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

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