Saturday, May 29, 2010

Freedom In Work

In the world of work, many people are searching for freedom; not so much freedom from work as freedom in work: the ability to work in a manner that has meaning and purpose as well as that meets our financial needs. The answer is not in sentimentality, but in truth. Knowing our true purpose, we must make hard choices about how to spend our time and energy; what compromises to accept, and which to avoid. Inevitably, there will be a need for personal adjustments; changes in activities and changes in our emotional reactions to those activities. In other words, some pain and discomfort is both unavoidable, and necessary for our growth and development into the persons we envision ourselves to be.

Learning to be comfortable and content doing the things that are actually good for us; that work to build the kind of life that we aspire to have; sometimes requires a kind of rewiring of neural circuits. It requires an approach similar to the one used for reducing anxiety. One technique is physical relaxation; slowing the breath; and tensing and relaxing muscles. The other is cognitive, catching the negative thinking that accompanies the anxiety, and countering it with positive emotions.

It is not just a matter of gritting our teeth and just getting the work done. It requires examining the anxious and negative emotions that we experience during the work activity and to transform those into positive emotions, or to reach a decision that we really should be doing something else. This is a gradual process, using the relaxation and cognitive restructuring techniques previously discussed.

A good example of emotional challenges in a job is in sales. Is it fear of the unknown; fear of being rejected, of being spoken to harshly; that makes for emotional difficulty? That fear can become the only guidance a salesperson has as to what needs to change in order to improve performance in talking with prospective clients. Fear impedes the subliminal communication that in ten seconds establishes a connection with another person. Solving this practical interpersonal riddle is the gateway to success.

It can help to have as a driver, the need to make a living and pay bills. This forces us to choose among the available means of making money. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages in terms of compensation/time efficiency, schedule flexibility, natural emotional appeal of the work activity, availability etc. All force us to make emotional adjustments of one kind or another. It is best to make a decision about which type of work fits best with the life purpose and life style to which we are committed.

We expect more from work that just financial compensation. Even if we do not articulate it, we tend to seek greater fulfillment in work, as in our other life activities, than just the basics of survival. That is why we have art, sports, religion and the other seemingly impractical activities that nourish the human spirit. In work, we are in some way attempting to bring something of our spirit and imagination into the pedestrian activity of making a living. When we become more present, we can discern the internal pains and discomfort that are our only guides in this unknown world, where what has only existed in imagination must be brought into reality. That is where the matter of truth comes in. Although a vision is emotional, it is not sentimental. Its power comes from truth. It is born from and embedded in the elemental soil of who we are, individually and collectively. The passion of the vision, whether expressed in love, faith, ideology, esthetics or mathematics, is both necessary for powerful commitment and frightening; because in giving up self-control there is the potential to release both creative and destructive energies; to lose ourselves in the outpouring.

But we must trust enough to let go. We must trust that something in ourselves that we do not fully know, that we cannot control, and that has lead is into error at least some of the time in the past. We are therefore talking about a kind of faith or trust. This trust is in part based on competence or skills; in the sense of a performance artist or athlete, who has practiced certain movements so often that they become ingrained in the memory of the body; the arms legs, hands and fingers. However, since they must be performed in a situation that is live and ever changing, there is a sense of risk and the unknown. This creates excitement, but also can involve some anxiety.

If we stay true to our visions and dreams, then opportunities will arise to join with others to create a new world of work; where the gifts of partners and team mates complement each other, and the load is easy to carry, because it is shared, and because it is a labor of love.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can reach me at

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Selling: The Last Stage of Innovation

In business, you sell an idea, a product or service, but in a friendship or romantic relationship you are offering yourself. Either way, you are selling, and there is nothing wrong with that. The important thing is to be a truth seeker in selling; that is, to aim to uncover the truth about the transaction and the relationship; whether or not the person can benefit from what you have to offer and vice versa; in other words whether there can be a fair exchange.

Every successful creative idea begin in imagination and ends in a sale, where someone else buys into or pays for the product or service generated from the idea, because it has value for them. This is the process of Innovation, one of the Seven Dimensions of Wisdom in my SOPPHIA system. SOPPHIA is the Greek word for wisdom, and each letter in the acronym represents a set of skills necessary for success. The I is for Innovation, the process of generating ideas, and developing them to the point where they create social and economic value. Therefore, selling is the end point of innovation.

Sales skills are made necessary in part by the human tendency to avoid doing certain things that we need to do or that are in our own best interest. We tend to avoid taking certain necessary or desirable actions such as getting life insurance, making a will, and making investments for the long term as opposed to focusing on short term costs. The goal in ethical selling should not be to convince people to buy things that they don’t want or need; but rather to find the people who can truly benefit from what you are offering. Because we are all bombarded with offers to purchase products and services, it requires sales skills to even get people to listen closely enough to determine whether or not they can benefit from your offering. You must overcome defensiveness and mistrust in order for the offer to be evaluated accurately.

In selling, fear of rejection is just the symptom; the real challenge is to overcome the focus on your own needs and to experience genuine empathy for the other person’s. Effective sales persons recognize that many of the people they approach won’t need or want the service or product; so it’s important to learn to not take their unwillingness as a personal insult.

You establish this self-confidence by examining your fears and motivations, and the value of what you are offering to others. This doesn’t mean puffing yourself up and denying your real concerns and feelings. Rather it means making an honest appraisal of your purpose, and how the activities you are engaged in relate to that purpose; to something that you are truly passionate about and that is of benefit to others as well as to yourself.

The truthful seller must be convinced that what he or she has to offer is valuable, in relation to the specific needs of the buyer. Prior reflection is helpful in revealing your true beliefs about the value of your offering, and the circumstances under which it can and cannot be helpful to someone. You then enter the interaction with the potential buyer with this clear understanding; and you don’t hesitate to ask questions that reveal the buyer’s need for your offering. Similarly, you know when your offering is not likely to be helpful to the buyer, and you can avoid crossing that ethical boundary.

As in any interaction, the best first step is usually to meet people where they are. Initially, self-protectiveness is one of the natural responses to being approached by someone we don’t know well, and therefore don’t trust. Having and showing sincere interest in the other person, their welfare, and their point of view, is the best way to begin establishing trust. If you don’t experience that interest in the other person naturally, then you need to work on yourself, and release the internal locks that are blocking your connection with others.

People’s defensiveness in reacting to salespeople is similar to what happens in psychotherapy. All of us want in some way to be healthy and to do the things needed to sustain our health. But we will throw up all manner of defenses to avoid facing certain truths about ourselves and changing behaviors that are necessary to achieve that goal. While not confronting our defenses directly, the therapist also does not accept our initial presentation as accurately representing our true needs and desires. Similarly, the skilled salesperson asks questions that overcome our initial objections and should help us to make a decision to buy something that we really need or want.

Of course, this process can be abused and become a means of manipulating people into buying things just to put money in the salesperson’s pocket. This unethical practice may be more characteristic of salespeople than say doctors or lawyers, but it is certainly not limited to the former. Whenever one is providing a service or product for sale, there is always the possibility and temptation to cheat the customer.

A buyer who feels pressured or manipulated into a purchase, as opposed to convincing themselves with the seller’s help, will experience resentment, and is likely to retaliate by later canceling the order or returning the product. An addition fallout is that the seller in such situations may feel guilt; or at least is not likely to experience the satisfaction that comes from helping another person to meet their needs. The fulfillment that comes from helping other people is what contributes to happiness, a sense of achievement and satisfaction with one’s work. Ultimately this is necessary for long term success.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can me via by web site at

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Wisdom of Gratitude and Humility

Even the most successful life, as measured by societal achievements, has a past littered with errors and random events, in addition to effective decisions and actions. Wisdom requires that we accept this mixed past and live authentically in the present. The emotions that enable us to accomplish this task are gratitude and humility. One alternative response, excessive pride in our accomplishments, requires us to be untruthful about the mistakes, close calls, and sheer luck that led us to the present. At the other extreme, an alternative emotional response is a sense of helplessness, insecurity or frustration at the number of things that are beyond our control. Gratitude and humility recognize the truth about our past while allowing us a sense of ease and achievement.

A clear example of how effective decisions and actions mix with luck and random events to produce success is seen is the story of Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. If Gates had not been able to find and buy the MSDOS software from its creator for a small sum, and then license it to IBM, his life would have been very different, and we might all be using Macs instead of PCs for our computer needs. So do we just credit Gates with justifiable vision and shrewdness, but ignore the luck and randomness involved in this seminal event?

The ancients had an understanding of the role of randomness or chance in human events. Greek mythology humanized it as the fates, and in Chinese tradition, it plays a central role as memorialized in the I-Ching, Book of Changes. The West African Ifa tradition is another form of divination from different culture. Perhaps surprisingly, even in the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of an all-powerful God, chance has a key role. In the Bible, the will of God was often divined by the tossing a kind of dice, named the Urim and Thummim, which gave the answer yes or no, guilty or innocent.

It seems that wisdom develops from encounters with what is beyond our control, and the need to be empowered despite those forces. When we examine human development over the life cycle, we expect people to develop wisdom with experience; particularly as they approach old age. We understand wisdom to be more than just knowledge or technique, though those are essential components. Intuitively, we understand wisdom as having a sense of integration of knowledge and experience resulting in an acceptance of oneself and one’s place in the universe. Psychologist Erik Eriksson best captured this in his last stage of adult development; which he characterized as a challenge of integrity versus despair, with the fruit of the conflict being wisdom. Once past middle age, a person begins to see the inevitability of death. The challenge is either to despair at mistakes and missed opportunities in one’s life or to integrate and accept all of one’s experiences and thus to achieve wisdom.

I think of wisdom as having seven dimensions, which I represent with the acronym SOPPHIA, the Greek word for wisdom. These are seven sets of skills or competencies that helps us achieve fulfillment. The first letter S represents emotional Self-awareness and Self-management. The O is for skills for understanding Others and managing relationships. The first P is for skills needed to clarify and pursue our life Purpose. The second P is for the ability to be Present and have Presence; to be reconciled with the past and open to the future. The H is for skills and habits necessary to maintain Health of body, mind and spirit. The I is for Innovation, the ability to generate creative ideas and to work with others to bring them into reality, where they can produce social and economic value. And finally, the A is for Assurance or faith, the ability to endure and persevere beyond reason.

Presence and Assurance are probably the two dimensions of wisdom that are most subtle and least reducible to a “how to” or technical method. They require an acceptance of the large role of chance, randomness, or fate in our lives. They require that we accept this without helplessness or fear. The emotions that help us to achieve this are gratitude and humility. We can deliberately practice the attitudes of gratitude and humility, which are not surprisingly very similar to the attitudes we adopt in meditation or prayer. With these attitudes, we induce a state of peace and acknowledgement of our limitations, but also feel empowered to make decisions and to take action to benefit others as well as ourselves.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can reach me at