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Posts from the ‘Work’ Category

The New Career Reality

The notion of what a career is and how one unfolds is changing rapidly.  The days of the linear corporate ladder are nearly out of sight, replaced by blurrier, more self-driven models that mark progression but don’t offer a black and white path.  Here’s how I like to sketch this shift:

THE OLD MODEL:

photo 1

THE NEW MODEL:

photo 2

The new model is anchored in who we are — in each of our unique identities.  In this reality, careers are additive rather than a series of climbs and plateaus.  Every single thing we do, everything we learn, and every person we meet becomes part of our career journey — adding breadth and depth to our core without taking anything away.  And while it’s terrifying to not have a clear path to follow, it’s empowering to be in control of what content and experiences we want to add; and it’s exciting to think that we’re approaching a world where the things we know and do outside of work can become part of our work story.

This model leaves more room for work and life to blend.  It makes the idea of sprinting and pausing make sense.  And it’s a reminder that life is long…resulting in an ever-evolving journey with no clear end in sight.  Oliver Sachs shared a great reflection on this idea in an essay in Sunday’s New York Times called “The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding).”  May we all be so lucky…

How do you think about your career?  Does the new model above resonate with you, or do you think about it another way? 

Me < We

relationshipsThe New York Times ran an essay Sunday called “The Gospel According to ‘Me’” co-written by a philosophy professor and a psychoanalyst.  The authors attack the “modern” focus on authenticity, inward thought, and “psychological transformation,” mocking the “new version of the American dream” as one marked by trite statements such as “Live fully!  Realize yourself!  Be connected!  Achieve well-being!”  The punchy piece asserts that “this search is an obsession that is futile at best, destructive at worst.”

I read the piece Sunday morning and needed to give it a bit of time to sink in before deciding how I felt about it.  My initial gut reaction was defensive: “How can someone possibly fault inward focus?  Why shouldn’t we aspire to find the same joy in the weekdays as we do in the weekends?”  Once the article settled a bit more, I opened my mind to the idea that I might be blindly drinking the Kool-Aid this article talks about, and dedicating lots of working and writing time to it to boot.  “Is this focus on well-being making me Pollyannaish and out of touch with reality?” I wondered.  “Is it just a surfaced replacement for the real, serious spiritual and moral questions in our world?”        

And after a bit more time, this is where I’ve landed.  We become what we do and think about all day long. The minutes we live each day are the minutes that make up our lives, and therefore, the way we spend our time matters.  It matters a lot.  And I think that without giving some inward thought to that question – what is making up the minutes that make up my life – life can pass us by.  We can wind up in jobs we hate and bodies we don’t recognize and mediocre marriages and days with more sadness than joy.  But our challenge as we look inside is to not get stuck there, spending so much time looking inward that we forget to see and feel and understand all of the people and things around us and the universe that connects us.  The tension is to embrace a life that is sometimes amazing and aligned and seemingly perfect, and sometimes painful and frustrating and ridden with sadness and guilt.

The authors of the article argue, “in the gospel of authenticity, well-being has become the primary goal of human life.”  I agree with them – the notion that well-being is the sole reason we’re here on earth is bogus.  The self-help industry has taken it too far.  Well-being is not an end in itself, but it is a critically important means to an end, and it’s one I fear is slipping away from us as our lives become busier and our bodies become more sedentary and our minds become noisier and our relationships become more complicated.

I believe we can all give more to our families and our communities and people we don’t even know yet if we’re living lives that are true to who we are and what we care about…if our bodies are fit and strong…if our minds are clear…and if our relationships are strong.  So at the end of the day, I’m more okay with “The Gospel According to ‘Me’” than I’m not…I just think we need to remember that “we” matters just as much as “me.”

What do you think?  Is it possible to look inward and look outward at the same time?  Does the quest for authenticity and well-being bring you joy, stress, or both? 

The World According to Rumi

thinking tree

Living in a world in which it’s easy to get stuck in a myopic view of what it means to be “smart,” I love this reminder from Rumi, a renowned 13th century poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic.

Two Kinds of Intelligence 

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired, as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts from books and from what the teacher says, collecting information from the traditional sciences as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world. You get ranked ahead or behind others in regard to your competence in retaining information.  You stroll with this intelligence in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one already completed and preserved inside you. A spring overflowing its springbox.  A freshness in the center of the chest.  This other intelligence does not turn yellow or stagnate.  It’s fluid, and it doesn’t move from outside to inside through the conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead from within you, moving out.

I’ve recently been trying to take a few minutes each day to read Rumi’s wisdom, and I’ve found it calming and centering.  I’m always looking for new ideas — what do you read/listen to when you’re looking for spiritual grounding?

Fleeting Perspective

Perspective

I heard an NPR segment earlier this week featuring Suleika Jaouad, the author of the New York Times Well blog column, “Life Interrupted.”  Two years ago, at the age of 22, Suleika was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia; she is now cancer free.  In the segment (you can read the transcript here), she talks about how it feels to “re-start” her life…or as she calls it, her “new different” (versus “new normal”).  One quote really stuck out as I listened to her interview:

I’ll never go so far to call cancer a gift. It’s a really terrible disease. But like any life-interrupted moment, there are silver linings. And I feel like in the past year, for the first time – I like this expression – that I’ve been able to make my mess my message. And I’ve taken a lot of joy in that. I feel like I have a better sense of who I am and who I want to be and what’s important to me. And I’m very grateful to have that newfound awareness now.  I feel incredibly appreciative of my friends and my family. I try very hard to find meaning in the work that I do. And that emphasis and finding purpose has made me a happier person, I think, overall.

Stories like Suleika’s abound…people going through an intense experience that changes the way they think about their life…about life in general.  Every time I come across one of those stories, or see someone or something that puts life into perspective, I’m overcome with a deeper sense of awareness and gratitude for all the good and all the challenges life brings along…for all the screaming moments and all the chubby-handed hugs…for the fog and the sunshine…for the slow runs and the faster ones…for the easy conversations and the tough ones…for all of it.

But all too often, this feeling is fleeting – giving way to sweating the small stuff and taking things for granted.  As I think about this, I’d love any ideas about what helps you keep an eye on the big picture…

What helps you keep things in perspective?  Do you have any daily practices that help you remember that everything we experience in life is relative?

Weekend Reflection: Five Things That Stuck Out

reflection

Life is full of transitions — big ones like getting married or having a child or starting a new job, and small ones like watching day turn into night and shifting from weekend to work week.  These transitions are a great time to reflect — even if just for a few minutes — on what’s going well and what’s not.  They’re a good time to check in about whether we’re rested or tired…energized or ambivalent…taking care of ourselves or not…and prioritizing the things that matter most.  I consciously thought about these things for a few minutes as I drove to work this morning, taking stock of how the weekend went and what intentions I want to set for the week ahead.  Here are some reminders I’m holding onto as the work week begins…

EXERCISE

Little Eyes Are Watching: Our 2-yr-old daughter was busily working on her own in the kitchen yesterday.  I assumed she was “cooking” something in her play kitchen until she told me it was time to begin “spin class.”  She told me she had water and pistachios ready in case we got hungry and thirsty, and she was ready to turn up the music and SPIN (note: she has never been to a spin class…she’s only heard me saying that I’m going to one…so her version of spin class was literally SPINNING, until I was sick and dizzy and ready to fall down).  The point here is: as parents and as people…we don’t always realize how our behavior is impacting the people around us.  If I had spent the weekend watching TV, my daughter likely would have organized a Downton Abbey marathon…not a spin class.  Health begets health….something I posted about a few weeks ago in Cheering Us On.

FOOD

Deliciousness Can Be Easy: My mother-in-law was visiting this weekend, and she’s a great cook.  What I love about her cooking sensibility is that she focuses on simplicity, and she proves that great cooking doesn’t need to be complicated.  She made a beautifully seared prime rib, roasted potatoes and spinach and mango salad with seemingly minimal effort.  No recipes required.  I covered this idea of simple meals in an earlier post — 3-Ingredient Meals — and I love seeing it in practice.  It’s a great reminder that time need not be a barrier to healthy + yummy cooking.

MIND

Technology is Complicated: If you missed it, this New York Times essay, “How Not to be Alone” is thought-provoking as we think about the role technology plays in our lives and how it can shape our behavior.  Here’s a teaser that might make you want to take five minutes to read this: “I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.”  If you’re interested in the conversation about technology and well-being, here’s an earlier post about the power of unplugging.

RELATIONSHIPS

Make New Friends, but Keep the Old: We spent time with three different out of town guests over the weekend (mother-in-law, old friend from Wisconsin, and old friend from Calgary), and I was reminded how important it is to invest in lifelong relationships.  I know it’s cheesy, but I’ve always loved the piece about friends in that famous Baz Luhrmann “Sunscreen” poem/song: “Understand that friends come and go,but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”  Both new and old friends add huge value to our lives…and seeing old ones face-to-face is an important reminder that we need both.

PURPOSE

The Power of Focus: I don’t have any weekend revelations about purpose to share — after all, it was just a weekend!  But I did do a bit of thinking about focus.  We went to a park Saturday that’s famous for kite-flying, and I loved getting lost in the moment while watching the colorful kits swirling in the air (similar to the Hockey Moments I covered a while ago).  Our lives have the potential to be totally absorbed by distraction, making focus elusive.  Jonathan Safran Foer quotes Simone Weil in the loneliness essay I mentioned above: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”  This is so true…generosity to others…and to ourselves.  This leads to my intention for this week…FOCUS.  Less email, more making stuff.  Less breadth, more depth.  Less interruption, more impact.

 

What’s your intention for the week?  And does it stem from something you did, read, heard, or realized this weekend?

Daily Progress

progress

When my kids were babies, I remember getting to the end of the day and saying to my husband/friends/whoever would listen that I felt like I had been “busy,” but hadn’t gotten anything done.  I’d look around before going to bed and see (most importantly) an amazing tiny human being….but also a pile of half-folded laundry, a stack of mail that had been opened but not dealt with, and a bunch of veggies that had been cleaned but not cut.  I was trying my best to treasure the time with that amazing tiny human being and “relish the early days of motherhood” as everyone was telling me to do, but I had a nagging sense of frustration that I couldn’t ever put my finger on.

I recently came across a concept at work that helped this make sense.  There’s an idea called “the progress principle,” which was popularized when a Harvard-based husband and wife team published a book called The Progress Principle: Creating Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work.  The core premise of the book is simple: making progress on meaningful work is one of the core things that motivate people day-to-day (similar to the “small wins” concept in goal setting).  It’s not about the big “aha” or the massive breakthrough; it’s about the small steps that lead to forward progress (toward things we care about) every single day.  It’s about watering the carrots so they can grow…knocking out a training run…writing a page of a book, not the whole thing…knitting the arm of the sweater…writing more of the code than you did yesterday…eating a few stalks of broccoli every day.

Wait, you might be wondering, isn’t taking care of a baby the ultimate example of moving forward day-to-day (after all, keeping them happy and fed and slept and alive IS definitely progress)?  Of course it is, but in order to feel a sense of forward motion, you need to be focused on the daily changes, not the big milestones.  Looking back, I was focused on the wrong things.  I was looking for a sense of progress on tasks that didn’t matter (laundry + mail) and I was overlooking the amazing day-to-day growth of my child because I was focusing the wrong thing (the big and infrequent milestones).

I wish someone would have told me to reflect on what happened each day as a new mom.  The messages I remember were about living in the present (which yes, is ideal, but very difficult to do all the time) and the big milestones.  I feel like there wasn’t enough talk about the fuzzy space in between — the small, daily wins which actually help us keep going. This isn’t about a creating massive checklist or a building a super busy life…it’s simply about working hard to make progress on the things that matter to each of us, and celebrating that progress.  A heightened awareness of this may help us understand why some days are happier/more energetic/more creative than others…and what we can do to make those great days happen more often.

Do you notice your mood changing on days when you make progress versus days you don’t?   How do you think about the idea of progress co-existing with living in the moment?

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

afraid

I promise, this isn’t a post about whether to Lean In or lean out or bend over or do the limbo.  There has been a ton of thought-provoking and divisive stuff written on this topic, and I’m not going there.  At least not today.

But I am going to talk about a video Sheryl Sandberg posted and blogged about on leanin.org yesterday.  It’s a 3-minute video called “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?,” and it includes short clips from a diverse group of women talking candidly about their fears and what they’d do if they weren’t afraid.  Targeted at this year’s million+ female college graduates, the video is refreshingly devoid of the working/stay-at-home mom dialogue that has defined LeanIn to date.  Instead, it’s a video for all of us.  It spoke to me, and I’d bet that the notion of having and overcoming fear is something every woman I know (and actually, every man I know) can relate to.

I think this particularly resonated because Wellfesto is one of my “What Would I Do If I Weren’t Afraid” things.  Despite deeply caring about and voraciously learning about health and well-being since I was a little girl, I never had the courage to put my voice out into this crowded space.  I told myself things like “I’m not a doctor, so people won’t listen to me.”  “I’m not a writer, so why should I start a blog.”  “I might offend someone.”  “I might say the wrong thing.” “People will think I’m stupid.”  “What if I don’t have anything new to say?”  “What if I can’t keep up my commitment to it?”  And I let the thoughts and questions and ideas swirling around in my head stay inside my head for years.

Finally, in December, I decided I wanted to say them out loud.  I started to gain confidence that I actually do have a unique point-of-view about well-being.  I realized I was in the midst of a struggle so many people live every day — how to take care of myself while trying to take care of a family — and I thought there was more to gain from being in the public eye that there was to lose.  I’ve now been writing every weekday for almost six months.  Some posts feel great and some don’t.  Sometimes hundreds of people read my posts and sometimes three do.  Sometimes no one comments and sometimes I get warm messages from random people who came across a post they related to.  And all of that is OK.  It’s more than OK.  It’s empowering and awesome and real and hard and fun.

We all have fear.  It makes us human.  It’s what we use to keep us safe.  I still have loads of it.  But I’m slowly learning that when you let go of fear, you leave more room for joy.  So if you haven’t asked yourself the question lately, do it today.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?  And what can you do right now…in this very moment…to take a step toward doing that very thing? 

Graduation Season

photo by trazomfreak, via flickr creative commons

photo by trazomfreak, via flickr creative commons

I love graduation season.  Graduations are some of the moments most of us remember most clearly, marking both an ending and a new beginning…a time of massive change and promise and yes, fear.  I take note of the nostalgia that arrives as the season does, and I love the sense of possibility and optimism and truth that comes with it.  For people like me, whose only “graduation” this year is a kid’s migration from diapers to underwear, the posts and re-posts of graduation speeches that share nuggets of wisdom that both take us back to another time and make us think about our lives today.  Even if we’re worlds away from being twenty-two.

Transcripts and videos of speeches are all around us this time of year.  Time has a list of the top 10 graduation speeches of all time (yes, the famous Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford is on the list), as well as a great editorial by Ken Robinson about “What Graduation Speeches Should Say, but Don’t.” (in short, our education system needs to be focused on helping people “find their element” and translate it into their lives and their work).  I’ll come back to that topic in another post. But for now, I’ll get back to graduation speeches and which one prompted me to write this post…

Yesterday The Atlantic published an excerpt from the commencement address Jon Lovett gave to the graduates of Pitzer College last weekend.  The speech was called “Life Lessons in Fighting the Culture of Bullshit.” He talks about the fact that graduates are entering a world where we’re drowning in bullshit — partisan rhetoric, inauthentic human connection, casual acquaintances saying “I love you, people describing everything as the “best thing ever.”  I usually call this bullshit “noise,” which is all of the talk that sits in the background of our minds drawing our attention away from the here + now…away from the things that really matter.  As any good graduation speech giver does, Jon gives graduates three pieces of advice as they go out into the world:

  1. Don’t cover for your inexperience.
  2. Sometimes you’re going to be inexperienced, naïve, untested and totally right.  Then, you need to decide: is this a time to speak up, or hang back?
  3. Know that being honest — both about what you do know, and what you don’t — can and will pay off.

What I like so much about this speech is the idea that being honest about who you are, what matters to you, what you know and what you’re working on is important.  It’s clarifying.  It helps us find signal in the increasing amount of noise that fills our lives.  If we all could do this…focus on the meaning and the purpose and the real connections and our authentic “elements,” as Sir Ken Robinson puts it, we may experience more quiet…more peace…more direction…and greater well-being.  I struggle with this daily, as the curious part of me loves noise.  But I find more peace when I’m able to then look inward and filter the noise. This inward view can show up in lots of forms — writing, talking with a close friend, meeting with a coach or mentor, figuring out what you love and what you loathe…all in service of being honest with yourself first, so that you can be just as honest with the people around you.

What do you think?  Do you feel bombarded by bullshit, and what do you do to filter out what matters most?

SoulPancake

photo by dawn ashley via flickr creative commons

photo by dawn ashley via flickr creative commons

I watched a video last night about Zach Sobiech, a teenager who lived with a full heart and a busy life and unbelievable wisdom as he dealt with a terminal cancer diagnosis.  The video went viral yesterday after he passed away at age 18…or as he said it, “just closed [his] eyes and [fell] asleep.  At the end of the video, when asked what we wanted to be remembered for, Zach said he “wanted to be remembered as the kid who went down fighting, and didn’t really lose.”  His closing words were an incredible combination of solid self-assuredness, profound sadness, deep perspective, and brightness.  Just plain brightness.  Amazing, even shocking…brightness.

That’s all I’m going to say about the video…it speaks for itself.  Check it out if you have tissues handy, would like a dose of perspective, and would like to honor Zach’s legacy (that life really just boils down to making other people happy).

This was the first SOULPANCAKE production I’d ever seen, and I checked out the site afterwards to see what it was all about.  It’s a beautifully designed site designed to serve up “brain batter of art, culture, science, philosophy, spirituality and humor to open your mind, challenge your friends, and feel damn good.”  I just liked it on Facebook so I can keep tabs on their work, and I checked out some of their content.  There is a tab called “Activities,” which is really fun, and something I’ll refer back to.  Here are a few of the exercises I liked as I scanned through:

  • In 100 words or simply one, tell us where you are most in your element.
  • Quick write your latest mantra. Breathe. Repeat.
  • Memory wipe time. List four things you’re dying to forget about.
  • In 100 words or less tell us what “the bigger picture” means to you.
  • Upload a creative travel guide to your home town.
  • Sum up what you are striving for in a single word.
  • What things are you working on now that will pay off in the future?
  • List the 10 most important things to you, in order.
  • Describe what you’d do with an extra day inserted into every week.
  • Fill in the following sentence five times: I belong
  • Upload a picture of hidden beauty.
  • How will you become a happier human?

And the list goes on.  SOULPANCAKE is trying to modernize spirituality, and I love what they’re doing.  Their provocative questions and content let you think about abstract things like God and afterlife and soul within the context of practical, real and beautiful things all around us.  It’s fuzzy meets real.  Serious meets fun.  Spirituality meets self-knowledge.  It’s a great attempt to deal with the hard stuff in an easier and lighter and more palatable way. I look forward to following along.

In Zach’s honor, may today be filled with brightness and love and compassion and joy.

What, if anything, guides you through the muddiness of modern spirituality?  If you had a question to add to SOULPANCAKE, what would it be?  

Goodbye “Workplace Wellness,” Hello WORK

Slide1

A few years ago (2010), I read a book put out by Gallup called Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. It outlines Gallup’s Wellbeing Finder tool, which is designed to help people assess how “well” they are in five categories: Career, Social, Financial, Physical, and Community. The book and the model underscore that these five elements aren’t independent entities, but rather intensely interwoven categories. In order to assess one’s wellbeing, each of the elements — as well as the interaction between all five of them — must be evaluated.  Hmmm…strinkingly similar to the concept of a wellfesto!

The book is straightforward…not rocket science…but it illuminated one thing for me that has really stuck with me since then and continues to influence my work.  Career — in the home, out of the home, however you define it — drives well-being.  In fact, Gallup’s data shows that people with high Career Wellbeing are more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall than those who have low Career Wellbeing. This isn’t new news — a 1958 Gallup study found that while the standard retirement age for men in the 1950s was closer to 65, men who lived to be 95 or older did not retire until they were an average of 80 years old.

So what does this mean?  To me, it means that the idea of “workplace wellness” is dead.  Yes, I love working on the treadmill and eating salad in the cafeteria as much as the next person does, but what matters more is how I FEEL when I’m at work.  The well-being conversation should start with WORK — why you work, how you work, when you work, what you do, who you work with (once that’s all set, then the treadmills and salads are icing on the cake).  I’d argue that getting to a place of loving the weekdays as much as the weekends is much better for our overall health than a 3-miler on the treadmill at lunch (which of course, until we reach this utopia, doesn’t hurt).  And to be clear, I’m not talking about working all the time…I’m talking about creating an ecosystem of work that feels additive, not sucking.  One that feels whole, not fragmented.

Our society trains us to think of work as, well, work — something undesirable, something we’re forced to do, something we would avoid if we could.  In this paradigm, workplace wellness makes sense (add on the “wellness” to make up for the work).  I can’t wait until this model goes away, and we enter a world where the focus is on finding joy in the everyday, being the same person at work and outside of work, meeting on bikes and treadmills, and measuring impact instead of hours.  A world where workplace wellness doesn’t need to exist…because work itself keeps us well.

What do you think?  This is a personal quest for me, and I’d love to write a longer post/article about this topic, so if you have ideas/thoughts/examples/skepticism, please comment or send me a note!

Brynn Harrington

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