A Rhetorical Question About Work

Peter Bregman recently wrote a post entitled “A Life-or-Death Question to Start Your Day”. He tells the story of how, during a long-ago trip with his wife to the wilderness for kayaking, they assessed the risks they were taking each morning. Every day before they left shore, they asked themselves: “If we died today, what mistake could have done us in?”

Years later, Peter still thinks of that approach to each day, except the questions (and the risks) are quite different. Peter’s take on the new questions is: “Am I prepared for this day? For the meetings I have planned? Have I anticipated the risks that might take me off track from achieving my goals?” Ultimately, Peter realized that if not prepared, each precious day could be withered away.

It’s a great story and a very meaningful lesson.

Yet I am thinking that the most important lesson for me might be to take it one more step.

Should my questions be:

  • If this were the last day of my life, how would I treat each person I come in contact with?
  • What would I appreciate most about life in each moment that I have left?
  • Would achievement and power, or collaboration and compromise be my approach to whatever has to be done?
  • Would I be concerned about my title or my salary – or would I recognize the opportunity I have, every moment, to be a thoughtful, kind and useful person?

These might be rhetorical questions, but I feel good about the perspective they push me to understand about life and work.  

Terry Del Percio. www.workstrategies.com

978.282.8900

Fear: Our Biggest Obstacle

What would you do with your life if fear didn’t play a role?

“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear.   She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly.    But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle.   

The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons.

The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?”

Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.”

Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?”

Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear. ”

— Pema Chödrön (When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times)

Entering into a Career Transition?  We can help you jump the chasm and beat the fear.  WorkStrategies.com Terry Del Percio | 978.282.8900         

Is Overcommitment the New Badge of Honor?

When was the last time you laid in the grass on a beautiful summer day and looked up at the clouds?

I attended a lecture tonight. The speaker was an American monk – Sumati Marut (aka Brian Smith). It was sponsored by the Asian Classics Institute on Cape Ann.

Guess what the Honorable Marut talked about?  (He’s a very practical guy)  

Problems and solutions.

What’s the problem? We want to be happy, yet our lives are consumed with work, stress, and overcommitment.

Our lives are consumed by ‘busy-ness’ (sounds like business, eh?)

Marut shared statistics with us that you have probably heard before:

  • 80% of workers are stressed on the job
  • 34% of employees rush eating their lunch – if they have lunch at all
  • 460 Million vacation days per year are turned back in and not used

How did American society get to the point where it is prestigious to be so busy?When did it start being okay to expect that workers should work 50, 60, 70 hours per week?

When did it become acceptable to push people to be so “productive” on the job that they suffer from exponential amounts of stress related illnesses – mental and physical?  

Where did we acquire this compulsion of having to do something every minute of the day? Is it socially desirable to be so busy and stressed?

Has our self worth become so attached to our ‘busy-ness’ that we are afraid to stop the insanity?

Do we keep so busy so we don’t have to look at the meaninglessness of what we are doing? Do we even notice how busy we are?

When did we start the habit of coming home from work only to begin turning everyone “on” around us (again)?  We walk in the door only to turn on our computer, our televisions, iPods, iPads, Wii, etc. These are all stimulants.

We’re exhausted, fall into bed later than we should and then begin it all again. Is that happiness?

When does it all stop? When do we make different choices?

How do we find happiness?

Some of these can be tough questions if you want to dig into them. A happier life requires some radical shifts, yet Marut offers us some suggestions that don’t seem so radical at all.

Will we stop to listen or relinquish the joy of our lives to busy-ness?

  • Get enough sleep. There is medical evidence that less than 8 hours sleep impacts our health negatively. How much sleep do you get each night?
  • Don’t wake up to a jarring alarm clock sound. This is not a peaceful way to start your day.
  • Stop the cycle of buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff. Simplify your life, reduce the need to earn more and more money. Stop.
  • Practice this mantra. “I have enough”. Repeat. “I have enough”.
  • Stop thinking about yourself and focus on helping someone else.

If you are unhappy, you cannot blame the job or your boss or the bills or your kids. The responsibility and the power to be happy is yours, and yours alone.

Take one step towards creating a discipline for a simple meditation practice every day. Meditation is actually quite simple and there are many different ways to practice it. The key is the word “practice”.

Are you committed to your own happiness?

Your Mobile Phone: A Tool for Mindfulness

I am sure you have heard the term ‘mindfulness’. It is tossed about frequently these days. I’m glad of that, since it seems the idea is making its way into the mainstream. That’s a good thing, in my humble eyes.

Mindfulness refers to being completely in touch with the present moment, as well as taking a non-evaluative and non-judgmental approach to your inner experience.

For example, a mindful approach to one’s inner experience is simply viewing “thoughts as thoughts” as opposed to evaluating thoughts as positive or negative. http://bit.ly/9rxspw

Mindfulness plays a central role in the teaching of Buddhist meditation. Buddhism is a philosophy that began in India in the 6th century and is becoming increasingly accepted in western culture.

Although Dr. David Rock wrote in Psychology Today that he has a problem with mindfulness being linked to any religion, because he worries that people will ignore it simply for that reason, his piece is full of useful information and I encourage you to take a peek.

Dr. Rock believes that as we get older, we resist learning new things. I’m not sure I agree, but his blog is definitely worth reading, especially if you are interested in the health benefits of mindfulness.

The best statement in Dr. Rock’s post is that ‘even the most cynical, anti-self-awareness agitator can’t help but see that they will be better off practicing this skill (mindfulness)’.

Okay – since I believe that we become more open-minded as we get older, let me briefly introduce the idea of Buddhism. Are you with me?

The Buddha, many centuries ago, identified Four Noble Truths as the foundation of this spiritual practice.

See if you can relate to any of these Four Noble Truths.

1. Life is full of suffering

2. Craving and desire is the cause of suffering.

3. Craving and desire can come to an end, therefore ending our suffering

4. The way to end suffering is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration

This is a lot to digest at one sitting. So let’s just focus on one small aspect.

To practice Right Livelihood means to use the practice of mindfulness to address the problems of daily life, including work.

Take telephone meditation, for example.  This can be a very important practice for you, if you’ll try it.

When the phone rings (yes, even your mobile phone), try hearing it as a bell of mindfulness. Are you giggling yet? Experiencing some discomfort at the thought of a new perspective?

Stop what you are doing and breathe in and out deeply and consciously three times before you pick up the phone.

Alert: I bet this will be very difficult for you to do. Please tell me if you can do it the next time the phone rings.

If you choose to practice this, I wonder if your phone calls will take on a different tone. What do you think?

I’m curious to hear how you do.

Career Fear: Breaking Free

Buddhist philosophy.                  

Some people smirk at it; more and more people are embracing it.

Can it teach us anything about work and career?

I think so.

Do you ever feel uncertain about where your career is going or where it has been? Do you ever question whether you are on the right path? Do you ever feel discouraged about your work?

Most of us feel this way at one point or another. Sometimes we feel this way quite often.

It is uncomfortable. It can be scary. It is a feeling of uneasiness.

In the Buddha’s first teaching he talked about what he called ‘the four noble truths’.

The first noble truth says that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort.

Why?

Nothing in life is really one way or another. Whether we like it or not, life is not black or white.

Everything around us; the wind, the fire, the earth, the water are always changing; like magicians. Let’s face it, nothing stays the same.

Inside of us also changes just like the weather, like the waxing and waning of the moon.

It is so hard for us to see that just like the weather, we are fluid, not solid. We change, just like everything else does.

We have a tendency to seek out what feels secure, to look for comfort and avoid discomfort. We want our lives to be solid. So we try to build a cocoon of safety around us.

It feels good to have our lives be safe and predictable. Unfortunately our cocoons often fall apart (because things always change). And then we feel uncomfortable again.

We often fall into this cycle with our careers. We get settled into a role and it seems good for a while. Then our personal goals change, and we scramble again to build another safe cocoon.

The new zone of safety feels good until oh…let’s say we get a new boss who is a tyrant…or our family moves to another town and the commute is now tripled…or we have children…or the company changes its direction and it has no meaning for us anymore…and on and on.

It’s natural for everything to change. It’s the process of life.

But we don’t like it to change. We want things to stay the same. We want to be secure.

We become fearful. We resist the changes. We wish it were easier to find what we want – at least what we want right now.

And because of this, we suffer. We fret. We become uncomfortable. We resist the process of uncovering the next step in our career.

How can Buddhist philosophy help?  By listening to what it teaches with an open mind and heart, it can give us guidance in approaching our career journeys in a different way… it can open us to a new way of seeing things.

It takes time, sometimes months, years, a lifetime (or more)… yet isn’t it worth it to ease our suffering on this journey?

Here are some very simple ways to begin:

  • Give yourself the gift of 15 minutes each day to stop, to breathe and let go of the rush to achieve your daily goals. Focus only on the process of breathing for these 15 minutes. Get distracted? (you will) … it’s okay- just come back to breathing. Remember that thoughts are just thoughts. They, too, will pass. Observe them, and let them go.

If you find yourself in that mind trap of thinking obsessively that things are not going your way or that it’s too hard to find a career path that feels right, etc.  Stop and observe your thoughts. Say “hey – here come those crazy thoughts again and they are trying to swing me around. I’ll just watch them leave with the wind.”

  • Recognize that everything will always change, and that all of life is fluid – including us. It’s okay. Have faith that you will find your path (in fact, you are already on it).
  • Cultivate an unconditional friendliness towards yourself – flaws and all. Did you say something that sounded mean? Did you flub an interview? Were you rude to someone?  It’s okay. Mistakes are part of living. They help us grow and become more aware.
  • Begin your day with a sense of gentleness – for yourself and others. Compassion can replace fear and anxiety. Welcome compassion for yourself and others. People will be drawn to you. Some of those people will help guide you to your “right path”. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day – you will get there.

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Can you share ways that you ease your discomfort during a job search or career transition?