For the past two years, I have had the honor of hearing people talk about their work and where it fits in the larger picture of their lives. After 54 interviews, the findings are both disheartening and inspiring.
Disheartening because, when we get down to it, there is a lot of pressure to compromise, to collude in what does not work. I heard numerous stories about “making a devil’s bargain”, “selling parts of my soul”, “roseying up the numbers”, “getting hooked”, “being assimilated”, and “drinking the koolaid” in order to get ahead. One way or another, it seems that courage is called for almost daily on the job.
Yet those same interviews highlight a inspiring level of “closet altruism”, of intentions and effort to serve each other, customers, bosses, employees, investors, and the world. They indicate a powerful undercurrent of generosity and service running through even the most competitive business people and the most paranoid organizations, largely invisible on the surface.
What I take from this, to put it in mythic terms, is the desire to contribute our “powers for good”. To do what we can, given the reality of our situations, to serve what matters most, whatever we conceive that to be. The question, then, is addressing the barriers. How do we make it more practical to pursue and sustain our efforts as “powers for good”?
One factor, clearly, is reminding ourselves that each of us is out there.
To sustain our efforts, we need reinforcement, encouragement and support. As several of you mentioned, we need places to sort out questions like these:
– Should I stay, now that the leadership philosophy has shift 180 degrees from what I believe?
– Can I still sell that product in good conscience, knowing there has been no progress on promised upgrades?
– How do I connect what I am concerned about as a citizen and parent with what I am doing at work?
– Should I take on this high profile role, knowing how I get “hooked” on prestige and lose touch with my priorities?
– I know my boss has a hard time standing up on this issue. How can I help them most?
David Whyte has said that doing our real work means making something visible out of what is hidden, which requires ongoing reinforcement that what we are engaged in is real. (Crossing the Unknown Sea, p 196, 223)
Which leads me to think we could offer each other some of that support via this site. I hope it will serve as a focal point for working through our individual dilemmas, highlighting the freedoms we sometimes forget, building our capacities for positive influence, and reminding us of our higher priorities.
I will post new material as often as I can, while I am completing the book manuscript (due by Sep-2008). If you would like to stay in touch, please click on the “Posts” feed in the top right corner. Meanwhile, feel free to share your ideas, comments, challenges, dilemmas, and stories, — and please feel free to forward the site to others you think would be interested.
There are some who say that transformation in complex systems comes not only from leadership mandates, but from the “power of the powerless” choosing to live more authentically, recognizing that, “We are each a hidden degree of freedom, an angle of the system’s unexpressed creativity.” (Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless. Peat & Briggs, Seven Life Lessons from Chaos) I hope our effort here can be a part of that unfolding.
Wishing you lasting satisfaction in your work,
By the way, the title image for this site is from an amazing painting by Mark Wagner. See more of his work at heartsandbones.com.