Toltec Wisdom Applied to Careers

What does personal freedom have to do with career decisions and work satisfaction?

Personal freedom is connected with the human spirit. We can blame everyone and everything for imposing on our personal freedom, but the truth is that we often stop ourselves from being free.

Thousands of years ago, the Toltecs were a people known in Mexico as “women and men of knowledge”. They were masters and students. Toltec knowledge was not a religion but rather, a way of life, and its wisdom can provide valuable insights into modern day job search or career transition.

Several years ago I read a book entitled The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I picked it up again recently.

The Four Agreements are very basic yet powerful. See if you might gain some value from thinking about them in relationship to your career journey.

The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word

Your reputation is everything. Whether you are just beginning to build your career, are a seasoned leader in your prime, or an individual ready to transition out of one career into another, you must speak with integrity. Say only what you mean.

Building trust and developing a reputation of integrity will carry you through difficult times and also be a legacy for those who rise behind you.

If you are in a career transition or job search, your word and how trustworthy and real you are will precede you when you are networking and will follow you into your next endeavor.

Yes – polish your approach and refine your words, but be honest and true. You won’t go wrong.

The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

This is the toughest agreement for me to abide by. I used to take everything personally. I am finally at a point where I can let things go much of the time, but I still catch myself taking things personally.

The point of this agreement is that nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality.

If someone gives you an opinion that is negative, i.e. ‘You can’t do this job’ – don’t take it personally. Taking things personally sets you up to suffer.

Be gracious and positive, and know that you are a person of quality and integrity, and move on.

To me, this is one of the most difficult of the agreements, yet I think it is vitally important. Think about how confident and centered you would come across to others if you didn’t take things personally and react defensively.

The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions

We tend to make assumptions about everything, and worse yet, we believe that our assumptions are true. Very dangerous.

Assumptions happen quickly. Our minds trick us.

Say you went on an interview with the CEO of a new start-up and you had a great conversation, had a lot in common and she talked like you already had the job. You left the meeting on a high; you went home and you assumed this deal was moving forward – “This is it,” you say to yourself. “I’m their new Marketing Director”.

Three weeks go by and you don’t hear a word. Now you make a different assumption all of a sudden. You assume the CEO is not considering you and she was just ‘acting’ as if she liked you. Is this true? We don’t know.

Perhaps the CEO is traveling. Perhaps the company is on the brink of a big meeting with a venture capitalist for a huge infusion of money. You don’t know.

Making assumptions is a habit. Just like any other habit, we need to take a different action over and over again to change it. Practice.

One way to avoid making assumptions is to ask questions for clarity.

The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best

This agreement allows the first three to become ingrained.

“Always do your best”- We have heard this before. Simple, right? Well – not always.

How often do you feel guilty because you “should have researched that company more before meeting that networking contact” or you “could have closed that deal if you had remembered the details about that product”…

One thing to keep in mind is that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to another.

Everything in life is constantly changing, so your best will also change over time. Just do your best in any circumstance and don’t judge yourself (that’s the hard part).

The more you practice these agreements, the more centered and clear your life will become. People will be drawn to you and think highly of you.

And I suspect you will be more likely to attract the type of work situations that are a good match for you.


How Power, Kindness & Veggies Can Help Your Career

In a recent Wall Street Journal Article, “How to Fix a Career in the Dumps”, writer Grace L. Williams interviewed Michelle DeAngelis, the author of “Get a Life That Doesn’t Suck”.

Aside from these two provocative titles, Michelle had some interesting and noteworthy things to say. I would recommend taking a look at the article.

What struck me was that she hit on what I believe is a critical career issue that isn’t discussed very often. That is, the issue of personal power.

Grace asks Michelle, “Where do you think people’s power has gone?” Michelle answers;

It has been sucked into the vortex of job insecurity, mergers, upheaval of people at work, reduced income, [and] lost 401(k)s. Where it needs to reside is within each of us internally.

People tend to think their work is their identity. It’s normal and human to do that, but [it’s] tying your identity to external circumstances. Anything people can do to maintain an identity that is based on their internal self allows them to keep their power.

Wow. Strong stuff. In my mind, this is right on the money. (no pun intended) Often I wind up spending a lot of time with my clients reshaping how they view themselves and thus how they approach networking and interviewing.

If you have given up your personal power – or just put it in the attic for a while – your career is going to suffer. (More importantly, your life is going to suffer.)

You know who you are.

You go to networking meetings feeling like this person might have the key to your future, so you had better approach them with deference. After all, they’re the ones with the power, right? When nothing profound comes from the conversation, you go home dejected.

If you’re currently working and the CEO leads the organization with less than honorable intentions, you feel trapped but have resigned yourself to this horrible fate because the economy is bad. (You might even have a little pity party for yourself on Friday nights.) In this case I guess it’s the economy that has the power. Or maybe your just bored out of your mind, but because you need the money, you keep up the routine.

Because I think it’s so important, I’m going to repeat one of the lines from Michelle’s interview.

Anything people can do to maintain an identity that is based on their internal self allows them to keep their power.

So what can people do to maintain an identify that is based on their internal self? That’s the big question that wasn’t addressed in the article. (I’m not sure if it’s addressed in her book either)

A few suggestions.

1. LEARN TO MEDITATE. If you have never learned how to meditate, give it a try. I don’t mean sit down once and try to calm down your mind – that won’t do the trick. True meditation takes a long time and dedicated practice. If you are willing to make a long-term commitment, I can almost guarantee that you that your personal power will strengthen from within. [A book you might want to check out is “Hurry Up & Meditate”]

2. LIVE A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE. There is nothing more empowering than taking control over your health. I know it’s easy to say but not always easy to do. Start small and build momentum. Eat good food (more local vegetables). Move your body more often. Drink good water. Take time for a healthy lunch even when you are busy.

3. FIND OUT WHAT MAKES YOU GROUNDED. This is different for different people. For many it is a spiritual connection, or getting close to nature or spending quality time with loved ones. As corny as it may sound, feeding your soul matters. Do it.

4. BE KINDER. I have a theory that kindness strengthens our personal power. It aligns us with everything that is good about ourselves. Kindness has a way of sustaining and healing. Feeling sorry for yourself because you didn’t land that job? Get out there and do something to help someone else who is looking.

You may be wondering why I am talking about these types of things in the context of careers. Your inner strength will have a tremendous positive impact on your external life in every way, including your career. People who are grounded and safe within themselves hold great appeal to others.

The truth is, everything really is connected.