Working at your best

July 1, 2006
In “Crossing the Unknown Sea,” the Yorkshire-born poet, David Whyte, addresses the subject of work in many unique ways.

In “Crossing the Unknown Sea,” the Yorkshire-born poet, David Whyte, addresses the subject of work in many unique ways. For me, his imagery and insights are remarkable. Whyte describes work as “the place where the self meets the world.” He sees work as one way in which we establish our identity. He does, however, paint a contrasting picture when he portrays work as our greatest opportunity for discovery and growth, even though it is the thing we most often want to get away from.

What does your work mean to you? Is it just a job, a series of tasks to be completed, and a way to make a living? Or is it much more than that? Is it something to which you belong? Do you connect with your work in a way that supports your life’s purpose? Does your work feel like a burden that is never-ending, or is it an activity that you wish would never end? Your answers to these questions are significant. They impact the quality of your accomplishments, your health, and your overall fulfillment from life.

Showing up

Because work deeply influences who you are, then let’s look at another crucial question. How do you honor and respect this place of discovery where you touch the world? One way is to consistently and joyfully bring your “best self” forward when at work. Bringing your best self forward is an act of personal commitment. It is a choice that star performers make every day in every field of work, regardless of the price to be paid. Yet, once again, Whyte challenges us by suggesting that “our bodies can be present in our work, but our hearts, minds, and imaginations can be placed firmly in neutral or engaged elsewhere.” Ouch! How often does that describe you and me? The bottom line is really quite simple. In everything we do, we always have control over who shows up!

Showing up is, in part, about attitude. It’s the difference between doing our work because we “want to,” rather than feeling that we “have to.” But it’s more than that! Showing up is a reflection of our personal standards, standards that are driven by our core values, our purpose, and our expectations of ourselves. It’s a measure of how much we care about the design of the footprint we create as we touch the earth.

Reflecting back

For many of us, our early working years didn’t match David Whyte’s images. Our major focus was on starting a career and supporting our growing families. That was a reasonable and honorable focus, and yet, could it have been different? My first two full-time jobs were in the steel and banking businesses. They were good jobs. I was treated well by my employers, but eventually I chose to move on. I experienced my work only from a task point of view, and that limited my fulfillment. I had no awareness that what I did five days a week had deeper meaning. I just didn’t think that way, nor did any of my friends.

Having now read Whyte, I am curious. If I had the benefit of his insights at age 25, would I have had a better relationship with my work? Would I have appreciated it more? Would my best self have emerged? I can only speculate on the answers, but I feel strongly that somehow things would have been different. No matter what the job, the meaning is there. The challenge is to recognize it when you see it.

Living an enriched life

According to a poll about major life transitions cited by American Demographics, only 12 percent of newlyweds saw marriage as a difficult adjustment and only 23 percent thought becoming parents was difficult. But 41 percent said that retirement was a difficult adjustment. These statistics speak to the importance of work in your life. Is work all there is? Of course not! But happiness and fulfillment at work will enrich the other aspects of your life. Have you found the purpose in what you do? Do you create an identity through your work that has meaning for you? Are you satisfied with the place where your self meets the world? Does it represent your “best self”?

Doug Young, MBA, and his spouse Marlyn, MCC, have a professional speaking and executive/team coaching business in Parker, Colo. They co-author this column and share an interest in leading-edge business concepts, achieving personal and professional potential, serving patients, and improving how people work together. Marlyn’s insights into people and relationships and coaching skills complement Doug’s motivating and mind-expanding presentations. Contact them by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 877-DMYOUNG.

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