“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never liked that question. Too tongue tied to say what I was really thinking, I would say either an art museum curator or a back-up singer for someone like Leonard Cohen. What I was really thinking was that I had no idea what I would do for money, but I wanted to grow up to be myself, to be happy. And it would still make me very happy today to sing behind Leonard Cohen!
My first real job was in a doughnut shop in Boulder, Colorado earning $1.88 per hour. I have a vivid memory of lazily sliding a blueberry doughnut across the counter to a customer who complained to the owners about my poor attitude. The customer was right; I didn’t give a hoot about serving doughnuts. Not long after that I asked for an afternoon off to go to a Doobie Brothers concert with my friends. When my boss said no, I quit. Not much work ethic and no love lost. From there my jobs got better and worse, better and mediocre, then better and better. Overall I’ve been lucky enough to work in a way that has given me a lot of satisfaction.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the nature of work itself and how we often view of our work-lives as separate from our “real” lives; how many of us feel that life starts at the end of our work-day, on the weekends, on vacation or God forbid, once we retire. But work is real life and includes the full range of our thoughts, our emotions and certainly much of our time. The entirety of our lives is with us wherever we are. Our experiences, our familial and cultural conditioning inform who we are, how we see the world and how we act. Wherever we are, we bring our whole selves, no part left out.
For most of us, we hope our work sustains us in ways beyond our economic needs and desires. Whether we are staff members, managers or owners, we all try to manage ourselves, our relationships and our jobs as best as we can. We typically want the same things from our jobs regardless of our title: respect, trust, recognition, care, empathy, clear communication, a sense of community, and the freedom to creatively use our minds in ways that accesses our natural skills and talents. Managing our work-lives with mindfulness at the core helps create such an environment.
Giving our attention to whatever is happening in this moment whether we like it or not, whether it’s pleasant, unpleasant, or somewhere in-between, develops our awareness and widens our perspective. When we’re willing to be right here right now, our curiosity grows and our tolerance and resilience deepen and expand. This makes room for our clearest thinking, our kindest actions and our most skillful responses.
When we integrate mindfulness into our work environments, it becomes a way of being individually, interpersonally and collectively. It defines the culture of the work environment itself.
Quick & Easy Anytime Practices:
Mindfulness of the Body: Anytime you feel stress, anxiety or fear, see if you can feel the bottoms of your feet on the floor. If you’re sitting in a chair, try getting a sense of your bottom in the chair. Try it now. Notice what happens. What do you feel? What are you thinking about? When you focus on your body in this way, it immediately stops the mind-chatter about other stress. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it re-directs your attention and brings the nervous system back into balance while you focus on these sensations. This works because the brain will not advance two storylines at once. Try that, too. See if you can focus on the sensations of your feet touching the floor while you think about the cause of your anxiety. You probably can’t do both.
Mindfulness of the Breath: Taking a deep breath is a powerful and immediate way of calming the nervous system and letting us see a situation with a little more clarity. Try to get a sense of your breathing. Just feel your breath coming and going. Notice how breathing happens on its own without you controlling it, though you can certainly change its rhythm and depth. Placing attention on the breath functions similarly to noticing the feet on the floor. It re-directs the attention from whatever is happening in the mind and allows both the mind and the body to quiet.
Busyness at Work: We all know what it’s like to have too much on our plates. The pressure and expectations are high. We want to do well, and it feels impossible to keep up. When work is going a million miles per hour, don’t speed up, try to slow down. Do one thing at a time. Talking on the phone while working on the computer is hard enough, but interrupting yourself by checking email and Facebook, or responding to chat windows at the same time is crazy-making, if not impossible. The brain does not naturally or effectively multi-task, even though we sometimes pride ourselves on how much we think we can do at once. Being thorough task-by-task is ultimately much more efficient and effective.