the top, receiving , being financially secure, and having the model marriage and family. There are two reasons to avoid this trap. First, life does not work that way. And second, the success of being is more important than the success of doingFurthermore, the fact that there have been failures does not make you a failure. The one success you can control is by being a giving person.

Look for the many faces of grace that appear out of the blue in the hard times

Grace is the one constant in the face of ever changing circumstances . Grace is also bundled into unpredictable and seemingly hidden events despite heartbreaking and confusing losses. Through the gift of grace, (grace always finds me. I don’t find it), we experience those painful experiences to be our most transforming moments and instructional teachers. As the writer Adyashanti writes of his difficult times,

“The immensity of unconditional love was just washing over me in waves”

Grace opens the door of my heart to another way of living. The result is gratitude and a capacity to see the beauty inherent in everything. Who would have known that life could bring one to such a place?

Pay attention.

People will tell you to be mindful and stay in the moment. That advice is largely a cliche. It is more important to pay attention to everything around you. See things and people with this fresh set of eyes. Above all, get out of your head and into your heart. Keep yourself from being derailed by your emotions (I can control everything, understand everything, and predict my future accurately) . In so doing you will walk the path to discovering the magic of living. Just think of the wonderful moments you miss when you are living solely in terms of future hopes or past regrets?

Forgive yourself and others

The letting go of past “failures” is one key to finding yourself fully in the present. I find the mercy and permission to give myself absolution for the past. For those past indiscretions and foolish choices I declare myself to have been temporarily crazy (mindless instead of mindful). It also helps to be able to move to a new community where nobody knows and cares about my past and I have the opportunity to reinvent myself. Why beat up on myself when that act does nothing to change the past? Why reminisce about my flawed humanness when one real problem is the lack of acceptance of others? They may remain stuck in their desire to control or judge me, but I choose to move on.

To my middle aged self I leave you with the words of Adyashanti,

“In those moments when we know that we don’t know, when we take the backward step, heart wide open, we fall into grace.”

So my dear younger self, brimful with dreams and plans, I trust that you will learn these lessons sooner rather than later. They will not prevent the tragedies and disappointments of life from occurring. Your middle age may still be a time when the “stuff hits the fan”. However, these beliefs will empower you to see other paradigms of living. The bitter pill life will ask you to swallow will not be as bitter. It may even be the cure from yourself.

Above all, remember that it may seem that your ship is sinking but in reality it is only changing course. So you don’t have to descend into despair and hopelessness. You can then grab the opportunity to live more fully before you die. In fact you will be preparing for a better way to die.

Best wishes

The older man you never dreamed you would become

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Giving – The Path to Success

All of us to some degree or another look out for #1, our own interests. However we reach our higher self and the peak of leadership effectiveness when we serve others. We have to find ways to transition from “What’s in it for me” to “What’s in me for it”. 

Adam Grant in his book “Give and Take” points to a survey that found that most countries in the world rate “giving as their most important value”. However even givers cover up for this generous spirit for fear of being judged as weak at work. But in the end, even though they may be exploited and burn out, givers achieve extraordinary success across a wide range of industries and cultures.

Over the last few decades the idea of servant leadership has come to the forefront in leadership practice. It is seen as a more desirable way to lead. In fact Carol Walker writes in the Harvard Business Review that the leader as a servant has

The potential to deliver far more of what most of us are really after: influence.  The reason is simple. When you have a servant mentality, it’s not about you. Removing self-interest and personal glory from your motivation on the job is the single most important thing you can do to inspire trust.

The more I move towards retirement and the degree to which I migrate from the corporate to the non-profit world, I begin to experience new dimensions in the joy of service. Not that I did not serve in my consulting business. I was helping leaders and organizations realize their potential. However, working pro bono has a whole different feel to it. My experience is replicated again and again as seen in the high levels of volunteerism in the United States. When we lived in Mexico I clearly remember the three pages of volunteer organizations published in our newspaper in our Central Mexican town.

In the end givers are great networkers, don’t expect anything in return for their generosity, and have an open door policy to their hearts.

Think of some of your greatest mentors and those who placed your success and well-being above their own-

What delights have you experienced in giving?

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Live to Work or Work to Live?

I once had a long conversation with a highly educated Mexican tour guide. We were on a seven-mile hike through a national forest in Mexico. We were discussing the meaning of work in our respective cultures, and he remarked,

“People in the USA live to work. Here in Mexico we work to live. Sometimes I think people north of the border have gone crazy about their work. Everyone seems so stressed out.”

It made me wonder: Have we as a society become gone absolutely crazy in regards to work? Why are we one of the most stressed-out societies as seen in part by the huge increase in mental health problems amongst our college students?

On the plus side, work still promises to bring Americans personal satisfaction, a sense of contribution, increasing affluence, status in the community, and a deep personal identity. This all sounds like a formula for living a good life, right?

What then is the down side of our work life in the USA?

For a start consider the experience of Marie who recently commented on one of my blog postings: 

When I stopped practicing law and I became a full time homemaker I was increasingly annoyed by the question “What do you do?” The one instance that stands out in my mind was the time I was wrapping up my cases. I had made a final appearance in the family law courtroom and was asked what are you doing these days? I told her (the other lawyer) that I was a stay-at- home mom. She said aloud in the open courtroom, “It must be nice to sit on your ass all day.” I was speechless. What a put down!

It is bad enough when others insult us, in public no less! But the lawyer’s crass comment to her colleague says a lot about her personal attitudes toward work. It also reflects the underlying attitudes of our society toward work. Let’s look at a few of these attitudes:

  1. Homemaking is not a job.  Homemaking has a negative value, and is a situation to be avoided.
  • Our society ranks professions in terms of value and importance and rewards them, accordingly: lawyers are more important than homemakers caring for children; business executives, movie stars, and sports figures are more important than educators, social workers, and nurses.
  • We are judged on (and our value pegged to) the particular profession in which we choose to engage and our rung on the organizational ladder; by how much we earn; how many hours we spend working; our ability to pay others to do less-valued work (e.g., paying a nanny, an eldercare provider, a carpenter).

When work is viewed in such a narrow, biased way; that is, as the vehicle through which we achieve status and acceptance in our society, there are consequences. If our life is totally consumed by what we do, how hard we work at it, and how much we are compensated, there’s a price we pay in our quality of life.

For example, we can:

a)  Lose focus on what really provides profound satisfaction at work. 

b)  Have very little or no time for a life outside of work and consequently, neglect other aspects of ourselves that could be developed (e.g. developing other aptitudes, discovering spiritual aspects of ourselves) 

c)  Allow ourselves to be exploited by employers who constantly strive to do more with less and require that we, for example, do the work of two people while our salary remains the same.

 d)  Endure high, even dangerous, amounts of negative stress because we believe that our identity, significance, and value are determined exclusively by what we do (our “Work”).

Consequently, we are willing to devote our entire lives to “work”. 

How then do we release ourselves from this noose around our necks and make the changes we need to live a well-rounded life of purpose and meaning? 

Without retiring from the workforce altogether, how can we achieve a focus on other priorities and a higher quality of life?

One question you might first ask yourself is how much discomfort or pain are you experiencing at work?

For some, a major negative life event is the catalyst for change, e.g., a heart attack or a relationship breakdown. Though painful, these events can serve as a wake-up call, causing us to reevaluate the way we view our lives and our work.

For others, it may be the realization that life is becoming highly unbalanced, crazy, or meaningless.

If you are ready to make significant changes in your orientation to work, how do you begin? Let’s look at some possible first steps:

Face the fact that the way you are working is not working for you. You cannot change your culture’s work orientation but you can change yours. Examine the personal price you are paying in the way you work and ask yourself:  “Is there not more to life than this?” “Could there be a better way?

  • Ask yourself what it is about work that is working against you. Is it working long hours that you believe may be negatively affecting your health or relationships? Is it that your work no longer gives your life meaning?
  • Are you over-investing in your work at the expense of other aspects of your life such as pursuing a life passion, balancing your life with healthy pursuits such as exercise or meditation, taking adventurous or restorative vacations, or spending more time with your children or an aging parent?
  • If work has lost  meaning, identify the factors that make for positive work motivation and begin to think of ways to build them into your life. According to Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, these include: a sense of contribution, autonomy, and mastery. What powerful and positive motivational forces drive you?
  • Begin to visualize how your life will be in a work situation where you have both passion and life balance.
  • Act intentionally. This is one of the most important initial action steps you can take. For instance, you may start by devoting one hour a week to developing the artistic talent you have been neglecting. This breaks inertia and opens the door to new possibilities and ways of being.
  • Realize that personal change comes slowly. You will need courage, focus, and the support of key people. In some cases, you may need to change careers or physically move to a different area in order to transform your life.
  • Make changes and don’t quit your job. Perhaps staying in your job is the right move; however, you may need to change how you approach your work. Write down your most important life priorities, decide which ones you can implement now, and then set firm boundaries so that work does not compromise them. To do this, you may need to think of ways to reorganize your work.

It doesn’t have to take a crisis to make changes in the way you do your work. You can begin right now. In the comments section, please share your personal story of how you transformed (or want to transform) your approach to work.

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