Meaning at Work – A Life Less Ordinary
by guest blogger and Integration Training Associate the Rev. Francis Briers
There seems to be a contemporary hunger for fame. It doesn’t seem to matter any more how we come by this fame, and many of the ‘stars’ that grace our front pages are not famous for their sporting prowess, artistic talent, or even striking physical beauty. Fame seems to have become a currency all of its own with people becoming famous for err…. Being famous? Getting drunk? Being rude about someone else who is also ‘famous’?
I have got to wondering about this hunger for fame, and while some people place it as a psychological desire for attention, and others have placed it as endemic lazyness – a desire for wealth without a desire to earn it, I’m not so sure…What if the hunger is entirely natural? What if it is merely mis-directed? I don’t believe that ‘the youth of today’ are averse to work – I don’t think any of us are. In my experience, I have never met a person that didn’t love working if they were working for something they really believe in. So what if this hunger, when we trace it back to its source, is really a hunger for a sense of meaning and purpose? Life without meaning is dull, repetitive, even painful. Ordinary… painfully ordinary… So what if our hunger is not for a life of fame, but for a “life less ordinary”?
Some years ago I read a piece of research by Roffey Park (a management and training institute in Sussex) in which 70% of the respondents said that they would like more of a sense of meaning in their work. Perhaps you can identify with this too. For many of us we are doing jobs that would not be our first choice in terms of what we’d spend the majority of our lives doing. This is especially true in Brighton where it seems that every waiter/waitress is a musician or artist or complimentary therapist just waiting for their ‘other work’ to take off! I’ve been one of those people and in some ways I still am, but I’ve found ways to find meaning and purpose where I am as well as keeping shooting for my dreams. If all our energy is focused on tomorrow, no matter how beautiful our dreams may be, the life we are living right now will only seem that much more dreary, ordinary, even painful by comparison. So how have I pulled off this piece of spiritual conjuring? Here’s 3 ways of being to cultivate which I think are key to a meaningful life…
For the sake of what?
I’ve just returned from some study in north California where I had the pleasure to train for a few nights at Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s
dojo (dojo is a martial arts training hall which translates as ‘place of The Way’) and this phrase is one he works with a lot: For the sake of what? I think it’s a great question. Whenever we are doing what we are doing I think we should always be asking ourselves why we are doing it, and not just the short version. I might be in the office and think to myself ‘Why am I writing this report?’ The short answer is that my manager requires it of me and will want to know why I haven’t done it if it doesn’t arrive in his email box. The bigger answer has to do with taking care of people (because that’s what the organisation does), and the real big picture is that I want to dedicate my life to empowering people and making the world a better place, and right now this job is helping me to fund the training which will help me be the person I want to be to accomplish this heroic task! So how do you become the hero of your own life, and how does your work facilitate that. Connect those 2 dots and anything can have meaning! (I should know, I’ve done everything from retail, to being a chocolatier, to teaching acting, to making Bagels, to data-entry!)
As my friend Clare Myatt
says, “Practice makes permanent.” So make a conscious choice about the behaviours you practice (and practice is really just repetition). Every spiritual tradition across the globe has some kind of practice associated with it. Whether it’s prayer, meditation, eating, smoking, martial training, some kind of practice is an amazing anchor. It can be the one constant in a day when everything else seems to be in flux, and if it is nothing other than that it has value. I have trained in various martial arts and also methods of meditation and prayer and have found that taking a single practice and deepening with it over months and years helps me enormously to reflect on what changes, and also what doesn’t in life. When I notice what doesn’t change in my life and in me it may reflect a pattern I’m not happy about – in which case, now I’ve spotted it I can change it – or it might show me a pattern of something that’s important to me. In this second instance, I am probably noticing something that is connected to my ‘For the sake of…’ in which case I may be looking my life purpose in the eye…Useful huh?
‘Aloha’ means ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ in Hawaiian, it also means ‘Love’. Now being the kind of guy I am, I really enjoy the way that this means that I welcome and send people on their way with Love when I say Aloha. However, there’s a deeper, philosophical meaning too. Serge Kahili-King also translates ‘Aloha’ as meaning ‘To love is to be happy with.’ So I would say: Love your work. Wherever you are right now, love it. If you are always looking to tomorrow’s goal to solve all your problems, chances are you are forming a habit of that way of thinking. So if you are always thinking ‘If I could just earn a bit more money, then I’d be happy…’ chances are that when you increase your earning’s, you’ll still think ‘If I could just earn a bit more money…’. Subconsciously we are incredibly clever so you’ll probably even manage to fritter away more money so that no matter how much more you earn, you still feel like it’s not enough! I’ve done it. I had a job several years back where I kept upping my earnings by moving up in the company and still couldn’t get out of debt. The fact was that I was never happy so as I earned more money I’d just spend more indulging myself to cheer myself up. I left, took a job training as a chocolatier on about 2 thirds the salary and started paying my debts off! So one way is to change to work you’re happier doing (which in my experience is often a temporary fix, and can lead to job hopping), the other way is to invest in loving what you’ve got. Love is active. It is a constant saying ‘Hello’ to what is arising in the present moment, and saying ‘Goodbye’ to what is dying in the present moment. Whatever we do we will always have to accept that we are not doing other things. So rather than thinking of all the other things you could be doing, pay attention and get the maximum learning and value from what you are doing. Rather than thinking of all the people you could be hanging out with build relationships with the people you are spending time with. The fact is that sometimes we can control our circumstances (to some degree) and other times we have more limited choices. So whatever turns up: Love that. You’ll be happier that way, and maybe you’ll even start to notice your life seeming a little less ordinary…