Talking with a friend this morning, I asked her how her job was going. She’s a psychiatric nurse at a residential facility for troubled kids. You might assume that she has both good, and bad days in this role; you’d be correct – as she freely admits. As with other people-serving professions, there’s huge potential for burnout in her job. Nevertheless, each time we chat, she says “I’m so lucky !” My friend explains:  she never dreads going to work; and, unlike some of her colleagues, ‘Fridays’ aren’t the Finish lines of end of the week exhaustion. My friend’s ‘luck’, according to her, was entering a career that’s consistently satisfying and motivating – even on bad days.

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For many people I know, work’s just a part of Adulting. My own peer group didn’t give it much thought after high school. They went to college, or, they went to work. They took jobs that were offered. More than a few of them ‘ended up’ in careers not remotely connected to their college majors. Others entered a family business, while still others took minimum wage jobs right out of high school and relied on promotions over the years. They married, had families, got divorced, sent kids off to college, planned for retirement. In the midst of all that, I can’t recall ever discussing, or being taught about the need for Passion and Purpose.

Growing up when I did, I’m sure that my parents and grandparents probably would have laughed me right out of the room if I’d suggested I needed time to contemplate my Life Purpose. Moving out of my family home after high school, while I was still only 17, I took a part time job while I went to community college. I lived on a meager salary, and on my deceased mother’s Social Security (until I turned 18 and was cut-off). So busy trying to survive and make something of myself, I still didn’t have the luxury of thinking about Passion and Purpose. And yet, I got the schooling and the career that I, too, feel “lucky” to have had. How did this happen?

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As I’ve grown older, clarity around Passion and Purpose has made me realize that anyone can discover both, and everyone deserves to discover both. How often do we ask ourselves, especially as Life grows more complicated and demanding, What do I feel most passionately about? How often do we then give ourselves permission to do, and be whatever that is ? Alana Fairchild (one of many practitioners who’ve interpreted the teachings of the poet Rumi) believes that each person on our planet has her, his, or their unique “soul-light”. She writes, “Every light holds its own beauty, and every light has a particular task to fulfill. We’re given a built-in reminder of this. That reminder is our Passion.”

Honoring ourselves, honoring and trusting what our instincts tell us about our true natures is the path to discovering our Passion. Our Passion, in turn, leads us to the Purpose (or task) we’re meant to fulfill here on planet Earth. One doesn’t need to believe in or rely upon a deity or higher power to discover Passion while writing poetry, playing music, sculpting, dancing, photography, painting, teaching, building, helping a child, animal or an elderly person. The list of passionate pursuits is as endless as there are humans on the earth. Fairchild continues, “We may be fearful that with  (following our) Passion there are no guarantees of success, or that we may even be throwing away a stable life to pursue our Passion.” 

It might be true that pursuing one’s Passion, one’s dream of How Life Can Be, can feel risky at first. Some might seek Passion through a hobby that becomes a livelihood; others might keep that “day job” and allow passion a part-time existence another way. But Passion and Purpose are what’s really behind the “luck” so many of us feel in our daily work lives. What better way to greet each and every morning? It all starts with finding meaning in your own beating heart; loving your heart for its life-giving energy. Accepting that your life has incalculable meaning in, to, and for the World. What stirs you? Do that. Be that. Start right now…

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Without thinking about it, consider the word ‘Surrender’ and notice how it feels:  the associations and connotations of the word. Does ‘surrender’ feel calm, even blissful? Or, does it bring feelings and visions of being overcome:  powerless and defeated? Surrender definitely implies giving-in to something; the end of a struggle of some kind; relenting; relaxing resistance; allowing something else to transpire.

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Depending upon the opposing ‘forces’ that cause us to re-think our resistance, Surrender can in fact be heavenly. “Surrendering to Love,” for example. For many people, though, the idea of surrendering feels like giving-up; doing something that feels unnatural and maybe even scary. So it was when I began to release lifelong habits that no longer suit or serve me.

For most of my adult life I’ve been goal, and action-oriented. I was clear about my professional path early on, and driven to achieve in my accumulation of degrees, credentials, certificates and opportunities for advancement. A friend of mine recently remarked (we were discussing my doctoral program) “How ambitious you are! At your age!” My response – ignoring the urge to call-out ‘ageism’ by someone actually older than me – was casual:  “Oh, all I’m doing is just living life.” Right?  But then I began thinking about his words. It’s common for those closest to me to complain that I rarely “sit still” (not true); that I “over-do it” in the achievement realm (define, ‘over-doing it’, please). A teammate recently told me, “You do too much” (translation he confided: you make the rest of us look bad!).

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I began considering my action-oriented life and allowed alternatives to seep into my current ways of thinking. Is ‘taking action’ always necessary? Clearly not. Non-stop action, as I’m sure many Readers know, is, among other things, a recipe for exhaustion. With day-to-day interactions — if someone close to us does something really offensive and obviously meant to cause hurt, is immediate action required? Not always. But how does one, whose entire life has been about Doing, slow down and surrender to Not Doing? It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve discovered how amazing and wonderful it can be. I started by realizing that the word Surrender has super-powers, if we allow it to expand past negative moments in our memories (“Surrender your passport!” being one of the worst in mine:  our PanAm flight was forced down, into Iran, many years ago, passports seized).

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Surrendering to all that is beautiful, restful, nurturing and peaceful in Life means letting-go of control (an ongoing theme in my world). Surrendering to Whatever Is, and Will Be means that Trust becomes a guiding influence in Life. Trust: that one’s best efforts will be enough. Trust: that in the midst of chaos, there is Harmony (time spent in Nature and with animals is my proof). Action’s still a governing principle in my life and always will be; but I’ve reached a truce with Surrender by accepting that, at the end of the day, it’s On My Side.

Organizational Psychology consultants and coaches don’t have an exclusive ‘lock’ on what makes individuals and groups successful in a work setting. OPs learn and train in a variety of disciplines, including systems theory and the huge and complex field of individual and group psychology. Their conclusions and ultimate practices are evidence-based:  what appears to be effective, according to research and evaluation.

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The concerns of most companies still revolve around The Bottom Line (profits), incorporating emergent needs such as  sustainability and global reach into the mix. Consultants and coaches (those who’re formally trained, by the way, not the Life Coach you might see advertising on YouTube) can analyze and create detailed recommendations relative to every aspect of an organization’s goals. But the human psychology behind success remains, at its core, really pretty simple. The research is clear:  people who are Happy generally feel and experience ‘success’ in their pursuits (personal or work related).  But people who may think of themselves as ‘successful’, or who may be regarded as such by others, are not always Happy. Readers may be thinking, Who Cares? Stay with me…

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The need to feel Happy is a fundamentally-human condition. It’s almost autonomic, in that we go about pursuing Happiness almost without thinking about it.  It’s certainly tied to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:  being happy for some might be as basic as a full belly and safe place to sleep; or, it might be the Corner Office and a boost in an already-six-figure income. Organizational Psychology researchers, however, have reason (and research to back it up) to believe that Happiness has slightly less to do with external conditions or outcomes and much more to do with our internal wellbeing.

If our basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and a sense of belongingness (there’s Maslow again) have been assured, Happiness – the pursuit of it – takes a very interesting turn. According to extensive research, three conclusions emerge:  1) Happiness begins in the human heart; 2) Happiness is not overly influenced by such factors as genetics or random events; and 3) Happiness appears to have a set-point, for the majority of people.

There’s very good news for those of us that struggle with negative emotions from time to time. Happiness, the kind I’m talking about here, is in large part the ability to balance positive and negative feelings or emotions. Going overboard in either direction isn’t helpful. Furthermore, negative emotions, as it turns out, actually strengthen happiness by providing contrast (again, as long as we don’t allow ourselves to get ‘stuck’ in gloom).

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One of the recent areas of Happiness study (targeting stress-related absenteesim) is Work-Life Balance. ‘Balance’ is unique to each individual. It’s something we strive for alone, in that we alone feel and understand our needs, our abilities and our limits, and our desires and aversions. The balance we achieve is up to us:  we flourish in it, or we suffer the adverse effects of neglecting our Inner World (mind, body, spirit). Short bursts of success (e.g., a winning lottery ticket) stimulate our happiness receptors, but are short-lived spikes).

Interestingly, the sense of inner balance that is the foundation of Happiness, turns out to have a “set-point”. A researcher by the name of Ed Diener developed a series of national (in the U.S.) and international studies of tens of thousands of people engaged in a wide variety of professions. Diener found that genuine Happiness is a sense of “subjective well-being”, not a response to external factors. Not only this, but, as we learn and grow through life’s experiences, Diener discovered that we encounter our own Happiness set-point:  the stage at which we often say to ourselves, “It’s time for a new experience (and new challenges)”.

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So if deep and long-lasting Happiness is really more about our internal well-being, and so much less about The Chase (fill in the blank:  job, money, material possessions, relationships), then what’s to do? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, since each and every one of us is engaged in our own Balancing Act. What I know for sure is that we can help one another along the way.  Heartfelt gestures, kind words of encouragement, and whatever version of Namaste (The Divine in Me Recognizes and Honors the Divine in You) suits our belief system grace both the giver and the receiver.

Yesterday morning I had a conversation with a colleague who has her own consulting business. We were discussing the difference between ‘coaching’ (as you might do, following an employee’s performance review), and ‘mentoring’ (which is more personally-supportive). Mentoring requires more of a relationship with the person that wants and needs help; coaching doesn’t. Even though the mentor may have ‘more’ of something (attributes) than the mentee, perhaps in terms of wisdom and experience, the relationship is definitely mutually- beneficial. Bottom line, as my colleague and I shared a laugh, a Mentor is like the old saying about a ‘wife’:  everybody needs one. A mentor gets to know you on a deeper level: understanding your goals and guiding you in your growth. Regardless of our stage in life, few of us would say that if the perfect mentor appeared, we’d say “Nah, I’m good!”

As I stepped out of the building where we’d been meeting, I ran into a young woman I’d met and spoken to just a little on another occasion, about her entry into graduate school, and – hopefully – her launch of a career. To use an expression that I’ve yet to replace (but won’t here, because it’s so very accurate), at our first encounter, she’d “picked my brain” about her personal concerns and professional options. It was a casual conversation-turned-deep that passed its expiry after about 30 minutes (I needed to be somewhere else). Yesterday, when I saw her again, I was a little relieved that she was talking to another young woman (both in their early 30’s I’d say). Nevertheless, as I waved ‘hello’ to “Eliza”, she drew me in and introduced me to “Amanda”. Both women were totally charming (in the way that boisterous little chicks can be, toward an old hen who just might decide to peck them to death). I tried to edge away after a polite amount of chat, but that was when Eliza remarked to Amanda how helpful I’d been as her mentor. (Wait, what?). Not going to escape just yet, I thought. So I pivoted slightly, turning back and responding to this gracious compliment.

As talking between the three of us went on, I took a quick mental side-trip (leaving the slight feeling of impatience behind) and just observed how well these two young women “clicked”:  they were both feeling over-whelmed with options, more than a little fear of the Great Unknown (neither had settled into relationships or careers), and a lot of excitement and optimism about their futures. While I listened to them, interjecting just a few comments when asked, I had a helpful – to me, personally – revelation:  when I’m around people in my own age-range, the conversations are remarkably the same, but then again different, in a super-sweet way.

At a certain point in time, if you’ve lived your life with enough awareness and attention, your mistakes and achievements create that ‘diamond’ we all want to be as we mature. Even if you’ve made a ton of mistakes in your life, if you’ve allowed those lessons to hone your brilliance, there’s a moment that you realize you are a diamond. Then, a really cool thing happens:  you stop aging. No; I know that sounds kooky, but here’s what I mean (and I know it’s true, because friends have told me they’ve had the same experience). First, a disclaimer:  you don’t really (can’t ever) stop the aging process, but you feel so complete in the knowledge of Who You Are that, even as you grow older on the outside, your Inner Being stays the same age you were when this transformation happened. If you’re younger, you might hear an older person say, “In my mind, I’m still 35”. They’re not crazy in this; they’re not stuck in the past – that’s how it really feels. And that’s how you approach new adventures and challenges…even while your old sports injuries are giving you grief !

What allows this amazing thing to happen? It’s up to each individual’s personal progress when it happens, but the way it happens is by Just Living Life fully, in the best way you know how. Even when Life feels like an unbearable weight; a struggle of confusion and heartbreak, you are making progress toward the transformation. How can you speed this whole thing up? By being as authentic as you can be, with yourself and with others. This means loving yourself “warts and all”; allowing others to experience the real person you are; not the one playing some kind of role you think is expected of you, or a role someone else has adopted.

Do you remember the 2009 film “Avatar”? If you didn’t see it, it might be tricky to understand the next few sentences here. There’s a scene where the lead character (Jake Sully) realizes that when he’s in Human/Na’vi hybrid mode (his mind enters the body of his Avatar), he has a key power that the human ‘Jake’ doesn’t have (besides being around 14 feet tall and bright blue, with a magic tail). Sully, as an Avatar, tells a fellow Na’Vi, “I See You”. The Na’Vi have the ability to meld with one another in a way that the human-Sully realizes and envies. It’s a loving, supportive and nourishing connection that the very independent human Jake reacts to (when his mind leaves the Avatar) like he has an emotional case of “the bends”. The film’s a total metaphor for the human experience in a lot of ways.

You might be living multiple roles in your daily life, and in your quiet moments wonder who your authentic self really is, aside from the roles you play and the tasks you perform. It’s not something anyone else can figure out or do for you. If you’re not there yet, you might feel frustration and impatience. Take comfort in the fact that there are mentors ‘out there’:  people who’ve gone through it and can help. Your mentor might be one of your friends, or someone you work with. Maybe you haven’t met them yet. But when you feel them say, I See You, it’s a moment on your path that you’ll never forget. Isn’t being truly “seen” what we all want, what we all need, to fully become who we’re meant to be? I’m grateful to have had this reminder yesterday.

I’ve been confronted by personal and professional jealousy my entire adult life (who knows why — I’ve always been pretty low-key about whatever assets I have). Not confronted directly, as in verbally, but informed by an organizational ‘rumor mill’; even when I was a relative newcomer (aka, ‘peon’) in the org. pecking order. Have I been jealous of other people? You bet. Jealous people are ones to keep an eye out for. Not all of them are like me, feeling quietly insecure, in my private moments, acting out these emotions through insomnia and obsessive worry. Some jealous people are assertively so – feeling the need to “take someone down” a notch or two. I’ve seen this in action more than a few times, in different organizational settings. I’ve felt this when I’ve been on the receiving end at work, and even within my own family.

Recently I was conducting a group interaction in a way that was less formal, more transformational for the participants. I was lucky to have a very experienced colleague observing how I handled myself with this group (I’ll always ask to be observed, if I have the option, when trying-out something new with teams). I also had onlookers who were taking notes, so as to be able to make informed comments in our de-brief. When the time came to do so (de-brief), I was amazed by the ‘mix’ in the feedback.  I use the word ‘amazed’ because I continue to marvel at how people in the psychological professions (a supposedly enlightened and more humanistic group, right?) can seem like experts at walking the tightrope between professional detachment and personal criticism; careful not to engage in what looks like score-keeping or one-upmanship; skilled with “left-handed compliments”. Turns out, I’d done well with my group that afternoon (per my experienced colleague) – too well, in the estimation of some, based on their ‘snark’ wrapped in‘recommendations’ for my improvement.

What causes people to act jealously? I believe, at its root, jealousy’s prompted by fear:  feeling  a need to competefor attention or resources, typically. If I don’t feel good enough (in whatever capacity you choose), I’m going also feel threatened in ways that are very primal:  hard to understand, hard to talk about, and hard to overcome.

What’s difficult for me to comprehend, is how common jealousy can be among my older, wiser female colleagues. It’s impossible to not feel the need, when someone is being so obvious about it, to reassure a jealous person through repeated acts of deference or humility:  “I don’t need to take the lead on ( project); go for it!” Or, “I’ve had lots of chances to speak at (event); I’ll be the note-taker and you can run the show!” No. With a jealous person, such “largesse” only increases the ire. Once, when I felt caught in a vortex of no-win exchanges with a deeply jealous woman (I think it was both personal and professional for her), I pulled a last-resort move. I was new to the organization (a negative); was hired from “outside” (another negative); younger, single (considered “on the prowl”); more educated, and more “worldly” in my experience. This was the Intel I gathered before I asked for a private conversation with this person who’d been trash-talking me behind the scenes since my hire.

My ‘last-resort’ is a personal conversation in these instances. Why is talking one-on-one a last resort? Because jealousy lives in a very tender place in a person’s being. It’s not an easy emotion to discuss; you can’t just call-out a person’s glaring insecurities. (Well, you can, but working with them afterwards will be hell for the entire team). The topic has to be approached sideways, with tact, diplomacy, discretion and gentleness. The end of this story is a happy one:  we became friends and the gossiping and back-stabbing stopped. Still, the more I engage with a larger circle of people over time, the Green Eyed Monster (origins, Shakespeare’s play “Othello”) continues to play a part. Attending to the jealousies of other people can be a bore and anxiety-producing. Each time I do it, however, I recognize in myself the fears we all cope with, at one time or another. On a purely pragmatic level,  I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am, to let jealous people highjack my progress.