Recognizing “enough” in my life and work

Earlier this week I found myself in a nasty mood. My whole disposition to the world was one of irritation and bother. I was drained, unhappy, and frustrated by all kinds of small things that should have never even registered as irritants. I think many of us have days or weeks like this and like most things, they pass. What finally shifted things for me was going outside to sit in my comfortable Adirondack chair and read a book for a bit.

I should have sent myself to an out-of-doors timeout much earlier that day. It was clear I was burned out, tired, fatigued, and needed to rest and process all the chaotic thoughts and feelings stomping through my head. Yet I felt like I could not sit still and rest. There was one more load of laundry to be done, one more hour to spend business planning, one more visit to Facebook that needed to be made. None of it urgent and most of it not really even important to me in the grand scheme of things.

So when I found myself settling in under my oak tree to read my book I had to laugh at my selection: Wayne Muller‘s “A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough,” which originally crossed my path through a church book club that I was too busy to ultimately attend. I am not joking.

Wayne Muller's book, "A life of being, having, and doing enough" from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Being-Having-Doing-Enough/dp/0307591395

Wayne Muller’s book, “A life of being, having, and doing enough” from Amazon.

While I am not all the way through the book, it was surprising how much of it resonated with how I was struggling that day. It is as if Muller used my experience that day to illustrate his argument perfectly!

I kept coming back to this passage again and again:

“In spite of any compelling physical or spiritual benefits, we fear we have no authentic, trustworthy permission to stop. If we do stop to rest without some very good reason or some verifiable catastrophe, we feel guilty, we worry about getting in trouble, we feel we are just lazy, not carrying our weight, not a team player, or will be left behind. If we just put our nose to the grindstone, give it our all, do our best, give 110 percent, really put our mind to it, never give up, and work more efficiently, then we can, and should, be able to get absolutely everything on our desk, on our to-do list, on our calendars, finished, on deadline, without any mistakes, perfectly, every time.

Then we can rest.

But this ridiculously impossible moment never arrives and we cannot take that first step back. So we keep going. And going. Without permission from culture, workplace, community, or even our own inner, grinding work ethic, how can we know it is time to stop — for now, for today — and know that what we have done, and who we have been, is absolutely enough? It is time to put it down, let it be, go home, and call it a day” (p. 6).

 

This blog is all about finding, claiming, and living out one’s purpose in life and work. So you might expect me to be an expert in this area, but in truth, I am like so many other writers before me: I write to understand, rather than to tell.

Reading the words from that passage prompted all kinds of questions to pop up at me from the page:

  • Why do I feel that unless I am physically weary or mentally empty I have not done enough?
  • Why do I see each day as a struggle to prove my worthiness through productivity?
  • While I may believe it intellectually, why do I struggle in practice to accept that I am enough just as I am, even without being perfectly productive?
  • Who’s permission am I seeking to be “done enough” to rest?
  • How can I better tune into the cues in my life that I’ve had enough, been enough, and contributed enough that day or week or season?
  • Why is it such a struggle for me to practice self-compassion to myself by recognizing when I have found “enough” in life or work?
  • And perhaps the scariest question of all: If I did finally feel I had done “enough” for a day – What on earth would I do with myself????

Like me, I’m sure reading over the passage I quoted above sparked all kinds of questions and concerns in you. What resonates with where you are struggling? In what ways are you proud to stand in your own truth and know when you have had enough? What strategies or tools do you rely on to recognize when you have found “enough” in your life or work each day? I welcome your wisdom!

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Why hating work is problematic

In their recent New York Times article, Why You Hate Work, Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath shared recent research findings that provide ample evidence for what we intuitively know: We hate our jobs.

Turns out, those of us in the Unite States are slightly better off than many of our global peers. According to the article, “just 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of people who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent.”

The article focused on core needs that must be met for us to feel that sense of engagement so many of us are lacking (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual). However, I couldn’t stop wondering: What does our global community lose when only 13 percent of us are feeling connected at work?

Engagement, as defined in the article, is “involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort and energy” and when we experience engagement in our work, not only is individual well-being improved, but typically organizations enjoy better results – from business performance to reduced costs due to decreased errors and injuries, among many other factors.

From a sustainability perspective – it is a win-win. Do right for people, and they will have more to give to your cause. If we want to sustain our ability to operate our business, live lives well and with the capacity to raise and care for new generations of problem-solvers and thought-leaders, then hating work is hugely problematic.

Fortunately, the keys to success, are relatively simple: 

Renew – find ways to support a culture where employees take breaks to restore and renew. Do this right, and the authors suggest we could see nearly 100 percent of people feel inclined to stay with their company – and – employees may enjoy twice the sense of health and well-being.

Value – encourage supervisors to actually care for their employees – or at least do enough so that employees feel cared for.

Focus – create work environments where people can actually focus on what they do best, without interruption. In the age of technology we live in, this may be easier said than done.

Purpose – support individuals in finding positions where they are able to derive some sense of meaning and purpose from what they do.

As a career development professional, of course I am keenly drawn to anything having to do with helping individuals from all backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and education levels find work that is fulfilling and helps them feel a sense of integration in their life – but the beauty of the authors’ article is that the other steps are fairly simple. Perhaps difficult to enact, but in reality, they are relatively simple and cost neutral changes that can be made in most organizations.

It’s a shame that more of us are not outraged about the epidemic of missed opportunity that we all suffer from when only 13 percent of employees globally feel that sense of connection between life and work. This epidemic is not only crucial to personal vitality, but it is also vital to the sustainability and success of enterprises across the globe.


Schwartz, T. & Porath, C. (May 30, 2014). Why you hate work. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/opinion/sunday/why-you-hate-work.html?_r=0