I remember wondering then as I do now, “Who do I want to be when I grow up?” A thousand years ago, this was a simple question. We do what our parents did. But today, there is a greater possibility of choice and nowhere is the struggle of making this choice more evident than in the workplace.
When I use to work at a telecommunications company, I found great pleasure, on most days, working with others to design and test complex systems. I also had the freedom to pursue my own community projects or coaching initiatives. On other days, however, I questioned whether I was making any difference. I felt instinctively that my contributions were insignificant in the machinery of the corporation.
Later I realized that all around me I saw family, friends, and clients who were also searching for meaning or fulfillment in what they did. Some found it. Some gave up. Others are still looking. According to research (The Art of Happiness at Work by Howard C. Cutler), it does not seem that any one particular occupation has the monopoly on fulfillment.
What is the source of this searching?
A Disappointed Dream
From here, I delve into speculations. Perhaps it starts with a disappointed dream. Our childhood dreams are often surprised by the weight of reality. We hoped to change the world, but find ourselves stuck in an office job. We wanted to become an inventor, but we end up maintaining other people’s inventions. We desire for the job we imagined it would be rather than what it actually is.
Another possibility is that there is also a growing uneasiness with the impact of the corporations that we work for. Certainly the creative power of a company is unrivaled. Consider that the building of a single cellphone tower involves the coordination of thousands of designers, manufacturers, managers, accountants, and a million lines of code that no one person understands. Many can do what one cannot.
Nevertheless, corporations are a recent invention as a legal entity. We are still trying to understand its role. What if the disconnect is between the corporate life purpose and the individual life purpose? A hundred thousand years ago we started a fire in a little cave and today it burns so hotly it may end up consuming the globe. We are haunted by the question, “What if what we do has no meaning? What if what we do is making things worse?”
The Intersection of Dreams and Reality
Fortunately, the intersection of dreams and reality is a place of great possibility. Should we choose to, the workplace can be that place.
This is my long route around to considering the question of finding “heart” in the workplace. When I talk about heart, I mean it in the Old English definition which refers not just to our feelings, but also all of our faculties, our intellect, and our intuition. Finding heart in the workplace refers then to finding an integration of our “self” as an individual as well as our “self” as a humanity within our role in the economy.
My dream is that all people find meaning in their lives that releases their potential in the noblest and wisest way possible. I do not believe this because it is my job… it is everyone’s job! I believe it because we have no other way of preserving the incredible beauty that we see around us… our children, our landscape, and even our clever technologies. Our collective effort is needed. Our collective heart is needed.
Who we are going to be when we grow up is of utmost importance because when when we step into the workplace, it is as if we check ourselves at the door and say that we are now a different person. In David Whyte’s book, The Heart Aroused, he says, “By leaving the magnificence of the world outside the door, we also leave any desire to really live in the world.” One of my roles as a life coach is to help people fling open the door to the magnificence of the world outside and therefore re-discover their own magnificence.
This is much harder than it sounds. Creating true value and meaning takes patience, persistence, awareness, and courage. In the workplace, that could mean retraining for a different job, challenging the existing culture, recreating relationships, or even leaving the workplace behind. Reaching towards fulfillment involves stepping outside where we are comfortable. Whyte comments, “Most of the actual prisons we inhabit we have chosen and furnished ourselves.”
I took a step outside when I saw Romeo Dallaire in person and wept tears of frustration hearing how hundreds of thousands died in Rwanda while I remained ignorant in high school. It did not take me long to run back inside so that I could continue to ignore the harsh lessons that a genocide might teach. But eventually I could not ignore it. I had no choice but to ask myself, “How do I align my job with more meaning?”
I am not saying that I have the answer. I am only trying to help people be conscious of their higher selves and to act on it in their workplace. Thus rather than let the past or current circumstances drive our actions, we choose to live by what is most important and needed.
A business is meant to serve the community, to provide a service or a product. To forget that is to forget its connection to its own heart. If heart is to be brought back into the workplace, then there may be some hard questions that have to be asked. Every company has to remember that it is part of a larger world. If there are not people who tell the tales of the outside world, then the company will find itself more and more disconnected.
Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching
Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.