The following excerpt is taken from the book Fully Alive From 9 to 5! (ISBN0-9685566-8-X).
The original book has been updated and is now in its’ 3rd Edition titled
Fully Alive: Awakening Health, Humor, Compasion and Truth
We spend more time at work than we spend anywhere else in our lives. For at least five days out of seven, we go to a place where we do something for which we are paid. Many of us then take this money and do something else that we call living: buy things, take trips, plan holidays, pay bills, spend time with people we enjoy – this list is as varied as we are as people. But few of us ever consider the possibility that work isn’t something that we do, or a place that we go to. It’s an experience that we create and often times the experience is not a pleasant one. Given that we spend more waking time at work than anywhere else, imagine the profound results on the quality of our lives if we were to make a significant change in the way we experience work. The potential is life-altering.
Here’s a simple truth about work: you can take all the people at your place of work and move them somewhere else, and work will still exist. You can put those people in different jobs, or different offices and work will still exist. You can take away technology or upgrade technology, and work will still exist. But if you send everyone home, and you don’t hire anyone else, work will cease to exist. You may have a document that says you have an incorporated company, but what you have is a piece of paper with words on it. There is no life.
The fundamental operating unit of any organization is the individual human being. Without individual human beings (not resources, or groups, or teams) interacting with other individual human beings – one on one or in groups; face-to-face or via paper or technology – the organization ceases to exist. Work is nothing more than a collective of individuals, coming together with the intention to produce a particular product or service. As each of these individual living systems comes together with other individual living systems, we create larger living systems that are a reflection of the individuals who created it. What we have come to call a corporate culture is not a thing on its own – it is a reflection of something else, with that something else being the internal states of the human beings who go there.
Work is very, very personal. And yet, we continue to kid ourselves into thinking that work is ‘out there’; that it requires us to be objective and detached and ‘professional’. Truth is, there is nothing more subjective and personal than the day-to-day operations of any living system.
Someone once said: “If you want to change your life, you must first change the way that you perceive life.” With a small shift in perception comes tremendous power and leverage – to change your thoughts, to change your life and to change the world in which you live. Think of the discovery and the power that came with a shift in perception from a flat world to one that is round: from the certainty of Newtonian physics to a quantum world. Change perception and everything else changes all by itself: the things we are willing to do and those we are not willing to do; the places we go; the people we spend time with; the words that come out of our mouths; the systems we support; the very world in which we live and call, with such great certainty,’reality’.
Think back to the days of Christopher Columbus. There was a time when we thought that the world was flat. Within this world-view (or context), travel was a dangerous thing. Move too close to the horizon and you could drop off the edge of the world! The belief that the world was flat brought with it limitations and dangers that simply vanished when we changed our minds. When we came to believe that the world was round – and it was nothing more than a change of mind – life expanded in a burst of movement. Commerce exploded, cultures migrated, things once held to be impossible soon became a way of life. In the blink of an eye, reality as we had defined it ceased to exist and was replaced by a far more vast potential – the possibility of more and greater and further, to move into what we were capable of becoming. All of this simply because we changed our minds.
What if, in the world of work, we believe we are living in a flat world? What if that world isn’t really flat, and its limitations are of our own creation? What if the world of work is really round and holds the potential to invite and nurture health, humour, compassion and truth? What if it’s not work that holds you back but your own context for thinking about work? Imagine the alternatives if you were to change your mind. Change your mind and you change your life!
Power resides in the capacity to choose, not in the choice itself. The cultures we have grown up in have ill-prepared us to even know the meaning of choosing. Rarely do we know how to distinguish between an option and an authentic choice – one of our own creation. We are well trained to follow the rules: to consult with authority and to defer to the collective view. We are not encouraged to challenge the status quo but to embrace it: to run with the pack rather than to travel alone. Survival is in the collective, in the group-think and the group-speak. This perspective is destined to limit human expression since the process of embracing the status quo leads to eating your own tail. Eventually, you disappear.
And we are disappearing. Our capacity for joy, for play, for delighting in our own existence is rapidly disappearing. We have become slaves to our own rules. Once again, we live in a time when the masses are controlled by a handful – whether in work systems, community systems, religious systems, or our own homes. The very thought of having to think for ourselves, without the benefit of precedent to follow or handbook to consult, causes beads of sweat to form on our brow, and our stomachs to burn and churn. We have become dependent on antacids and antidepressants to get us through our days and worse, our nights. We have lost our nerve for trusting our own intelligence – our own wisdom. We no longer trust our ability to navigate by the stars of our own inner truth. No case study will ever give that back to you. Rigorous analysis will not give you back your nerve. That is something you must take back – by instinct, and alone.
Like you, I was trained to believe – without question – that work was no place for the personal. Work was professional and feelings were personal. At the very least, bringing my feelings to work was “unprofessional”; if not worse, it was a symbol of my total ineptitude and lack of discipline. Objectivity and emotions were mutually exclusive. And yet today science tells us that objectivity is an illusion, that the observer affects the observed. That indeed, the observer is a part of the very formulation of what we experience as the product.
For decades, we have fooled ourselves into believing that work was public and that our feelings were private; work was objective and our feelings were subjective.For decades we have lied to ourselves and each other in the hopes of preserving what we have all known, deep inside ourselves, to be that lie. To know the lie is one thing; to live it, day after day after day, will kill you. If not in body, then in spirit and in your desire to go on.
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Work is nothing but personal, given that the only thing going on at work is people – like you and me – interacting with each other. And people are very personal. The perception that work is public and professional prevents us from achieving what we are looking for. Our perception must change first, then the rest will follow.
The power that we all seek – the sense of being at the helm of shaping our own destiny – is in the questions. The bigger the questions, the more life expands. Small questions make for small movements. Einstein knew that the big questions, especially the ones without answers, are what change the world. We have done the best that we know how to do. Now, given what we’ve learned and what’s available for us to know, we have new and different tools to help us not only recognize our own potential but to be able to express it in a different way; to shape a new reality for ourselves, one that supports life – at work, at home and in our communities. The time has come for us to ask much bigger questions.
We are not helpless. We are people of dignity, integrity and courage. We have what it takes to build what we want, using the full extent of our resourcefulness which includes all of who we are – past and present. Our past is the platform on which we stand to move into the future. Without it, there are no lessons learned: no roots, no wisdom and no compassion, for ourselves or for others. The expanse of who I am to become resides in me – not outside of me – and it can only be freed by me. It’s up to me.