|Cutting Edge Ideas from 2500 Years Ago|
Out of Passion
Remember the good old days, when all those pop- psych business books we were reading talked about how to discover your passion and make it the center of your work? Doing work about which you were passionate was as essential as making sure your stock options were at the right strike-price before you signed your offer letter.
These days, as I roam the corridors of Corporate America and sneak glimpses during the day at the bleak financial news, I've been thinking a lot about a very different word that failed to make it into those books: kindness. Maybe it's because I'm 35 years into my career, but I now see kindness, received and extended, as an even greater and richer source of fulfillment in one's career.
Memories of kindness shown me over the years have lately come flooding in and made me feel grateful to have been a part of this amazingly artificial construct we often refer to as a "career." It's also caused me to believe (some of these kindnesses occurred more than 30 years ago) that, while passion comes and goes, kindness is eternal.
When I was a young salesman in the mid-to-late 70's, experienced people had plenty of time to spend with young rookies. At New England Life, I attended classes three mornings a week taught by senior agents in our office, each of whom had an open door policy if you needed to stop by for advice. A few years later, in the early days of the software industry, a number of my "big brothers" who were earning what I considered incredible money took me under their wings and showed me quite painstakingly everything they were doing to achieve and surpass their goals. These early kindnesses set the tone for what I looked for and tried to offer over the next two and a half decades.
We think bringing spirituality to business is a way of looking for fulfillment — hence, following one's bliss, one's passion. But it is really about caring for others. Success in your job can often mean something very different. Achieving an external number, foisted upon you by management. A certain income. But you can arrive at those goals through very different sets of experiences. One may be full of stress and striving, sweat and adrenaline. Another may be while you were busy doing other things. Like watching out for your staff. Or taking really good care of your clients — not because you had to but because you wanted to.
Sakyong Mipham, author of Ruling Your World, offers this advice:
But how can we focus on others when we ourselves are struggling so hard to survive? These times are not for the faint of heart, and each day seems to contain at least some small peril threatening our survival at work. Even if we do achieve happiness as Sakyong Mipham describes above, can we also "succeed" enough to keep our jobs?
Alas, guaranteeing that you will keep your job is like guaranteeing that your teenagers won't scratch up your brand new car; it is not the natural order of things. But I fervently believe that over a long period of time, changing your view at work from self-oriented survival mode to other- oriented kindness will allow you to be successful and fulfilled beyond anything you've ever known.
Here are a few concepts to embrace as you decide how to approach your life at work, even in the midst of crisis:
1. Be Kind To Yourself. In Sanskrit unconditional lovingkindness is called Maitri. Before you can offer it to others, you must make sure you are feeling this kindness toward yourself. You can only give away what you have inside.
2. Stay Open. Every day offers us a thousand little stress points, and as humans our natural response is to close down when we encounter them. It is important to be aware of this and try to avoid this turning away. A well-known Buddhist slogan is: Open Heart, Quiet Mind.
3. Never Forget the Big Picture. People are trying to care for their kids. Perhaps aging parents. There might be medical conditions they are managing. Regardless of how a situation seems on the surface, offering kindness resonates more positively through your business life than a thousand LinkedIn contacts and can bring you joy in the midst of great difficulty
I caught an interview on TV a few weeks ago with Robert Wagner, famous in my youth for playing the dashing Alexander Munday in It Takes A Thief (you may have also caught him in Hart to Hart or, more recently, the Austin Powers movies.) I was struck by the fact that he spent nearly the entire program recalling in detail kindnesses older actors showed him when he was working as a caddy, desperately trying to break into the business.
Here is a man who has been famous for 50 years, first as a movie star and then on television, and his main thoughts are of people who took the time to be kind to him and show him encouragement when he was younger (the fact that these men were Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Jimmy Cagney was poignant, but not the focus of his story).
It's not news that we're in deep trouble here. Things are so much more uncertain than any of us ever imagined that it wouldn't be hard to let fear and dread rule our days. I don't think genuine passion is going to return any time soon, even for those of us who enjoy what we do.
But I do think taking care of others is what can bring us back to life. This business world we're all sharing has served us an opportunity to begin, once again, to pay attention, if only because we must. And once we pay attention, we can see the choices we have in each moment to be kind to one another or to simply continue along as if it were still 2007 and our Blackberries were full of messages beckoning our passionate response.
As it says in the Tao:
The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is."
See you at the harmonic convergence (or at least the revival of Hair)!