How To Decide

When deciding about the work I do, I envision three circles: Impact, Joy, and Financial Sustainability. Does my work have positive impact, does it bring joy to me and to others, and is it financially sustainable for my life?

First, just applying these criteria shifts my focus from fear, worry and survival; shifts my attention from my day-to-day concerns to something larger, to how I want to show up, to how I want to live. There is certainly a lot to be afraid of and to worry about. There is so much instability in many parts of our economy, in our relationships, and our lives. And yet, where do we choose to put our attention?

When it comes to work, I choose to put my attention on doing what has impact, what brings joy, and moves me toward financial sustainability.

Impact
Impact may mean helping one person, a team, or a company. I remember once when I was about to lead a workshop in which there were six people registered, being upset at the low registration. I was hoping for at least ten people. When I mentioned this to my son, his response was, “Dad, even if you can positively impact the life of one person, isn’t that enough?” The workshop, with six people turned out to be wonderful. A small community formed and went on to meet several additional times over the course of the year.

There are many ways, small and large, to positively impact others in our work – those we work with and those we serve. Sometimes just listening, paying attention to another person can make a large difference. From another perspective, a great question to ask is – How does my work serve others? How could I have more impact?

Joy
We usually don’t think of joy as being important in our work. Buy why is that? Most of us spend more time at work than any other place in our lives. Why not look for ways to bring a sense of lightness and enjoyment to what we do.

This criteria of joy also raises the question – what do you really like doing; what is nourishing, challenging, interesting to you. Is what you are doing aligned with the answers to these questions? What steps might you take to bring your work more in line with a sense of joy.

Financial Sustainability
Money and issues of financial stability are complex and personal. Of course we all need to pay the bills, to earn enough income to meet our basic needs. With the current state of our economy this may be no small matter. People sometimes make work decision based solely on money, sometimes with the belief that money brings more joy and impact. Other times, people seek money as a response to fear or a desire for power. The point of having this criteria is to bring more awareness to the question – What is financial sustainability for me? How can I do work that is financially sustainable.

Does my work have impact? Does it bring me joy? Does it bring me financial sustainability?

Creative Tension

“The essence of personal mastery is learning how to generate and sustain creative tension in our lives.” – Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

Personal mastery is the practice of increasing our awareness, reducing our blind spots, and developing our responsiveness. Creative tension can be defined as the gap between where we are now and what we want. This creative tension might exist in many aspects of our lives – our relationships, our work, particular projects and aspirations, or creative endeavors such as writing, or art, or something physical. Or it might be in answering the question, what is my calling; why am I here on this planet?

Creative tension requires two important practices. One, is knowing what we want. Second is knowing where we are in relation to what we want. I’m reminded of the words of my mentor Harry Roberts, a Yurok, shaman, phd agronomist who sometimes said that life is simple; we just need to answer three questions: What do you want; What do you have to do to get it: and, can you pay the price? He would laugh, saying that most people never even ask the first question.

The second practice, knowing where we are means knowing our feelings, our inner voices, the stories we tell about our vision, competence, and power. It also means knowing who are supporters and allies are as well as understanding the source of our power.

Though creative tension is essential, Senge points out how we often confuse creative tension with emotional tension or stress. To reduce our emotional stress we may respond to creative tension by:
– Lowering our vision or goals
– Motivating ourselves through fear and stress
– Using sheer will power (“having lost sight of our goals, we redouble our efforts.”)

What to do? Spend time reflecting, unpacking, and clarifying your calling. What inspires you; really, what brings you joy. What has meaning in your life?

Spend time assessing where you are in relation to what you want. This often requires guides, in the form of a therapist, coach, mentor or some kind of group or community. And, develop healthy routines – getting enough sleep, a regular meditation practice, having real conversations – paying attention to your physical, emotional, social, and financial life.

Goals and Intentions

The goal of our life’s effort is to reach the other shore…the true wisdom of life is that in each step of the way, the other shore is actually reached. To reach the other shore with each step of the crossing is the way of true living.
– Shunryu Suzuki, from Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind

It is important to have goals, in our work and in our lives outside of work. Goals provide a target to aim for, whether we want to reach certain revenues, develop new products, reduce disease or violence, or lose weight. Goals provide benchmarks and allow us to make appropriate and useful adjustments as we move along the path toward meeting these goals.

Whereas goals act as the “what” we want to achieve, our intentions can act as the “how.” Our intentions can clarify the spirit and attitude with which we want to pursue our goals. Goals, by definition are something in the future. An intention can be right now, in this moment. We may have a one-year or three-year or five-year goal. Our intention can begin immediately and can act as a container in which we move toward our goals.

I understand that intentions have gotten a bad name (i.e. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”) Of course, decisions we make with certain intentions may have outcomes that were not intended. We can’t hide behind our intentions. Instead we can act both boldly and with humility, learning from our mistakes, adjusting as needed.

Having goals can be powerful. Taking an idea and committing to it has weight and gives energy and meaning to our activities.

Setting intentions can also be powerful. Our intention might be to work with less stress, to live with more joy, to meet difficulties and opportunities more openly and directly. Intentions can act as a compass to keep us more alive and more focused, as we pursue our goals.

In the Shunryu Suzuki quote above he is saying that our real goal, the goal that truly matters in our lives is the goal of finding complete freedom, to live a life of responsiveness, of joy, love, and compassion; to free ourselves from small-mindedness, self-centeredness, and an ego-centric existence. This is the true goal of being a human being. Our deep intention is to live in a manner in which we are reaching our goals in each moment, without waiting. We don’t need to be attached to some outcome in the future. We make our best effort, not only to meet our goals, but to set an intention to live with freedom and compassion; right now, in this moment.

I recently led a 3-day retreat called Step Into Your Life. We began the retreat by asking everyone to write down their intention for these days together. At the end of the retreat we all checked in with what we wrote at the beginning of the retreat.

What is your intention for today, for this week, and this year?