June 18, 2009

Do you love your job?

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Spirituality at 2:07 am by dinaheng

In a world where most of us spend much — if not most — of our waking hours working, thinking about work, dreading work, or postponing work, two authors are urging us to take a step back and look at what work really means to us.

Philosopher Alain de Botton, author of “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work” (Pantheon Books, $26), recently made an audience at The Getty Center in Los Angeles twitter — aloud — at his witty observations of today’s workaholics.

“To be alive in the modern age is to never be far from a career crisis,” De Botton says. “We exhaust ourselves partly through megalomania. We’ve come to believe the essence of a person is what we do. People ask, ‘What do you do?’ not just to find out about status and connections, but to find out about our identity.”

Yet who we are, as human beings, has less to do with the way we earn money than the way we treat ourselves and others. De Botton’s book explores a number of occupations, ranging from fisherman to aircraft salesman to painter, giving witness to what his subjects did every day.dinah-eng-21

What isn’t as clear are the answers to the questions he explores… What makes work pleasurable? How do we decide what jobs to pursue? In a time of economic uncertainty, what meaning does work have?

“Work becomes meaningful when we’re able to either alleviate suffering or produce delight for someone else,” De Botton says. “Most people are stuck in such large systems that’s it’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference with your work. Eighty percent of Americans work in a company with more than 500 employees. There isn’t enough meaningful contact.”

So how do we create more meaning in our work?  In our lives? Chris Gardner, owner and CEO of Gardner Rich LLC and the inspiration for the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness” (which starred Will Smith as Chris), says it all in the title of his new book, “Start Where You Are…Life Lessons in Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” (Amistad, $26.99).

“Focus on achieving balance in your life, and not just balance in your checking account,” Gardner says. “Then ask yourself, what is the one thing that turns you on like nothing else in the world? Find the passion, then figure out how to do it. Forget Plan B. A lot of people go for Plan B, which is practicality. There is no Plan B for passion. Plan B is for everybody not committed to Plan A.”

Whatever plans many of us had in the last couple of years have been tossed out the window with a recession that’s cut into our savings and eliminated jobs in every sector. But as Gardner points out, there are opportunities all around us if we’ve brave enough to really answer the question: What is it I’d really like to do with my life?

For those who have been laid off, Gardner advises forgetting about finding another job.

“You’re not going to find a job right now,” Gardner says. “Focus on creating an opportunity for yourself. You’ve lost your job, but you haven’t lost your skills and talent. What do you enjoy? Detroit’s ground zero for the unemployment rate, but those workers all have skills. It’ll be interesting to see how many people there take those skills and do something with them.”

His book is filled with practical and inspirational advice for how to get to the next place in your life — whether that next place is centered around work or a personal goal. The lessons are to the point, in your face, and full of positive energy.

Chapter headings tell the story — “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Yesterday?,” “Supply and Demand Ain’t Rocket Science,” “It Takes as Much Energy to Bag an Elephant as It Does a Mouse” or “Make Your Dream Bigger Than Yourself.”

Whether it’s work or home, many of us hold onto limiting behaviors because of what we were taught. Gardner says we’re all made of spiritual genetics. We were given our parents’ physical attributes, but we don’t have to emulate their behavior or values.

“A lot of us, when we wind up on our butts, need to ask, ‘How did I get here?’ “ Gardner says. “The answer is, ‘I drove here.’ That answer is empowering because then I can say, ‘I can also drive out of here.’ The cavalry ain’t coming to the rescue. We were all born with a spirit that can embrace the light or the darkness. I believe we choose the soul of who we are.”

So if life (or your job) isn’t working out the way you want, maybe it’s time to do something about it.

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