Too often we end up pushing to get things done, at great personal and organizational expense. By focusing narrowly on the next deadline or performance objective, we end up with less fulfillment and, ironically, with lower productivity. That is not the way the world works anymore, if it ever did. Today’s world requires well-rounded participation to be successful.
It has been sobering to receive the many responses to last week’s Provision on “Reframing Work.” Two things are clear. First, increasing numbers of us live with increasing performance stimulation. Academics live with the fear of “publish or perish.” For many outside of academia, it’s “do or die.” Deadlines are increasingly impossible and yet no less important. The ability to learn from and enjoy the experience of working is all but lost in the stress.
Second, increasing numbers of us live with decreasing passion stimulation. Some of us may have once had a seminal inspiration that led us to pursue a particular line of work, but whatever we had once is gone. What’s left is the daily grind, with all its politics and pitfalls. We end up making a living at the expense of making a life.
This was the reason we sponsored a Vocation Getaway in late November: to connect people with their sense of purpose. That starts, notes John Schuster, with the tenacious belief that we have a unique and valuable purpose. It takes tenacity because there is much to suggest otherwise.
Our capitalist economy assigns everyone the same purpose: to consume goods and services. So acquiring money becomes all important. Even those who know us well may jump in too quickly with their own ideas about what we “should” do in life “Oh, you should be an engineer!” • ideas that may not follow from careful listening nor encourage courageous risks.
These messages, Schuster writes, “pound out confusion, turning even the helpful parts of the social voice into noise. They also drown out our inner voice’s ability to find the way to our authentic work.” As a result, we end up less than successful and fulfilled in life and work. Whether or not we hide it well, we end up with the same empty feeling inside and the same core question: “Is this all there is to life?”
The healing begins with the recognition that we have a purpose and that it is always larger than our job description. Passion comes to those well rounded individuals who see the big picture, maintain perspective, and find ways to connect with the whole of life. It is not for the faint of heart, who submissively do whatever they are told. It is for the adventurers among us, who find ways to infuse their days with the things they love to do.
This often takes place in very ordinary circumstances, positions, and jobs. Sometimes the passion is the work. Other times the passion comes to us as we work. I know one person whose job description in finance paid the bills but did not warm the heart. He was on the verge of quitting when he realized that he also played an important unofficial communication and coaching role with the executive leadership team. Sometimes he took the initiative, other times they did, but in every instance he came away feeling great.
It was a subtle shift, to claim his unofficial role as his true calling, but that shift made all the difference. Suddenly he found himself rejuvenated, by focusing on those communication and coaching opportunities. His passion came alive when he refused to accept a narrow definition of work. By seeing a bigger picture and claiming it as his own true gift, this person found fresh, new ways to express himself in a very familiar setting. And that made all the difference.
Of course, there are times when changing the setting is appropriate. That’s especially true when you have ended up in a setting because of the social noise rather than your inner voice. Then the question changes to what environmental modifications need to be made in order to fully express your identity, values, purpose, and gifts. This requires great soul searching and courage, and often good coaching, as you strike out in new directions to pursue something more in life.
This is where the work triangle introduced by Tim Gallwey in The Inner Game of Work can make a real contribution. For one thing, reframing work to include not only performance but also learning and enjoyment is itself a more well-rounded understanding of work that produces better outcomes. To focus solely upon performance is to guarantee problems.
“It is obvious to most people,” Gallwey writes, “that emphasizing performance doesn’t make it happen. Quite the contrary is true. The three sides of the work triangle are part of an interdependent system. When either learning or the enjoyment side is ignored, performance will suffer in the long run. When it does, management feels threatened and pushes even harder for performance. Learning and enjoyment diminish even further. A cycle ensues that prevents performance from ever reaching its potential.”
In addition to producing better work, the encouragement to focus on learning and enjoyment also produces better workers. Setting learning and enjoyment goals is a great way to frame the question of who we are and who we want to be in life and work. It forces us to be well rounded. Instead of focusing stubbornly upon performance, like a dog with a bone, we end up asking larger questions that have value both for us as individuals and for the company as a whole.
“The old definition of work,” Gallwey points out, “said that you took what you already knew and used it to produce results for profit. The new definition says that work is a process of growing your capabilities while in the process producing results in order to be better able to produce future results.”
“In the industrial economy, it may have been true that a company could succeed by hiring people with the know-how to perform certain functions. This is becoming less and less true.” In the information age, “only those companies that have developed the capability to grow capability are going to succeed.”
Gallwey’s description sounds like a well-rounded approach to life and work, if you ask me. And it also sounds like an approach that has the ability to energize life and work with passionate commitment and inspirational design. We end up paying attention to new dimensions and striking out in new directions, in order to squeeze out every drop of growth and gusto.
That’s why Gallwey calls life the “greatest seminar on earth.” “It is highly interactive,” Gallwey notes, “and has incredible 3-D graphics. Best of all, it is perfectly designed to teach us exactly what we most need to learn.” To enroll in this seminar costs nothing less than showing up with “the humility and interest of a student. You must declare yourself to be a learner during your working hours as well as a doer,” Gallwey asserts. “After that, you must pay attention to the teacher • experience itself.”
Regardless of your situation, whether you work at home or in an office, whether you get paid with love or money, whether you want to stay where you are or make a radical change, taking Gallwey’s well-rounded approach to life and work has the power to make things better.
Coaching Inquiries: Is your life well-rounded? Or do you spend too much time on just one dimension? When you think of performance, learning, and enjoyment, what needs to shift in order to achieve better balance? What’s stopping you from making it so?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, send an email tocoach@LifeTrekCoaching.com.
Bravo on the topic for your new series. I’ve just about given up on finding meaning in work, so I will read these Provisions with great interest.
I am looking forward to your upcoming Provisions on “work.” It’s just what the doctor ordered (no pun intended). (Un)/Fortunately outcomes are easily measurable and quantifiable in my surgical practice and patients’ expectations are quite high due to the trivialization of these procedures by marketing and the lay press. Many thanks for your insights and efforts.
I also suggest reading Thomas Moore’s book on meaningful work. He makes similar points, and also discusses the fact that meaningful work lets us express ourselves, be creative. Despite the fact that my current job is less than perfect, coming to the understanding that work is a way to express me, instead a way of merely making my “fortune”, has truly opened the floodgates to enjoying what I do. The result is a better, happier life regardless of the issues going on around me.
Could you send me the poem called Passion. I did not get it. I could use it right now because I am going back to school and am very nervous. I am going to get a certificate in Medical/Dental administrative assistance at a local community college. Wish me luck. I love your newsletters. Keep up the awesome work you do.
How can I learn to relax and enjoy life? I’m always worried about things. I sometimes get this overwhelming feeling of fear. Can you offer any help? thank you. (Ed. Note: In addition to finding a counselor in your area, you may want to approach life • per Gallwey’s suggestion • as the greatest seminar on earth. Pay attention to what you want to learn, and the rest will follow.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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