In the Pursuit of Mei-Li
Mei-Li has a Ph.D. and works for one of the biggest communication companies in the world. Originally from China, she has been in Silicon Valley, California for the majority of her adult life. Married with two children Mei-Li is very happy. However, she has been facing a very challenging dilemma for many years: Though she is happy, successful and fulfilled in her life as it is, she’s concerned that she should do more – be more.
Mei-Li observes her boss focusing most of his attention on getting ahead; she sees other women at her level of management working for the next promotion, the next level of leadership and responsibility. “I don’t want an increase in responsibility; I don’t want to work that hard; I don’t like talking with people that much that I want to move to the next level of management. But, should I want to? Is there something wrong with me that I don’t want to do that? I’m afraid there’s something very wrong with me.”
As Mei-Li shares with me over many coaching sessions, her consistency of feelings and truths about what’s true for her has me coach her to see the dilemma she is currently constrained by. On the one hand, Mei-Li loves her job and the team she manages. She has the free time she needs to be available to her children and to her husband in a way that fits best with her sense of the quality relationship she wants. She isn’t stressed and unnerved by unmet deadlines. She’s actually one of the 10% of the workforce that actually is fulfilled in her career.
On the other hand, Mei-Li’s culture married with our Western culture attempts to move people into work that isn’t their’s to do. Mei-Li watches people spend more time being people pleasers than effective employees of this company and she finds this frustrating and confusing. “People aren’t getting their work done while they are schmoosing for a promotion. Should I be doing that? The fact is, I don’t like schmoosing; I don’t like going to cocktail parties, playing golf or any of those other social things that you are supposed to do if you want to get ahead. I’m a pretty reclusive person who enjoys my life the way it is. But, I feel like I should be doing more.”
Many of us face this dilemma of being more – doing more; at the same time actually finding fulfillment in what we are doing right now. But, aren’t we supposed to want more money and power? Aren’t we supposed to want the bigger office, more contact with the more influential people of the world? Aren’t we supposed to want more?
My sense is, and I shared this with Mei-Li in our session, that what people want is to get to a place where there is fulfillment in their work and personal life – that there is balance with health and happiness. I believe that most people want what Mei-Li has. She already has it. Though the current within the corporate structure drags many people in its undertow toward some fantasy life that is wrought with a lot of what they don’t want to do and perhaps aren’t really cut out to be with, there are few who willingly choose health and fulfillment with what they have, what they do and how they be.
Mei-Li laughs as she begins to see a bigger picture – one that allows her free choice to choose for herself what’s hers to do. She laughs to hear that what people are struggling for is what she already has. She laughs as she realizes that she is presently free to choose to be happy in the life she has created and if in the future she feels inspired to grow her career toward greater degrees of leadership and responsibility, she can do that.
Mei-Li isn’t out of the current, and as long as she is in the corporate environment there will always be that field of influence. The degree to which she can stay aligned with her commitment to well-being and fulfillment in her career, the stronger her dedication and the less pull this will have on her.
Christopher, who I spoke of a few weeks ago, shared with me that if he could do anything he would work with inner city kids, teaching them math and computer skills. Then, the litany of “Why I Can’t Leave My Job and Give Up Everything I Worked For” began. There was no stopping him; the who would pay the mortgage, who would take care of my parents, I’d have to give up my addiction to Siamese cats; on and on, fully engaged in the undertow of a make believe reality, for too many, is actually real.
Mei-Li has found an eddy for now where she is out of the stream of influence by others. She is finding herself – the one she believes she has to continually pursue. It takes strength and courage to step out of the normal way of being for the sake of what we are all striving for – well-being and fulfillment in our careers. Kind of crazy when you think about it! Perhaps the pursuit of Mei-Li has come to a happy ending; right here where she has been, but now enjoying it to a much larger degree!
M is for Money and Mindfulness
Money is very much a spiritual issue. Some think that the pursuit of wealth couldn’t possibly be a path to enlightenment or spiritual serenity. We never know what our path will look like, what’s in store for us, or where our greatest learning opportunities will lay, awaiting our arrival so they can ambush us when we least expect it.
It’s not money per se but our attitudes and action in relation to money that harm us and others. Fear, not money is the root of all evil, and when we fear that we don’t have enough, who knows what antics our survival mechanism will concoct to give relief from the incessant anxiety of “I NEED MORE!”
It’s okay to want money, to have money and to spend money. All businesses are designed to manufacture or produce goods and services in exchange for currency of one form or another. This is a very good thing. We need this interdependent relationship to thrive. It’s when those “G” words come into play – greed and gain, that a healthy dynamic can turn dysfunctional. This is when abuse of power rears its head and resources such as people, animals and the Earth itself become taxed, stressed and depleted of life force. Work environments lose their soul, and so do those whose lives depend on these environments.
The balance of wealth and power takes mindfulness. Mindfulness cultivates awareness of how our actions, our thoughts and our being impact the environment within which we live and work. It’s obvious Mother Nature is beginning to demonstrate her lack of appreciation for how she has been ignored, plundered and taken for granted. And because we are all part of this living system I believe that She’s indicating that we as a species, and also, we as individuals, need to become mindful of our relationship with our selves.
I heard the other day that the extraordinary natural disasters that are occurring in this planet are just a causation of the inner turmoil of every living system on the planet. We need to include our businesses, corporations, religious and financial institutions as living systems too. The lack of mindfulness within each system is the responsibility of us all, because all of us participate in the exchange of goods and services and want what we want when we want it. We can’t keep passing the buck onto those who appear to be in charge. We are all in charge and the practice of mindfulness will make that clear.
The Personal is the Political
We have no idea the degree to which our personal power can transform the world. To mindfully engage at work with integrity and a compassionate heart – you will move mountains.
Stress, disease and illness are caused, generally speaking by a lack of mindfulness. Healing brings about wholeness and awareness of the power to which we can shift and change ourselves and our environments – acting in my highest good is acting in the highest good of everyone.
Mindfulness requires intention to be attentive to what you are committed to – enough that you’re willing to practice bringing awareness and focus to how you be, to what you do, to your thoughts, feelings and body sensations, witnessing it all in service to fulfilling that which you desire. There’s nothing to give up. There is nothing to lose. And, the gain in this circumstance is self-empowerment, self-honoring and the honoring of the sacredness of all that surrounds you.
Mindfulness also keeps us in the moment, present to what is within. We learn to be present and attentive to which impulses we follow – moving us toward fear-based choices or essence-based choices. There is so much more going on than you can imagine. And, it is so accessible.
As I write, I realize that M also stands for meditation. I’m not one to sit cross-legged on a pillow staring at my navel. My form of meditation is practiced throughout the day staying focused and mindful on the agreements I’ve made to myself and to others that are mine to keep. I emphasize, again, the notion of practice as a way to gain mastery, letting go of the idea that perfection will ever be reached.
Enjoy the adventure!
G is for Gain, Greed and Generosity
Every organization whether it be for profit or non-profit are in their line of business in order to gain something – it’s most likely in their vision statement. My vision statement, for example is – the fulfillment of the human spirit through the empowerment of every individual on the planet. This vision requires an acquisition of fulfillment and personal empowerment.
Whether to gain access to clean water, acquire political power, or to expand one’s capacity to lead effectively, we are all out to gain.
With the economic turn, the way it’s going, businesses are facing major dilemmas. On the one hand they – the choice-makers are facing potential loss of everything they’ve gained. Too often this drives them to act in ways that will hopefully allow them to not lose anything. Fear too often drives them to act in haste, making choices that may not be in alignment with their original vision. They are afraid. People make interesting choices when they are afraid.
We like to think of ourselves as gainfully employed or engaged, yet few of us want to associate ourselves with words such greed. However too often we are unconscious of when and how we withhold what we’ve gained out of a fear we aren’t even aware of. Our greediness is often disguised.
On the other hand of the dilemma, there are those companies that are looking at their circumstances not from a fear-based perspective but from one that can benefit many during this time of adversity?
When we start to shift our contexts we see what’s to be gained – not from fear-based greed, but from some place other than fear – generosity.
Less is More
Do you remember the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, in A Christmas Carole? Scrooge’s greed wasn’t limited to money. He was greedy with his heart. We find out why, as we’re given the opportunity to witness specific events in his life that created devastating loneliness and heart break. Because of these events he chose to withhold and be miserly with his gains, which greatly impacted on many people.
Like Scrooge, every one of us experiences, to some degree, loneliness and heartbreak. We experience, like Scrooge the inevitability of abandonment, betrayal and rejection. And, much like Ebenezer, we bury the pain deep inside, distancing ourselves that pain, which wreaks havoc on the façade we’ve invented. This façade has us look and feel powerful and invulnerable, yet inevitably we find, as Scrooge found that this limits the potential to fulfill our true potential.
Fear is an enormously powerful muscle that is exercised far too frequently; so much so that we are unconscious as to how much it impacts on our choice to enjoy being engaged in the business of doing business. Our fears limit the pleasures of relating, connecting and sharing ourselves and our talents in service of our vision, which inspired us in the first place.
All of us – the Human Race – have the capacity to overcome the adversities of our pasts. Hiding our hearts in a scrooge-like fashion, though, is not the way to do it, but practicing generosity can be.
The Muscle of Generosity
This muscle called generosity is always with us. It just hasn’t had a whole lot of exercise.
Exercising this muscle generates the experience of abundance, openness and allowing, innovation and expansion. Scrooge found this place after his journey with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. He came to see that he had nothing to lose and had so much to gain in discarding his lengthy practice of greed.
As the paradigm shifts, we are so much more capable of witnessing our attachments to our gains, our fear of losing what we’ve gained and of finding that through some playful curiosity we can discover other ways to gain without fear of losing what we’ve gained.
Those committed to bringing spirituality into the workplace may feel like they have an uphill battle ahead of them. Simple exercises now will, however generate the necessary strength, courage and wisdom to engage in what’s to come. You will find the shift easy and effortless – trust me!
Just for one day I want you to try something (Maybe for some of us, it will be just an hour or a minute.): Notice opportunities to share a smile. Notice who you are willing to share a smile with, and from whom you withhold a smile. That’s it! That’s the practice.
You’re probably asking: “What’s a smile got to do with generosity?” Good question. I could explain it to you but it wouldn’t be the same as having you experience what happens when you smile. Plus, this practice isn’t about whether you smile more or less. It’s about noticing when you choose to allow yourself to smile and when you choose to withhold a smile. It’s about noticing how you are choosing to choose to smile. This choice-making process underlies so much of your being with fear, with gain and with spirituality.
Notice what it feels like inside you, without judging or assessing yourself. Our actions can be so automatic sometimes that we aren’t even aware of the thoughts or feelings we’re having underneath.
How can we be the generosity we so wish to experience?
I have only four suggestions: 1) Smile more often, even when you are challenged by your circumstances; 2) Notice your desire to complain about anything and everything; 3) Notice if what you are doing inspires generosity of spirit in your own heart. If it doesn’t inspire generosity of spirit in your own heart, consider doing something else.
Know that each and every one of us comes into our work environment anticipating and hoping that we will experience generosity of spirit from those we engage with during the course of our day. Like Scrooge, many of us don’t have the capacity to even share a smile. Even though it may be disappointing, see if you can share compassion to those who have less capacity to be giving of their hearts. Your compassion may be the most generous gift of the day. You may gain far more from that activity than you ever imagined.
Enjoy the Exploration!