The Good Work Book Blog
A significant aspect of the work we do at Reach Potential revolves around teaching people how to protect themselves from environmental stress: the effects of disturbed energy generated by both the physical and the social environments. Commonly referred to as ‘atmosphere’ or ‘vibes’, environmental energy may seem an unlikely cause of significant personal discomfort. However, it is a powerful source of inner uneasiness in these times of turbulent change.
Environmental stress, like all other forms of stress, causes the body to respond as if it is in a continual emergency. You go into flight or fight - or the paralysis of a rabbit caught in headlights. When the stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol are released continuously, the body's natural ability to return to physiological balance as well as emotional calm and mental clarity is gradually eroded. This leads to a vicious circle in which you need inner balance to find solutions to the stress-creating problems but the stress hormones themselves lessen that possibility.
At the time I am writing this post, extreme environmental stress is being generated by the effects of dramatic Earth changes: earthquakes, extreme and unusual weather events, underground nuclear explosions, and the melting of the icecaps. The magnetic and geophysical stress in Earth itself has an effect on the body itself putting pressure on physiological systems that may, for reasons specific to the individual, already be vulnerable. Fatigue, anxiety, and illness can be the result of environmental stress being added to personal issues.
The loss of body resilience will also diminish your capacity to handle work, financial or relationship pressures because physical weakness inevitably affects mental clarity and emotional balance.
Stress from planetary disturbance creates negative emotional consequences at a community level. As individuals we unconsciously pick up the despair, anxiety and grief that radiate invisibly from groups directly affected by disasters, even if those folk are oceans away. You might experience this distress as washes of ‘inexplicable’ anxiety or disturbed sleep.
If you are skeptical of this statement you can observe for yourself the infectious nature of group emotional energy as it occurs in everyday situations closer to home. We are liable to ‘feel’ with others when we in a crowd of ecstatic fans whose their team has just one a match. Far less happily we will feel sad with mourners at a funeral even when we are not close to the deceased or outraged at violence perpetrated on strangers. Research has also shown that depression in one family member affects the rest of the family. Similarly when a person enters a work culture, she or he will quickly be drawn into that group culture whether that is uplifting or demoralizing. If you are a highly sensitive individuals you will know that your ability to sense group discomfort can be a major reason for social anxiety and/or withdrawal.
The Perfect Storm
In earlier times environmental stress, planetary and social, was largely tolerable. Nowadays the constant onslaught of political turmoil, social breakdown, and technological revolution means that when extreme environmental stress is added to the mix, you are liable to be caught in a perfect storm of chronic or intense anxiety. Even those folk who are basically resilient to negative energy are wearied by it. In short, if you are feeling fragile at the moment you are not alone.
However, it is possible to take measures. If you wish to create a positive environment insulated from world or community stress the requirement to learn how to take appropriate measures to protect yourself from it is not really optional: it is essential. Without such skills it is difficult to cope with crisis, let alone problem solve.
There are many ways to lower the effects of environmental stress but you must begin with your own anxiety first. In doing that you will create a micro environment of calm for others to benefit by. An effective technique for soothing personal stress can be found in The Good Work Book (page 66.) This visualization when repeated regularly also gradually trains the brain to let go of stress quickly.
Are you feeling that you have lost direction in life? Are you suffering physical, emotional or mental stress that makes no sense because you believe you doing all that you can to stay healthy, resilient and purposeful? Chances are you may be suffering the effects of spiritual stress.. It’s a form of stress that is all too common in these crazy times when the old ways of approaching life are no longer working out.
Of all the types of stress, spiritual stress is the least recognized and, therefore, least understood. It arises when you have unconsciously adopted a position about living your life that lacks an effective balance between your current human needs and the spiritual imperative to grow beyond the present into a more authentic expression of your unique self. This imbalance is reflected in a distressing sense of powerlessness to create the well-being in life that you want.
A human being’s spiritual nature expands through seeking opportunities to learn how to give and receive Love in practical ways, as well as to operate from the heart-connected wisdom of the higher self. This urge exists throughout life because it ensures happiness and fulfillment no matter what your age. However, if some part of you is consciously or unconsciously fearful of, or unwilling to, accept such growth, spiritual discomfort becomes inevitable because the resistance closes access to the insights that will relieve difficulties. People suffering this kind of stress are liable to feel blocked at every turn.
Such resistance has a number of sources, but the overall effect is create a powerless life that is either a plodding, resigned existence with little expectation of improvement, or one which relies on spiritual fantasy to create a (false) sense of connection to higher wisdom. In the latter case, a person believes they are being supported at a spiritual level because they engage in spiritual practices, but the facts of their lives suggest otherwise; their life, to a significant degree, does work as if they are blessed.
Spiritual stress is hard to pick up because once it sets in it cascades into other types of stress, especially mental and physical problems, so that the symptoms described here are not necessarily definitive. Note carefully: Suffering one or two of these problems is not enough to be diagnostic. However, some of its characteristics are: mental fogginess or disorientation; self-hatred; a sense of loneliness; over-sensitivity that causes social withdrawal; self-punishing behaviours; sadness and grief at a feeling of loss of God; and finally ego-driven conflict with others showing up as rigid self-righteousness or victimhood and blame. Spiritual stress leads to many dangers and needs to be addressed both quickly and appropriately.
If you wonder if you might be suffering spiritual stress, the following questions may be helpful.
• Do you have an underlying unease that what you are doing is not ‘right’ for you but are confused about what to do? Examples: Does the work you are doing feel ‘stale’ whereas once it was enjoyable? (This question does not apply to work that you know you dislike and already have active plans to change it.)
• Does the demands of your job offend your sense of what is a genuinely beneficial relationship to the people you serve?
• Are you acting out of old attitudes that no longer fit with the kind of person you need to be in order to have a happier, safer or freer life?
• Are you tired of self-destructive habits, behaviour or thinking that no longer suit the more loving and healthier person you now want to become?
• Do you OFTEN experience self-doubt and/or self-abusive thinking?
• Do you feel you lost and without spiritual support or direction?
If you answered yes to several of the above questions, you may be suffering spiritual stress. It’s time to commit to action. In particular, you should invest in any kind of spiritual practice that draws you to your inner calm on a regular basis AND also develop those practical competencies that may be needed to empower you in specific areas of stress such as work, relationships or health. Once you genuinely commit to action, your higher self will put you in the way of opportunities to get you on track again. It may take time to reconnect with your inner centre where you can feel the calm and stability that are the signs of being spiritually balanced, but you will get there.
If you are unsure of the cause of any kind of unrelieved stress, co-author of The Good Work Book, Fiona McDougall is gifted in being able to diagnose the precise source of a person's discomfort, and give reliable guidance on the best ways to address it. You can book a short Skype session with her or email her for further details at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Siramarti Publishing Pty Ltd
Changing one’s life in order to improve it is like planning for a necessary holiday to an unknown foreign country: time consuming and uncertain. You feel exhausted and Spain sounds a great place to go for refreshment, fun and drinking sangria. But then the questions pop up. When is the best time to go? Can you afford it? Will you enjoy Spain enough to justify the effort of getting there? Wouldn’t it be better just to hang around at home and eat mac and cheese instead of being subjected to some strange cuisine that might just turn out to be bull’s testicles in sauce? In short, is a change of scenery really worth it?
It’s no wonder that many people resist making any change at all even if their current situation is quite dire because of the uncertainties that go with it. They fear jumping from an increasingly hot frying pan into a hellish fire. However, failing to take charge of your life when it is obvious that change is needed, it is like refusing to take a health giving holiday for fear of imagined disasters: at best you will end up with a narrow and restricted existence, at worst life will thrust change upon you that you are totally unprepared for.
Faced with the unknown consequences of any choice, whether it is a holiday, a change of job or lifestyle, there are two possible approaches: either plan the next move within an inch of its life, or choose to feel the fear and do it anyway ignoring that the possibility that the fear might hold a useful cautionary note.
The latter method is very tempting when you are desperate, or young and foolish. It has minimalist simplicity: I want out of the place I am in and this is the way I am going to do it. Don’t think any further. Knock yourself out.
Older and/or wiser people prefer to canvass the implications of any possibility to see what problems might arise before initiating any change at all. They fall into the trap of trying to ensure that every foreseeable eventuality is covered. Unfortunately, plans for change only go so far.
On a recent trip to Vietnam, I took the mature approach. I checked out most of the factors that might cause me discomfort but I overlooked just one thing: the humidity levels at the time we chose to go. Thirty-three degrees Celsius sounds delightful but, trust me, it is not necessarily so if humidity hovers around the 90% mark! I sweated so much my hair stuck to my skull as if I had just emerged from a shower without a towel; kindly strangers in the street offered me bottles of mineral water, while vendors of fans swarmed around like Australian bush flies. So I proved the validity of Murphy’s Law for the zillionth time. Life is a wild ride and if anything can go wrong, it will.
Nevertheless, change in life is inevitable. Unlike holidays you can’t choose not to go forward; therefore it is best to learn how to make change work for you. The trick to working with it is to take basic precautionary steps to ensure you will end up where you want to go in relative safety: if you want to go whitewater rafting down the Amazon, you need appropriate gear and preparation. But once the choice is made, take courage to move forward upon your decision. It is true that the adventure will throw up the unexpected. However, human beings are blessed with a wonderful ability to create safety nets through flexible thinking to solve immediate problems. Changes in life, even those that bring some discomfort, always enrich and educate so long as you take responsibility for making them as positive as possible as you go along. I survived Vietnam humidity by cycling between dehydration tablets, coconut water, air-conditioned buildings, the hotel swimming pool, and cold beer. I even worked it out after three days that the midday sun is not the best time to go sightseeing. (I admit to being a bit slow on the uptake there).
Like travel to foreign lands, the value that changing an unsatisfactory situation can bring is never obtained by simply dreaming about it or wishing for someone to take you there. The courage to change requires both responsible action and trust but it brings with it vitality and invaluable experiences with it.
If you are a person currently facing a need to change and anxious about the consequences of doing so, the brain reprogramming visualization, Releasing Fear of Change, page 87, The Good Work Book, helps to relieve known and unconscious anxieties.
© Siramarti Publishing Pty Ltd
Recently my husband and I enjoyed a delightful breakfast in a local café that offers particularly good food. We sipped our lattes and munched on eggs and bacon (him) and gravalax and potato croquettes (me) companionably. We gossiped about his work and my plans for my future. We talked family matters and our plan to add a new fur family member to it. It was a lovely experience in which I could rightly say that all was right with my relationship world.
Then we drove home and because it was the weekend when we got out of the car we spent a moment or two surveying our backyard, which has yet to be developed into a formal garden. It has a couple of raised vegetable beds, a row of lemon trees in pots, a heap of discarded rock and unsightly piles of second hand building materials set alongside an ill-tended compost heap.
I stared at it hopelessly. The fact of the matter is that this sight had assailed my eyes for the past 10 years and more. Why?
I could say that it was due to the fact that all our spare cash had been earmarked for renovations on our old Federation house. I could say that establishing a garden requires a lot of heavy manual work that I am not suited to. I could say that my husband’s and my own time has consumed by activities that are necessary to create an income. I could give many excuses, but the real reason that the garden has not progressed is because we do not work well together.
This problem was manifested in its essence on this particular morning.
I said to my husband, ‘I have been thinking that we need to design this area soon.’
He replied, ‘Oh yes, well, I have done that already. This is what I am planning.’
He strode forward and measured out a length of grassy sward that lies beyond the back verandah.
‘I’m going to run a retaining wall along here. The steps from the verandah will go along from there to there.’ He waved his hands to indicate his scheme. ‘The vegetable beds will be extended and I’ll put the new ones closer together.’
It was clear to me that a vision of this scheme was clear in his mind but it was considerably less clear in mine owing to the fact that I had never been involved in this plan. I was scrambling to make personal sense of his ideas and to engage in them.
As I have a natural tendency to look at lines and proportions, at the flow of paths and buildings that visually connect parts of a garden its various features, I translated his scheme into my own aesthetic perspective. It seemed to me that the location of his proposed retaining wall would give more visual dominance to the vegetable garden than to the extended area beyond it which looks out to a fine country landscape. In my own mind I saw the extended area as being more important to the pleasure of the garden than the vegetable patches. But in the speed of the exchange, I could not articulate that. I resorted to an immediate objection
I said, ‘I don’t know that I think the retaining wall should go there. Why not two or three metres closer to the house?’
My husband’s hackles immediately rose. ‘Why do you want that?’ he said in the tone of one whose arms are raised in pugilistic fashion.
‘Because I think the proportion of the garden will be wrong.’ I replied, no doubt in a tone equally defensive.
The conversation thereby degenerated into an argument about who was rigid and who was not listening, and who knew the most about design and who did not. I threw my hands up in resignation and my partner raced off to the next-door neighbor to smoke a cigarette he knows I dislike.
So it was that after a harmonious breakfast our pleasant connection was brutally cut. And of course the plans for the garden are liable to have been put on hold for another 10 years.
This story of conflicting visions for work, differing intentions, unacknowledged capabilities, mental rigidities, ego and poor communication strategies is repeated with far worse consequences the world over. The potential for the Good Work of one individual to be enhanced, respected and incorporated into the Good Work of another is negated on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, knowing how to develop a co-creative vision for work projects that harness the different dreams, perspectives and skills of all those who will contribute to it is a rare skill in a world where people still prefer and are familiar with leaders who will leave them little personal responsibility for outcomes.
In our sequel to The Good Work Book, I plan to tackle the difficulties inherent in creating co-creative relationships. (Readers will be pleased to hear that I aim to have my own backyard in order before we publish it. :-) I have just one principle in mind when I offer our guidance to other people: I have to have proved it works.)
In the meantime, I would love to hear your suggestions or personal experiences about the contentious issues of working relationship that you think should be covered in the new publication. Please add a note in the comment column.
When people complain to me about their jobs they often describe their problems in general terms: the boss is unappreciative, the pay isn’t good enough, or colleagues don’t communicate adequately. They will often say that they are looking for a dream job, but find it difficult to describe what it would look like. This is when I find that identifying the flipside of their stated dissatisfactions is the surefire way to uncover want they really desire for work: appreciation for effort, adequate financial reward, or a working environment in which communication is clear, comprehensive and timely. Put in those terms, clients can usually describe how wonderful it would feel to have the relief and pleasure of such possibilities.
Using the flipside technique to discover one’s dreams is almost too easy. The real difficulty lies in how to bring these dreams into form. And this is where the generalized nature of dreaming for a better future has a great disadvantage; due to the inherent largeness of dreams, they often seem so distant or unlikely that they are abandoned as unrealistic or compromised until they lose their essence.
The trick to materializing dreams, however, is to move from the right brain imagining of beautiful possibilities to left-brain practicality. To do this, start by pinpointing the tangible examples of your generalized complaints. If the boss is unappreciative, how does her exact behaviours demonstrate that? Does she criticize and rarely praise? Is she unaware of the extra effort you have put in or the positive results of a project you have participated in? How many extra dollars do you need to make the pay ‘enough’? What small change in communication methods or style do you need to make your job easier?
Once you have identified how your dreams look like in practical terms, you are in position to turn them into goals that you can act upon. You can ask the boss to reflect on what aspects of your latest work she likes, or for a pay rise that moves you a little in the direction of the security you want. You ask a colleague what he needs from you that would help him communicate more effectively.
Unfortunately achieving dreams in this way does not appeal to the impatient self who wants a miracle to drop from the sky. It does not feel satisfied by a small improvement in matters. It forgets that nothing on earth is created that is not achieved by one small step followed by another one. Impatience undermines the persistence required to see real results.
More importantly, however, is the fear of taking responsibility for the small step. It is often scary to commit to asking for or creating a change. It needs courage and skill to speak up and to ask for what we want. Many fear being judged or even punished for asserting their needs. It also means knowing how to present our needs in a way that does not threaten the other person or violate their own needs. Usually it means persisting until we get what is rightfully ours. This is the reason why The Good Work Book provides so many techniques to make creating change easier and less stressful.
One step at a time is not glamorous. It can seem but a drop in the ocean of discontent but it is worth reminding oneself regularly that every time you manage to create a small positive change, the closer you are to achieving the conditions of life that are part of your bigger dreams.
And every time that happens, you have contributed to the making of a happier, safer or more effective world. Your own personal dreams, ordinary though they may appear, reflect wider human and spiritual yearnings. They are your own contribution to creating the kind of wider world we want: a working world of personal respect, security and interactive harmony. A world of Good Work.
© Siramarti Publishing Pty Ltd
Adrenaline and its associate, the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, are responsible for the ability to respond quickly to threat. They also help to give us mental clarity. They come to our aid in any stressful situation that requires immediate action and a sharp mind, such as demanding, emotionally charged moments at work. They assist people remain on the job even in the face of fatigue and numerous pressures.
Unfortunately they are also addictive.
People who can’t slow down usually have some degree of an addiction to the benefits of adrenaline. They call upon these substances to keep them an extra boost under pressure. However chronic stress, if continued for a long time, can damage many parts of the body. And a large part of the damage is due to the effects of continual norepinephrine release: sleeplessness, loss of libido, gastrointestinal problems, weakened immune system, depression, and vulnerability to addiction.
It makes good sense, then, to wean yourself off a dependence on adrenaline.
The question is: how to do it? It is not an easy thing to do, particularly if you are one of the many people who have a weak ability to let go of stress naturally.
The first step in changing a pattern of reliance on the stress hormones is to make a point of becoming aware of the state of your body throughout the day. At the moment you are reading this blog, stop for a moment to scan through your body. Notice tension spots? Ask yourself if your posture needs adjusting? Are your hands or feet cold? Is your jaw tight? Is your mouth dry suggesting that you need a drink of water?
These observations take only a few seconds but in making them you are noticing those needs of your body that, if addressed, will automatically help your body to rebalance and become less stressed. Your need for the double-edged sword of adrenaline/ norepinephrine will be a little reduced as you slow down to listen to it and to make the necessary adjustments.
Of course, this is just a beginning in learning to slow down. However, the self-awareness that a regular body scan brings can gradually be directed towards making adjustments to your work processes to make them easier and more comfortable.
You can also develop your natural ability to let go of stress by regularly using the Stress Relief visualization in The Good Work Book. (See page 66). This technique will begin to create a brand new response to stressful situations provided you take the time to repeat it until a new neural pathway is established. The best way to do that is to practice it after a stressful day or before going to sleep at night. It may also give you a better night’s rest.
If you have any questions as a result of doing the exercise, please use the comment field.
© Copyright 2017 Siramarti Publishing Pty Ltd
Most people would agree that work/life balance is important for a person's well-being, and also that it is often very difficult to achieve. Some go so far as to say that it is impossible, and so don't even go there.
In the bad old days, before I had even heard of the term work/life balance, my own balance was woeful. I had a reasonable income and mental stimulation in my job but little else. The various jobs I did were so demanding that when I had time for ‘life’ I had no energy left over for it. Life for me was the 2 hours each day that I spent alone on car-choked roads between work and home. For me, work/life balance was an impossibility. And for many it remains so.
In The Good Work Book, we discuss the work/life problem from an alternative perspective. We do not see balance in one’s life as a simple equation of how much time you spend on the job and off it. Rather it is whether or not you use all your time in a way that naturally balances the requirement to earn a living with the other essential human needs: rewarding relationships, leisure activities, bodily health and spiritual nourishment.
I have found in the years that I have been learning to create true balance that the more a job supports these non-financial needs, the less likely it is I run out of energy at the end of the day. In short, balance helps the whole self to reenergize as the different aspects of it are given their times for rest and nourishment. Free time can then become real fun time.
The question, then, is to what extent does your particular job support this kind of whole self balance
Each form of work varies in its inherent ability to support the different needs. Some work naturally supports enjoyable relationships, whereas in other jobs the relationship connection is akin to an automated telephone service. Artists have plenty of time and opportunity for spiritual expression and partying with their friends, but usually their income verges on the poverty line.
This means that in looking at making work/life balance feasible, the first thing to do is to honestly check the degree to which your regular work allows for each of your needs to be met. You may well find it is not as bad as you tend to think it is. Some of my clients who complain about their actual work because it is repetitive or tedious still find their employment rewarding because they value their friendships there. To have their need for meaningful (spiritually fulfilling) work met, they might best invest leisure time in a productive hobby where their passions are given rein.
Once you have the realities of your job’s natural balance clear in your mind, you can turn your attention to exactly how you could achieve greater life satisfaction either by make alterations to the current job or by looking for the unmet needs outside of it.
However, the immediate problem with this advice is that you will need to give yourself time to make this review, and then to commit to making changes if they are necessary. Those who have a reluctance to seriously consider making changes can use the visualization, Releasing Fear of Change, in The Good Work Book ( Page 87). I love that visual for any time that I know I need to make a change but somehow can’t get round to it. It dissolves hidden anxieties about doing things differently, or when having change is suddenly thrust upon you.
© 2017 Siramarti Publishing Pty Ltd
Learning what other people are saying about issues I discuss in The Good Work Book is one of the most interesting aspects of my daily reading. Sometimes I thoroughly agree with other writers, and at other times feel myself wanting to interrupt with an impatient ‘yes but…’
One area of discussion where my Yes But button is most often triggered is the various advice given to managers to take responsibility for the mental wellbeing of employees. Recommendations include educating other employees for signs of depression in colleagues, developing good communication strategies to help people feel supported, making sure that no stigma is attached to mental health problems, keeping in touch with those who have been off work for reasons of depression, bringing in wellness programs and so on.
All these suggestions are superficially valid but they beg the question: can a person suffering a mental health issue be helped by generalized programs or by a benevolent manager’s perspective? My experience as a counselor and spiritually orientated life coach is a qualified, but still firm No.
In the first place, being human is as much about being angry, anxious, or sad as it is about being cheerful and optimistic. It is as impossible to eliminate negativity as it is to turn back the tides.
Unfortunately, however, corporate thinking does not like human nature. It has a tendency to pathologize mental or emotional distress assuming that distress is a sign of something wrong with a person: that expressions of anger or anxiety are basically symptoms of an immature, weak or troublesome individual who must be ‘helped’ back to normalcy – whatever that is! - by a ‘good parent’ manager.
However, negative reactions to one’s work – even extreme ones – can well be a healthy response to external, imposed conditions that are unhealthy or fundamentally abusive. Anger and anxiety often indicates that something needs to change ‘out there’.
I certainly believe that good managers have a responsibility to change unhealthy conditions and one way to do this is by respecting that emotional reactions to those workplace factors have some degree of validity.
Nevertheless, the responsibility for changing the debilitating effect of the emotions on the individual herself – the adrenaline overload, self-doubt, and loss of self esteem – has to lie in the first instance with the person experiencing those emotions. Anger and anxiety can play a major part in guiding one to a better place – they are motivators - but holding on to these feelings self-righteously or self-pityingly while expecting someone else to relieve you of them is futile, probably counterproductive, and ultimately dangerous to health.
IMHO no manager can be expected able to facilitate a change in poor work practices without the cooperation of self-responsible workers willing to take charge of their own inner states.
It is very common for a person not to be able find the job that makes her or his heart sing because they don't take enough time to explore or invest in what they really fascinates them outside of work. They focus on the skills listed Seek.com ads because they believe they have to fit in with the demands of the employment market, but downplay the importance of exercising those passions that they really enjoy so that later they may be able to use them to create an income.
The job I do now is the one I find the most rewarding, and it came into existence because for many years I 'played' with those things that most interested me: various types of energy work, spiritual philosophies, observing different kinds of workplaces, and finally learning some practical healing skills that I shared for free with friends. It was many years before I was ready to turn these leisure time passions towards professional purposes - a fascinating learning curve in itself. But now I have done so, I truly feel that I am doing what I have 'come to do.' I have a job that makes my heart sing, even if it is no longer all play.
In this 'Aesop's Fable' I illustrate the connection between an individual's needs, preferences, talents and unique search for meaning, and uncovering one's unique place in the world. It utilizes two of my other interests: creative writing, and guiding young people. The hero of the story was a real life cat and he belonged to Fiona.
Once upon a time there was a kitten who grew up in a household of dogs. Because of this, he had a big problem understanding that he was not a dog. He thought he was a dog gone wrong. But, he could not do doggish things like catching balls or burying bones. And this upset him a lot. Nobody even called him a cat. Instead they called him Puss, which he thought was a very boring name.
So one day he ran away from home. He felt he had to find out who he really was.
The cat who didn’t know he was a cat found his way to a beautiful forest where there lived many animals and birds. There was the brown bear, an otter and owl among many others. The cat had heard that the creatures of the forest were friendly and helpful to travellers.
The first animal he met was the brown bear. “Hello, Mr. Bear,” said the cat. “I am in search of who I am. Do you think I could possibly be a bear?”
The brown bear looked at him a long time and said: “Well, it is possible you are a bear. You have fur just like me. But do you like eating honey?”
“Lord, no,” said the cat. “You have fine fur, but honey! How disgusting!”
“Then,” said the bear, “you cannot be a bear.”
“Thank you,” said the cat, and walked on by.
Then the cat came to an otter playing on the banks of a forest stream.
“Hello, Miss Otter,” said the cat. “I am in search of who I am. I know I don’t like honey so I can’t be a bear. I do have fine fur though. Is it possible I am an otter?"
“Well,” said the otter, “that is easy. Do you like eating fish?"
“Yum, yum,” said the cat, “I love fish. I must be a otter.”
“Hold on a minute,” said the otter. “Do you like acrobatic exercises and swimming?”
“Well,” said the cat doubtfully, “I can shimmy up a tree quick as look at you, but I can’t say I enjoy the water at all.”
“Mmm,” replied the otter thoughtfully. “It is possible to teach you how to swim, but if you don’t like the water, you are definitely not an otter. Why don’t you go and ask the owl. Owl is incredibly wise and knows every creature that God ever made.”
“Thank you, thank you,” said the cat, and hurried on.
At last the evening came and cat sat under the tree where Owl was supposed to live. Sure enough, a big swish of wings heralded the arrival of Owl.
“Hello, Owl, ” said the cat. “ I am told you are very wise and you know every creature that God ever made. I am in search of who I am. I know I am not a bear or an otter. I know I have fur, I like to eat fish and shimmy up trees, but still I don’t know who I am. I don't even have a proper name.”
The owl looked down kindly at him.
He said, “It is true that I know every creature that God has made, but I do not know you. I do not know you because you are quite special. I have never ever seen creature exactly like you. So I suggest you go find out more of who you are, and then maybe we will discover a special name for you.”
“How do I do that?” asked the cat, with great interest.
“Go about and enjoy our forest. Meet all the creatures who live here and talk to them. Find out whose company you enjoy and whose you do not. Find out what you like to eat and what you do not. Find out all the things you like to do and what you do not. Live life. Find out what you do well and what is boring to do. And when you have done this for a year and a day, come back to me and we might be able to work out who you truly are.”
The cat looked quite crestfallen. This was not the answer he had expected and it sounded a lot of hard work and the outcome uncertain. He had hoped for a nice, simple answer. However he had no other better plan so he took Owl’s advice and went off on his travels for a year and a day.
Naturally he had many exciting adventures and met many interesting forest folk, which I could tell you about - and will another day - but there is not enough time now.
At the end of the year the cat returned to the owl’s tree. The wise owl was waiting for him exactly on time.
“Well, ” hooted Owl. “Have you found out who you are?”
“I am not sure,” said the cat a little uncertainly, “but I can tell you many things about me. As you know I have fine fur, and I like fish. Do you remember that I don’t like honey, but don’t like swimming?"
“Yes, I remember,” agreed Owl.
The cat went on. “Well, I found out a lot more. I found I don’t like thunderstorms and I do like snoozing in the sun. I nearly lost my life nine times because I am so curious. Dogs are not my favourite company, and I like to prowl around alone in the moonlight. In fact, I am not a particularly sociable person.
"But I found one really important thing. I love to eat mice. Mice are my favourite snack. I find them quite the most delicious food I have tried this past year. And I am exceptionally good at catching them. Why, last night I caught twelve of the little devils. But it takes patience, let me tell you, and a sharp eye and you have to stay still as ... well as still as a mouse. Even stiller.”
The cat was quite lit up with excitement as he remembered his mouse-catching adventures.
Then all the fun seemed to drain suddenly from him. The cat looked sad and his whiskers drooped, “But there is a big problem,” he said miserably. “Nobody in the forest likes me eating mice. They say that the mice here are all needed and wanted. They don’t want me to eat my very favourite food. And they don’t want my incredible mouse-catching talents. What is a cat to do, I ask you?”
There was a long silence. The owl smiled down on the cat and waited... and waited...and waited.
At last the cat realised what he had just said. “My goodness!' he shouted. 'That’s who I am. I am a cat! I am a CAT,” and he leaped high in the air in just the way that happy cats do. He had quite forgotten his problems in this great discovery.
But he soon came down to earth with a thud. His whiskers drooped again. “What is the use of being a cat when no one round here likes me doing what I most like to do," he asked in a hopeless voice.
“Ah,” said the owl. “There I can help you. You see I like eating mice too and I know your problem exactly. But I have the advantage on you here. I can fly. And I can tell you that just beyond the forest there is a meadow. In the meadow is a barn owned by a farmer. He keeps all his grain there for sowing in the spring. This farmer absolutely hates mice. They eat up all the seeds he needs for his farm and his animals. And that is why I am welcome there. I keep his mice from eating all his stores.
"And I have good news for you. I can tell you there are far too many mice for me to eat. The mice there are in plague proportions! So would you like to come and help out?”
The cat was so delighted he could hardly speak. When he finally found his voice he said, “I would love to come and work with you. I shall be known as a Barn Cat.”
“Yes,” said the owl. “That is who you are. A very special cat: a Barn Cat. And I shall give you a special name. You shall be Hector the Protector of the Barn Cat.”
From that day on, the wise owl and Hector the Protector of the Barn Cat were the finest of friends and everyone in the forest, the farmer and his animals lived happily ever after.
Well, the barn mice weren’t so happy, that is to be sure. But the wise ones among them found useful jobs in the forest, and were quite safe from being eaten.
A man in his sixties recently consulted me at the behest of his wife. He had recently been retrenched from his job as the CEO of a large organization. His wife was concerned that he may start to suffer those common problems that beset people who, late in their working lives, must look for new employment.
It was true that he was already starting to show the anxiety and tension associated with having to reshape his employment after forced retirement. He was being coached on strategies to apply for new jobs, but what most concerned me about his situation was not his unpreparedness for a new work so much as his expectation that he should seek work of the same kind and nature as his previous job.
He had not adjusted his perspective to the fact that, entering retirement years, there were numerous other things in his life that would give him pleasure apart from the acquisition of another full time job. In his (somewhat excessive) anxiety about creating ongoing income, he was fixated on the problem of where to get another job, rather than what kind of a life he really wanted in the next 20 years and how he might contribute his experience and skills to fields other than the one he was familiar with. In short, his mind was focused on fitting into job descriptions in Seek.com rather assessing whether any offers he might receive would give him the fitness, new interests and networks of friends that he clearly desired.
I suggested that he needed to think of himself as the CEO of the business of his own life and to look at every opportunity from the point of view that he was ‘recruiting’ possibilities for the expansion of that business. Instead of trying to fit into other people’s criteria, he should consider himself as the assessor of whether a particular offer or possibility might progress his desire for a working lifestyle that suited his needs, talents and interests as an older person.
This advice is what I would give anyone, irrespective of age but, of course, it is idealistic. The issue of income cannot be ignored. One of my sons is seeking work that would give him opportunities to meet people experienced in the field of sexual education; he is interested in developing a new career in this somewhat Cinderella profession. As he has discovered, he has been sorely tempted by offers in his former managerial work that are far better paid.
The question he faces is whether he is prepared to lower his income in order to have a more stimulating and fulfilling working life, or whether maintaining a higher income is essential to investing in a better life in other ways. This is never an easy question, but the answer can usually be found by asking more basic questions: 'What makes me happy generally?' and then, 'Which of the paths open to me is most likely to lead to more happiness ?'
If you have useful recommendations for those seeking to move from an unsatisfactory job to a less well-paid but more interesting one, please tell us about it in the comments section.
A science teacher working with special needs students emailed me for help on deciding whether to continue her current role as a coordinator, or to return to full time classroom teaching. She is an enthusiastic teacher but has grown unhappy with her administrative job because there are, increasingly, too many external factors that she cannot control.
These include the fact that her program has little support because the results of her students do not show up well in official data of school performance.
She foresees that an increasing number of special needs students entering her classes will put further strain on her ability to do a good job. The extra hours in administrative committees also means she has had little time for gym classes, which are very important to her.
After talking with her, it was obvious to me that returning to full time teaching would be far more balanced and rewarding than renewing her current role, provided that she offset the possibility of boredom by undertaking advanced study in IT applications in her field of interest. Her Good Work skills clearly did not lie in creating better management systems but in offering quality, up to the minute education to a particular group of students.
The puzzling feature of her request for guidance, however, was the fact that what was obvious to me was not obvious to her. I, therefore, delved into the question of why she hesitated to follow her heart.
The answer was that she was unconsciously driven by an anxiety that she would no longer be eligible to climb a career ladder in which administrators are valued (and paid) more highly than coal-face teachers. This worry led to her to be prepared to put up with the certainty that her current work would become more stressful and less effective in order to qualify for possible future promotion to the next rung on the ladder: a rung she would certainly find uncomfortable to stand upon.
Of course, the reason for moving away from her Good Work path where her true passions and skills lie might have been financial considerations. However, in her case, this was not really a significant factor. The deeper reason was her ego that was putting store on how ‘success’ is measured at the collective level: the achievement of professional status.
Status is important to competitive Type A individuals because they are drawn to areas of work where winning is the most obvious sign of strength and power: think professional athletes. However, success for many people, especially those with an interest in human service, is rarely measured on one’s place on the career ladder beloved by type A personalities. These human service types are Type B personalities for whom the love their work offers others is a greater motivation than financial rewards.
Unfortunately, the commercial world, too often dominated by Type A values has caused Type B people to feel they should align themselves with the measures of success appropriate to competitive personalities. They are seduced by the notion of the career ladder rather than defining what success actually means to them.
If you are a Type B personality, the power of a particular career ladder to guarantee you a sense of genuine contentment should be investigated before you climb it.
You can find learn more about the personal meaning of success in Chapters 8 of The Good Work Book, with practical techniques to choose work that with give it to you in Chapter19.
Have you a question arising from your reading of The Good Work Book? If so, please send it to me: email@example.com and I will give a general reply here - no names, no pack drill.
Here is a question from Karen who plans to use the material on Good Work dreams as a part of a workshop she is running.
What is the best way to introduce the ideas of dreams to my participants?
So long as you have used Chapter 8 for yourself and understand it fully, I would suggest you first talk about the 8 sectors of The Wheel of Life Balance and the importance of balanced well being for supporting good work. Then get them to write down what they would like to see for their future in each of the sectors in practical terms. Example: Sitting round a table with a happy smiling family for Relationships.
People engage better when every aspect of their brain functions - mental, emotional and physical - are used. So you, after discussion (mental), you might like to get them to draw little pictures on large sheets of paper showing a ‘future country’ where they are living their dreams. Stick figures for those who find drawing a bit daunting but provide plenty of coloured pens and ask them to avoid using black.
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Case Study: A client of mine is a primary school teacher who thoroughly enjoys his work but believes he needs to improve the effectiveness of his classroom dynamics. He has noticed that it is difficult to maintain attention and that this problem is endemic in the school in which he teaches. He wants to allow his pupils their individuality and self-expression but to create more control over their behavior so that his job is made easier. He worries that his need for control will affect the children adversely, and his good personal relationships with them will be jeopardized.
This is my (edited) reply to him.
Children need to develop both imaginative expression (a right brain function) and an ability to structure their lives within real life limitations (left-brain capacities). (You can read more about the significance of this balance in chapter 18 of The Good Work Book.)
At your school the emphasis on right brain development and self-expression is a counter to traditional academic schooling, which has been very repressive of individual processes in learning. This has caused a lot of valid disaffection in children who are by nature more divergent in the ways they think.
However, right brain freedom can go too far. When this happens a child becomes ‘uncontained’. They do not understand or accept boundaries. They cannot create an orderly, linear approach to tasks required for left-brain skills. They are often not taught how to focus or think their way through tasks logically to achieve the specific outcomes. Many struggle to put themselves into already existing formal structures without feeling angry and upset. Of course, a few genius children can rise above the need to learn through others structures – for example, Einstein - but for the rest of us this imbalance is unhelpful.
The main way a young child learns left-brain containment is through being required by their parents to behave within set social structures and routines (such as going to bed at a regular time.) This need for social structure also applies to older children, but children of the age you teach also have to be taught contained thinking through educational experiences that require short period of focus on left-brain tasks and skills that build competencies in a step-by-step way. Learning behaviors that are emotionally considerate is also very important for good social relationships.
Effective education is, as you suggest, a balance between letting students have opportunities to be themselves, and providing structures that help them be comfortable with being contained, efficient and considerate. You will be giving your students a great gift for life in doing so because, if they are encouraged to work both their right and left brain hemispheres at an early age, they will be in a far better position to create Good Work in the future.
You will not, however, be able manipulate them into ‘behaving’ through requests to adhere to your imposed structures. They will see such moves as false, weak or lacking in authority. You therefore need to work out the boundaries you want to set on behavior, impose them clearly, flexibly and, above all consistently.
I recently discussed how to develop a stress-free inner environment with a client who suffers chronic anxiety when he conducts his retail business in a crowded or rushed conditions. I made him aware of his tendency to give into the pressure of worrying about getting to his next appointment before he had even terminated the last one.
Soon after I received an email from him in which he made a further point that I have been exploring myself: the positive effects of being in, or creating, a physical and social environment that suits your own nature.
He writes: I've come to Ballarat looking at stores. I feel quite relaxed in Ballarat. I have a fond history here. I realize I do feel relaxed and enjoy being away from my city home. Confidence seems easy in smaller towns for me. And, if I think about my confidence going into lower socioeconomic areas I find it’s a lot easier for me. The more high-end, faster paced or cliquey, the more I'm affected in terms of confidence. Sometimes I'm cool with it, sometimes I'm not. My schooling gave me experience in all walks of life but I definitely had more issues growing up around the cliquey ones
This man’s report indicates that his real nature is a lot ‘slower’ and more casual than he allows himself to be. If he were to focus his retail business in regional areas where customers have less wealth but are also less demanding he might, other things being equal, be a great deal calmer, and his success, steady though it is, could be achieved with less anxiety.
Big changes are not necessarily required. I had a lift in spirits last week when I added a cheerfully colour-coordinated pot plant to my writing room. Somehow this minor bit of interior decorating gave me fresh eyes. I felt a sudden rush of gratitude for the room from which much of my work radiates. Of course it won’t last forever, but the change has brought a little holiday to my mind: a break from the boredom of familiarity. At a physical level this trivial adjustment probably gave me a hit of endorphins that I needed. The introduction of reminders of love into work spaces, such as family photos, is well known, but to my way of thinking making an active choice to improve one's environment through a small creative change is more powerful because of the engagement it requires.
Some of the ideas we present in The Good Work Book are definitely radical in terms of current management practices. One of these is the assertion that it is essentially love that makes one’s work valuable and valued.
There is, however, an inspiring study that backs up this claim. Amy Wrzesniewski, professor at the Yale University School of Management describes the results of an investigation into the attitudes of hospital cleaners towards their jobs. One group saw it as an unskilled job with little interaction. They conformed closely to the terms of the job description. The second group invented ways to interact with patients in caring relationships that were outside the officially recognized boundaries of their employment. It was the caring group that most enjoyed the job and found it meaningful.
It would seem to me a no-brainer that the perspective of the caring group would be welcomed by management policy. Apparently not.
Professor Wrzesniewski commented that the caring group often had to find ways to rebel against the rules by working out when it was safe to interact with patients. She pointed out such people are often considered troublemakers. But, how bizarre that it can be risky to turn one's work into an act of love even in a place that is supposed to embody a spirit of healing.
Do you have any stories of people whose service has demonstrated love beyond the call of duty? If so, you know where the comment box is!
If you would enjoy hearing the whole podcast to learn three ways people go about crafting their jobs to suit their own perspective, you can find it at
It is always encouraging to me in this world so much in need of change to read about how individuals are beginning to question the connection between their work and their authentic selves. This issue is exactly what we address in our book. The energy that we hold personally ripples into everything we do so that if a person is not living in respect and love for their own nature as well as others' needs, so the resonance of their work reflects this lack of inner self-belief.
It was great, therefore, to discover an article by ABC’s health writer, Sophie Scott, that discusses how she suddenly realised that although her work involves communicating on health issues she was actually taking little care of her own.
Sophie is an easy read. You might like to read what she has to say on bringing meaning to life at http://www.sophiescott.com.au/blog/how-being-vulnerable-can-change-your-life
It is a cliché that if work is worth doing it is worth doing well. However, I tend to prefer the adolescent philosophy that if work is worth doing it is worth doing badly! Does it really matter if something you feel is valuable is not done to perfection? Of course not.
However, I can’t really agree with the near-enough-is–good-enough perspective when it comes to ironing. Slap-dash does not appeal. I appreciate having a crisp white blouse or wrinkle fee linen skirt on the rack of what-to-wear-today possibilities in my wardrobe.
Unfortunately I really do not like ironing. It bores the s…. out of me. So often my ironing is performed at such a speed and with such lack of attention to detail that the end result forces me to blur my eyes so I don’t see the creases too sharply.
But today, faced with a half dozen guest bedroom pillow cases and several shirts that really can’t leave the house looking as if I have slept in them after a drunken night out, I decided to confront my ironing nemesis by finding a way to make the dreary task more entertaining.
But how can you make the repetitive application of hot iron to fabric in any way entertaining? And how can an amateur, ironing-resistant personality make the job acceptable?
Then I chanced upon the idea that I would use my intuitive capacity (something we strongly advise of in the Good Work Book) to learn something that would make my ironing look more acceptable. So I tuned into my right brain and higher self – Bingo!
I hear inner voice telling me that if you want your ironing to look good, always begin the job by ironing the edges first making sure they are absolutely straight while you do it.
Tried it out. Wonder of wonders. Took a bit of extra time but the results were almost professional. It’s a true ironing tip!
Of course, I tend not to believe that I have channeled any real wisdom so then I Googled ironing tips to see if anyone else agreed. Sure enough Tip # 4 at 10 Ironing Tips http://www.momtastic.com/parenting/174447-10-ironing-tips/#ixzz3ponQbLrN says just the same thing!
I do like it when Google agrees with me!