For most of us, the work that we do for eight hours or more each day plays a central role in our lives. It provides the money that we need to put food on the table and obtain the creature comforts that make life easier and more enjoyable. For many people work is also an important part of their personal identity and social network.
For many years, however, I felt that this perspective of work was incomplete and something was missing about the role of work and how it fit into my life as a whole. From my observations and discussions with others, I realized that something seemed to be missing for them, too. I now understand that the missing piece is an overall context for our work that gives a deeper sense of meaning and purpose to the experience fragments.
This is especially true with the unprecedented change that so many of us are undergoing in our work environment. As the pace of the workplace seems to be speeding up, our workdays can become very fragmented. We have competing demands on our time and energy. We get bogged down in minute details. We have endless meetings that interrupt our workflow and we are bombarded with more input than we feel we can handle.
Another aspect of our work that can be very fragmenting is what I call compartmentalization syndrome. One compartment contains our work life, another contains our home life, and yet another contains our social life. Without an overall picture, we may lack the key piece that can give our lives a sense of integration, meaning, and purpose. It may be difficult to see how each fragment fits with the core of who we are. And without a core connection, a valuable part that work can play in our lives may be lost.
It is my contention that the workplace, with its labyrinth of experiences, is a heroic training ground, which challenges us to find the personal heroism within to work from the center of ourselves in all that we do. It presents us with a variety of moral, ethical, psychological, and interpersonal tests to see how well we can put our principles into real life practice. From this perspective the workplace helps us gain valuable insight from every situation and person encountered.
By overlaying the heroic journey metaphor as a template onto our work, our individual experience fragments are naturally drawn into a unified whole. No longer are they senseless separate pieces, but valuable contributors to our unfolding heroic story. Our thoughts, feelings, perceptions and actions are brought together in a meaningful plot, complete with characters, drama, comedy, intrigue, and adventure.
In Western culture, many of us have grown up with the idea of heroism as embodied, in Rambo, James Bond, or the Terminator movies. But, I believe that true heroism is not about gaining power over anything or anyone. It is to combine our outward traits of strength, power, and action with our inward traits of receptivity, peaceful clarity, and intuitive knowing to gain insight and wisdom from the situations we encounter in our physical reality. This view of heroism can help us reframe the challenges we face. We may not have control over all of the events or the people in our work environment. But, we do have control over what meaning we assign to our experiences and our perception about their contribution to our lives as a whole. We no longer see challenges as insurmountable obstacles, but rather important components of our evolutionary development.
While a portion of life’s journey involves external challenges, most of it is an inside job! To become authentically heroic requires that we stand naked in the face of our personal truth. We willingly step into the unknown and risk repeated mistakes, so we can obtain the next higher level of our evolution. From a non-mythological perspective the difference between living from the inside out and living from the outside in may seem like mere semantics. But to those on a heroic quest to develop their character and consciousness, the distinction between the two perspectives is vast. Some signs that we are working from the inside out include:
1. Work becomes a labor of love.
Many people go about their daily tasks at work grumbling because they dislike what they do. When we live from inside out, we know that all our work serves to deepen our experience of living from the center of ourselves. Every action we take is either a reflection of our true nature or an experience to push us to find it. Kahlil Gibran, the Middle Eastern mystic, philosopher, and poet, said, “Work is love made visible.” As we actualize our personal heroism, the truth of this becomes evident. We continually seek outward expressions of that love in our work.
2. Purposeful intent directs our thoughts and actions.
The ancients knew that purposeful intent evokes a sacred quality wherever it is focused. They used this knowledge to site sacred places such as churches, temples, and burial grounds. Many people who have been to the soaring cathedrals of Europe or the great pyramids in Egypt intuitively recognize the sacred qualities which purposeful intent helped create at those locations. When purposeful intent is focused toward our work, the workplace takes on a sacred quality. Our drive and determination come not from a desire to fulfill exterior goals. They arise from a dedication to bring forth the innate strengths and talents we have to share with the world from the very core of who we are.
3. Tasks are performed with passionate enthusiasm.
It is easy for most people to feel enthusiastic about their jobs when there is an exciting or dramatic external event. Without the external drama, though, many people become bored or fatigued by their work. They mechanically plod along, waiting for something else dramatic to jump-start them and make them feel alive. Those who live from the inside out, however, know that the sense of aliveness and vitality we seek cannot be obtained from external events. It arises from the passionate enthusiasm which continually bubbles up from deep within us. It spills out onto our external experiences and helps us find what is interesting and valuable about every task we perform.
4. Ethics and values are a reflection of our deeply held convictions.
The more we actualize our heroic myth, the more closely aligned our ethics and values become with the truth of who we are. The closer that alignment, the harder it is on us when we stray from our deeply held convictions. There is perhaps no better place for our ethics and values to be tested than in the workplace. There may be times when it is difficult to stand behind our convictions. But, when we do, we develop a deep level of self-respect that gives us the strength of character we fervently desire.
5. Success is defined as living our heroic myth fully.
The commonly accepted definition of success is to have a favorable outcome or result. Success is generally measured by an external yardstick. Do I have an impressive resume? Did I get the promotion or raise I wanted? The problem with an external definition of success is that we can become dependent on the exterior trappings to feel successful. If they are taken away, there may be an internal emptiness. We don’t feel good about ourselves until we are filled again by another external success. When we work from the inside out, success is not determined by external results. And it is not dependent on experiences turning out the way we had envisioned to feel good about ourselves. Success is a measure of whether we are fully living our heroic myth on a moment by moment basis. Is our character reflecting who we are? Are we willing to release behavior that no longer serves us? What actions should we take to live our life’s purpose?
The workplace can provide a rich environment for evolving our heroic character and consciousness. But, beware. The heroic journey is not for the faint of heart! For those who choose to embark on it, there is no turning back. Once your awareness is open to the possibilities, you will probably never be satisfied with going back to the old ways of thinking and behaving. However, for those who choose and stay on the heroic path, the journey will be filled with a sense of wonder and fulfillment that opens you to the next level of personal and collective evolution that our human psyches ache to attain.
Excerpt from the book, Work as a Heroic Journey
by Marion Moss Hubbard
(Published by Orion Publishing Company, 2005)