I have recently talked with many women who are looking for ways their work can, as they say, “feed their soul”. For too many of us our work drains us on too many days. So, many of us look to transition to other jobs, start businesses on the side, or work for non-profits in order to find work that fulfills us.
On the other hand there are many of us that are stuck. We either fear giving up the steady paycheck and benefits, or we just can’t seem to find the next job, business, career what would feed the soul. So we go to work every day trying to make the best of a situation where we are not engaged. We express our passions (the very best we have to give) outside of work. Consider that according to a Gallup study only 29% of people in the U.S. are fully engaged in the work that we do. The personal and organizational impact of this is tremendous in terms of the lost productivity, creativity and sense of wellbeing.
So how do we bring soul back to our work? How about we declare a “Bring your Soul to Work Day”? How about we challenge ourselves as leaders to seek the soul in the work that we do and the environments we create for our people. How do we do that? In my opinion, we feed our soul through work that engages us. It inspires us. It stretches us. It connects us to a bigger sense of ourselves and something bigger than ourselves. It takes daily practice to find this kind of soul and joy in the work that we do. Here are five ways to do that.
1) Discover what inspires you – Our soul is engaged when we rise above our own individual needs and discover in our work a mission, purpose or passion that calls us to be greater than we ever thought was possible. Discover what that sense of purpose is for you. Purpose is a heart thing. Think about peak experiences in your life and career where you have felt your heart sing, where you’ve felt deeply connected to something bigger than yourself, and you will find the path to purpose.
Many of us have heard of the famous story of three men chipping rock in a quarry. The first man when asked what he was doing replied that he was chipping rock. The second man when asked the same question said he was providing for his family. The third man, looked up into the sky and with great pride said he was building a house of God. There are ways for us to find deeper meaning and purpose in the work we do, even if it is chipping rock. We just have to connect it to something that is important to us.
2) Fully express and grow your talents – As human beings we are wired for growth. Finding work that enables us to express our strengths, stretch ourselves through challenges, and develop mastery in skill sets is deeply satisfying to us. In a TEDTalk Daniel Pink shares the science of motivation. Research shows that for 21st century tasks that require creativity, extrinsic rewards like more money actually lowered performance. Instead intrinsic motivation (a combination of having autonomy in directing our work, ability to develop mastery in skill sets, and a sense of purpose) were key drivers of engagement.
3) Allow for freedom to create – In the above referenced TEDTalk, the freedom to pursue and create in an area that you care about is a key driver of bringing soul to your work. Google has famously capitalized on this notion allowing their engineers to spend 20% of their time on projects of their own choosing. Any great innovation organization definitely understands this driver of the human spirit. Our unexpressed creativity stifles our spirit. One of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes is: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
For me, my writing is a huge way to find soul in my work. When I write, I write for the joy of personal expression, not because there is a standard of perfection I need to reach. There is certainly no yardstick of success or failure (although your comments always help me feel good!). Our challenge as leaders is to figure out how we allow ourselves and our people the space and freedom to express our creativity in our work endeavors without a yardstick of perfection that creates fear of failure and stifles creativity.
4) Connect with others – Steven Covey said “To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground”. We’re wired for connection. Finding ways to connect with people around us is a decision each of us can make regardless of the circumstances we’re in. Studies show that even a five minute positive conversation with a co-worker boosts productivity. Having a friend and co-worker or boss who cares about you in the office raises job satisfaction and is a key driver of engagement. Trust is established not by waiting to see whether the other person is trustworthy. Trust and connection are established because we ourselves make a decision to be trusting of others. This decision is a moment by moment practice. Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, author and peace activist says “The secret of transformation, is in the way we handle this very moment”. What choice will you make today?
5) Practice the courage of full personal expression and authenticity – So many of us feel like we cannot be fully ourselves in the workplace. We leave many aspects of ourselves at the door because of fear of “not fitting in”. We deprive ourselves and our organizations of the full contributions we can make by leaving the vulnerable parts of ourselves behind. Yes, I know it’s hard and many organizations and cultures make it even harder to express our authenticity.
In my experience, courage is not an attribute that someone either has or does not have. It is a practice that we choose to practice despite our fears. Just today, I witnessed a client express her feelings of anxiety and fear of failure to her boss. She practiced courage and vulnerability. I saw a visible shift in her boss. His response was “What can I do differently to help you understand that I have your back?” This personal expression helped her forge a stronger connection with her boss than the combined impact of the business meetings of the last six months. She felt a greater sense of freedom and power from this expression. When we can find the courage to speak from our heart, it touches something in others to have the courage of personal expression as well.
Finding soul at work does not have to entail monumental changes in our lives. It is a daily and intentional practice of being more present to the opportunities to be inspired in our workplaces. It starts with knowing ourselves. Transformational leaders make a practice of this every day.
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