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Look up! Look in! Look out! Directly face.

© Steve Whiteford, 2022

I am a person who believes in and promotes individual well-being, self-awareness, contribution, growth, and achievement of personal fulfillment. Through all of the transition we are experiencing, classic messaging about success and productivity has begun to disturb me. I believe this messaging continues to distract us from our humanity and what is really needed in this era.

Many very worthy practices are still sold based on how they will make us better as employees and leaders, able to sustain jobs, make more money, and catch the golden ring. This perspective is so ingrained in our society that frankly, it feels dangerous to challenge it. I hold many great social researcher-writers in awe because they do. Yet it often seems the truth of their revelations is hijacked to keep us tied to the yoke of economic purposefulness, or simply ignored.

An article on the power of purpose caught my attention last week and spiraled me into this exploration. The reason I questioned it was that I was fully feeling my angst about the condition of our democracy that morning. I realized that focusing on purpose at work within the context of all that we’ve experienced in the last few years including an endless pandemic, the division in our country, a clear experience of accelerated comate change, and an insurrection and increased evidence of government corruption and treachery might just add to a person’s sense of helplessness. The operative word in that sentence is person: the missing word is employee.

There are daily headlines about “The Great Resignation.” And there are daily attempts to get us back on board by presenting remedies to make us feel better in the same old situation. There’s nothing wrong with feeling better, but in striving to do so it’s easy to forget that our feelings are not the problem. Our feelings are telling us that we need real change and that the same old conditions and rhetoric have lost meaning. Some of the suggestions to quell The Great Resignation, are in fact suggesting we resign ourselves to the worn-out values of the last century.

Purpose is a great thing. Contemplate it and make sure that your purpose is human and not all about the myth that “success” is happiness. It might help if it is connected to some of the big societal issues we are experiencing.

I do suggest exploring remedies for feeling the appropriate overwhelm, isolation, and disconnection that surrounds us:

Look up!

  • Realize that the huge changes we are facing affect us daily.
  • Studies prove it’s healthy to acknowledge our challenges. Talk about them. Journal about them. [1]
  • Take whatever action you can to address them. Participating in working with the challenges we face provides a great sense of personal purpose.

Look in!

  • Acknowledge and accept your feelings, (We have had centuries of training to discount them.)
  • Feel your emotions to keep you connected to your humanity.
  • Explore your values to guide your purpose and your actions.
  • Regain your sense of self by exploring what has energized you throughout your life. [2
  • Study the meaning of feelings so that they can effectively guide you to meet your values.[3]
  • Make time for contemplation and mindfulness to become familiar with how your thoughts and beliefs may be guiding you. Meditation can be a great aid.
  • Develop empathy and compassion. They assist clear seeing and enable incisive action.

Look Out!

  • Consider Steven Covey’s ever-useful “Circle of Influence.” Focus on what you can influence. But don’t forget small actions – journaling, posting, a letter to a congressman, helping a neighbor, etc.[4]
  • Practice opening your field of vision. Periodically open yourself to spaciousness and your surroundings.
  • Notice how media and other aspects of society condition us not to notice, and to comply.
  • Use suggestions to achieve success and productivity to realize your best self, not someone else’s definition.
  • Read or listen to leading-edge authors who critique our situation from a humanistic view.

Directly Face.

  • Experiencing feelings is a gateway to facing reality.
  • Self-compassion opens us to be present with our emotions and take action.
  • Speak to what is happening.
  • Look for ways to participate.
  • Take it to work. Speak up, set boundaries, ask for what you want, and be human.

We have the power to determine the direction of our society and the healing of our world. We must actively participate in its creation. Many of the practices for self-improvement that have emerged are proven, but WHY we do them needs to be examined. The best outcome would be the strengthening of our natural talents, and thriving in the life that will bring us fruition appropriate to what we value as individuals. Perhaps the most productive society is one that enables that achievement.

[1] See Bittersweet, by Susan Cain, Chapters 5 & 6 for discussion of the history and scientific evidence.

[2] See Marcus Buckingham – Love + Work

[3] See Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart / Marc Brackett, Permission to Feel / Karla McLaren – The Language of Emotions

[4] See Steven Covey – The Seven Habits of Successful People

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