Friday, April 4, 2008
Designing a Livelihood;Do What You Love & Love What You Do
If you’re a typical North American, work fills more of your waking hours, consumes more of your energy and contributes more to your self-image than ever before. At the same time, an uncertain world and a changing workplace are leaving millions of workers feeling more anxious than ever before. For an increasing number of people, this anxiety parallels a realization that their work has ceased to be – if it ever was – fulfilling.
For many people, there is a lack of connection between the values of private life and the values of the workplace. Community and cooperation may be important values at home, but in most workplaces, rewards result from independence, competition and acquisition. Work provides a livelihood, but it can be life-draining if it asks us to leave ourselves at the door when we come to work.
But change is in the wind. An increasing number of people from all walks of life are trying to make their time at work more meaningful. They are designing their work lives so they are not only personally satisfying but contribute to the world. They are finding their true passion and integrating it into their lives – and integrating their lives and their work.
Sound impossibly utopian? Not really. These people are merely discovering an ancient concept that Buddhists call "Right Livelihood". This term reflects a belief that each person should follow an occupation consistent with the principles of honest living, treating with respect other people and the natural world. It means being responsible for the consequences of one’s actions, living lightly on the earth and taking no more than a fair share of its resources.
Most people settle for making a living rather than making a life. We make excuses for this, such as family responsibilities or our debt load. Many of us chose our careers based on what was expected of us, what we had been exposed to, or what somebody else thought we should do. We bought into the belief that if we worked at our dream job, it would not pay well enough to support us and our families, so we put our dream on hold. Unfortunately, the schools most of us attended crushed our creativity and prepared us to fit the mold of what is expected of us.
Conscious design of your livelihood doesn’t necessarily mean forgoing financial security or even wealth. A study of business school graduates tracked the careers of 1,500 people from 1960 to 1980. From the beginning, the graduates were grouped into two categories. Category A consisted of people who said they wanted to make money first so that they could do what they really wanted to do later – after they had taken care of their financial concerns. Those in category B pursued their true interests first, sure that money eventually would follow. Of the 1,500 graduates in the survey, 83 percent (1,245 people) were in category A. The category B risk takers made up 17 percent, or 255 graduates. After twenty years there were 101 millionaires in the group. One came from category A, 100 from category B.
The study’s author, Srully Blotnick, concluded that “the overwhelming majority of people who have become wealthy have become so thanks to work they found profoundly absorbing...Their ‘luck’ arose from the accidental dedication they had to an area they enjoyed.”
Another ancient spiritual concept, “soul-making” is making a comeback in both spiritual and psychological circles. Thomas Moore, author of the popular book Care of the Soul, suggests that the spiritual and psychological belong together, that an inquiry into each is a part of soul-making. If the soul lies at the intersection of our spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social and physical selves, then soul-making is about becoming all of who we are. Since for most of us, our work is an important part of who we are, soul-making requires us to look at the people we are at work, at the communities we form there, and at the nature of our work itself.
At the forefront of this movement are dozens of books and workshops on the subject, as well as a flourishing of organizations of business professionals committed to transforming work and the workplace into arenas where life is nourished. The movement, which runs the gamut from Bible groups to New Age chant sessions and covers a lot of ground in the middle, serves a broad range of interests. Some employee groups focus on attaining personal fulfillment on the job. Others concentrate on refurbishing corporate values.
There are conferences on the subject and this year marked the first Spirit at
Work Awards, named after the late movement guru and futurist Willis Harman. The awards are designed to acknowledge organizations that have implemented specific policies, programs, or practices that nurture spirituality in their organizations.
A leading advocate of this viewpoint is Tom Chappell, founder and CEO of health and beauty-aid manufacturer Tom's of Maine. Chappell built his $20 million company from scratch in little over a decade. He’d been persuaded to make some business decisions that went against his grain and became progressively disenchanted with the ideas and ideals put forth by a crop of young MBAs the company had hired. By the mid-1980s, he was disillusioned with the goal of success for success’s sake. In 1986, he took a rather drastic step, enrolling as a theology student at Harvard Divinity School. Since then, he’s been committed to the idea of making his company a more spiritual, ethical and “soul-friendly” place, a strategy he calls “managing for both profit and the common good”. He tells the story in his book The Soul of a Business.
Among his innovations, some are fairly dramatic. All employees devote five percent of their work hours to community groups they believe in, from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to local arts councils. The company as a whole gives 10 percent of pretax profits to philanthropic groups, primarily environmental ones.
A diverse group of spiritual leaders, from divinity school professors to Native American tribal elders, are invited to speak to employees regularly. Some of these people serve on the company’s board of directors.
Taking a step like Chappell did is not easy. Often, discovering your passion comes as a result of a crisis – a work crisis like being laid off, a health crisis or accident, or an incident like September 11 that creates a spiritual crisis.
In their book True Work: The Sacred Dimension of Earning a Living, Justine and Michael Toms, remind us that creativity often results from chaos. These visionary and hard working cofounders of New Dimensions Radio say that what is needed is “radical trust”. “When the hardest lessons and most difficult experiences are in front of us, that’s where the gold is, that’s where the real nitty-gritty of your own authenticity lies.”
Living a life that includes passion about your occupation starts with awareness about what really brings you joy. And figuring that out is not always easy. Psychotherapists, life skills coaches, career counselors, outplacement services, and a variety of seminars on the subject may help.
One of the main pieces of advice on which the experts seem to agree is to slow down. Take the time to be quiet and observe yourself. Your own childhood is a great place to search for clues to your grown-up work passion. Make a list of all the things that attracted you as a kid. Did you love to build forts? Organize lemonade stands with the neighborhood kids? For each activity, ask yourself what you liked about it and why.
The best way to expand your thinking is by stepping outside the confines of your day-to-day life. Sign up for a class devoted to something new to you. Read publications outside your typical areas of interest or expertise. You may discover a new interest or idea that would never have occurred to you otherwise.
Interview others you admire. Talk to people you have considered as role models and to those who are doing what you’d love to do if you had the courage (or money).
Michael Phillips in his book The Seven Laws of Money, states that “money will come when you are doing the right thing”. Using the forward motion of a steam engine as an analogy, he explains that, “Money is like steam; it comes from the interaction of fire (passion) and water (persistence) brought together in the right circumstance, the engine”. So explore how you could you get paid to create a product or provide a service related to your passion?
Taking action is the next step toward manifesting your right livelihood. Write down your new mission, take a class, hire a coach, set goals, do anything positive that will keep you on track with your dreams.
Once you’ve started the process of change, create a support group. Stay in touch with your coach. Work with a mentor. Make a commitment with a close friend to make the changes you’ve decided on.
This movement does not have to be about disrupting life changes. If you’re still not sure that the change you’re planning is the right one for you and/or your family, consider embarking on a trial lifestyle sabbatical. Take a few months or a year away from your regular work, and try out your new plan.
Resources for Creating Right Livelihood
True Work: Doing What You Love and Loving What You Do by Michael and Justine Toms (Bell Tower, 1998)
Making a Life, Making a Living: Reclaiming Your Purpose and Passion in Business and in Life by Mark Albion (Warner Books, 2000)
Making a Living While Making a Difference by Melissa Everett (New Society Publishers, 1999)
Bring Your Soul To Work: An Everyday Practice by Cheryl Peppers and Alan Briskin (Berrett-Koehler, 2000)
The Soul of a Business – Managing for Profit and the Common Good by Tom Chappell (Bantam Books, 1993)
Mindfulness and Meaningful Work: Explorations in Right Livelihood edited by Claude Whitmyer, (Parallax Press, 1994)
Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow – Discovering Your Right Livelihood by Marsha Sinetar (DTP, 1989)
To Build the Life You Want, Create the Work You Love: The Spiritual Dimension of Entrepreneuring Marsha Sinetar (St. Martin’s Press, 1996)
Finding Your Perfect Work by Paul and Sarah Edwards (Putnam Publishing Group, 2002)
Bringing It Home - A Home Business Start-Up Guide for You and Your Family by Wendy Priesnitz (The Alternate Press, 1996)
Spirituality at Work
Episcopal Diocese of CA