Today’s workplace is not what your grandparents or parents experienced. This new reality brings with it many challenges. Learning to think fast and think slow. Tolerating ambiguity while searching for security. Embracing positive uncertainty. Knowing that what you are doing today and how you are doing it will most certainly change in the near future. Leaning into lifelong learning. Developing technical competence while growing emotional intelligence. Understanding your culture while valuing and appreciating your co-workers’ culture. These represent just some of the challenges workers encounter.
In this context, traditional approaches to career work are often insufficient. As workers struggle to navigate their way within their work, they inevitably encounter the big and important questions such as: Who am I, really? How do I create a life of meaning and purpose in a world where I often feel like I don’t matter? What truly matters to me? Sometimes, life forces these questions upon us. We find ourselves out of work unexpectedly, suffer from a job that consumes too much of our time, experience a deep loss or are required to relocate continually to maintain employment. When our work seems so willing to sacrifice us, we can be left much less willing to sacrifice so much of ourselves for work. In these instances, we are left with the big and important questions.
Many of us, however, feel unprepared to lean into these questions. We deny or suppress the presence of these questions in our lives. When we do, we miss life’s invitation to step into our authentic selfhood.
For many, the rules of the game have been defined by external forces for so long that they become numb to this invitation. We simply ignore the RSVP to show up. We become so keen to keep our employers happy; we hope so much for admiration from our family and friends; we work so hard to climb predetermined ladders for the golden ring of success, that we become strangers to our true selves. The more we live this way, the more we forget how to live our way.
Building careers with authenticity
Career work with soul emphasizes ways to navigate career expectations without losing ourselves. Essentially, the goal is to reclaim ourselves from work. This is not to say that we should ignore the need to adapt to workplace expectations. It is to say, however, that we need to develop the awareness and insight that guides us in making authentic decisions. This allows us to protect our core self and honour our key values, so that we can live a life reflecting our unique meaning and purpose. In this sense, our uniqueness leads to our challenges. These challenges can, if we allow them, wake us up to the possibility of living and working authentically, which is where our true gifts reside.
How do we begin to ground our careers in authenticity? First, we acknowledge that while we are busy making a living, we are also busy living a life. That is, the more we embrace multiple life roles, the more complete we become. We move from living to work to creating a life that is we feel is worth living.
The poet David Whyte recommends we start this process by taking the next step. In his poem “Start Close In,” he writes:
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don’t want to take.
One way to start close in is to reflect upon what gives you joy. Note the times in your life when you feel joyful. Write them down. Take your time and be as thorough as possible. Pay attention to not only what you are doing when you feel joyful but who you are with and where you are. Assume there are patterns in what you identify and note what they are. Try to identify the values underlying your joyful engagement with the world. List the values.
I really hope you will commit to this activity. If you do, you will have taken the first step, the step close in to your authenticity. You will brush up against your own intimacy – your true self; the self that you must honour, value and respect in your choices and your living. In doing so, you begin the process of reclaiming your soul so that you can give your true self to the world, which becomes the greatest gift you can give yourself. Put another way, you become a soulful participant in your own career. Let the fun (and the joy) begin!
As a second assignment, watch how my close friend “Mike the Mailman” works with soul and lives with joy.
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