Monday, April 19, 2010
Is Work a Spiritual Experience?
Under-utilized, wrongly deployed
Have you ever had a job you hated – one that just thinking about made you feel as if your life’s energy was drained? A job where you absolutely dreaded the thought of having to go to work? Once in my life - I did. On Sundays I would dread the inevitable Monday. While at work when I would go to the bathroom, the thought of going back to my desk sent me into a funk. It was a horrible feeling and at times, overwhelming. And to further complicate matters I felt trapped (whether real or imagined). Almost every day at work I felt heaviness right down to my core, coupled with an overwhelming sense of sadness. I felt under utilized or at the very least wrongly utilized. I was engaged with activities that drained, rather than replenished me. This was a new experience for me, because I had always loved work and found all other jobs both interesting and fun.
More importantly, I had always experienced a sense of satisfaction coupled with a feeling of contribution from previous jobs – no matter what position I held. If a day was long it did not matter, because the day usually flew by. However, on this job each day felt like an eternity – no matter what task I engaged in. It was a “soul killing” experience. This made me wonder - is work or can work be a spiritual experience?
What does spiritual work mean?
Maybe it’s important to make the distinction here that I am not using the word spiritual in a religious context, but rather as a conceptual meaning. For example, spiritual as in a experiencing a deep fulfillment and satisfaction from work – expressing and experiencing a balance of giving and receiving that transcends a “work for hire” feeling/attitude. I’m not the only person, who has a deep desire to know that my work contributes positively to the world in some way. Almost everyone I have met professionally has a deep desire to make a difference in the world through the work they do.
So what prompts an interest in this now, when my own personal experience is long past? Many people I speak with now are unhappy with their job and/or their organization – almost an unprecedented number, which on one hand is alarming. However, what is more alarming is that many of the people I speak with are immobilized and are making the decision to stay put rather than explore other options because of the current economic climate. Furthermore, many of them are paying a high cost for their decision to the extent that it is affecting their happiness, health, and overall quality of life. Some of them look like the walking dead.
High cost to employer and employee
There is a transactional cost when there is such a profound sense of dissatisfaction with one’s job because we spend so much time at work and most of us place a high value on positive contribution. So what is the transactional cost in holding a job, where you don’t feel a sense of happiness, fulfillment, and contribution? What is the transactional cost when you feel under-utilized and/or wrongly deployed? The reality is that there is a transactional cost on both ends – for the employee and the employer. Employers do not always have the luxury of building positions and tasks solely around people’s strengths. That being said there are things companies can do (but that is for another blog). For now I’d like to explore the personal cost and potential options for an individual, because if work is a spiritual idea/experience then it is important to feed and nourish your soul.
Although this is not meant to be a full-blown blog of all the things that you can do, but an avenue to explore options as well as to share what I did when I faced the same situation. Hopefully this will prompt ideas for you, if you find yourself in the same and/or a similar circumstance.
As I mentioned previously some of the people I know have had their health and well-being negatively affected and experience high levels of stress while in jobs where there is a mismatch. It’s important to say that there are multiple levels of fit, and some dimensions are more impactful than others. When discussing work many people have shared with me their need to be employed with work that “feeds their soul”, but find themselves in “soul killing” jobs. For me, holding a “soul-killing” job spilled into my personal life – creating tension and overall dissatisfaction not to mention an overwhelming feeling of physical exhaustion and stress. For my employer, well, they probably did not get the best I had to offer, and it is hard to believe it did not affect my productivity.
Next Week: How I got out of this funk!
Photo Credit: Kreepz @ Flickr