I was having a coaching conversation with a dear friend and client today and she turned the tables on me. "I notice that in your blog posts and ezine that you rarely talk about anything spiritual. But working with you and knowing you personally, I see that is a big part of what you bring to your work. Why do you hide that part of yourself?"
That got me thinking all day.
I do consider myself a spiritual person and see my spiritual life and work life as intimately connected. I think it is impossible to discuss with people what their purpose is on earth and what their unique gifts are and not move into the realm of the divine. A core value in my work, and my spiritual life, is to help people connect with their true calling, personal power, spirit and voice. Then they can build a life and a business around it.
As I think back to what motivated me to help people get out of corporate jobs and start their own businesses, it really was during some miraculous spiritual conversations inside companies.
- There was the time I was working late on a large-scale global project with a client. In his corporate role, he was strong, competent and professional. As we wrapped up work for the day, somehow the conversation turned to career and life planning. We got into an intense discussion about the things that were deeply important to him. Slowly, he opened up and shared with me how he was feeling choked, oppressed and totally stuck in his life. We talked a long time and I shared some thoughts that came straight from my heart and soul. I could feel a different vibration in the air, and got that feeling in my chest when there is a strong spirit close by. At the end of the conversation, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said "I think that God sent you to me." I felt humbled and totally joyful. What I knew had happened is that I had removed the barrier that exists in a corporate setting and made it safe for him to speak his truth. The fact that he was Christian and I am not made no difference.
- A few years back, I was facilitating a conference with a partner in New Orleans. The company was privately held, and had a long history of egregious management behavior, especially towards women. Since this was the third year we had worked with them, there was much more openness and trust in the group. So we took a risk and had 3 women talk to the whole group of mainly men about what it had been like to work in a totally sexist environment for so many years. The room of 50+ people hung on every word the women said. There was the "job interview" one described where she had sat in the lobby waiting to be interviewed by a top executive. A few minutes later an assistant came to get her. "You passed the interview," said the assistant. "But I didn’t talk to him," she said. "Oh, he saw you from the balcony and thinks you would be a great fit." The women told the stories with humor and grace. By speaking their truth, they healed some old wounds and everyone in the room felt touched by a divine spirit. The air was electric, and I knew I was witness to something very special.
In a corporate environment, it is frightening, uncomfortable and sometimes illegal to talk about spirituality. So much of what you learn in that environment is to cover your true spirit so that you don’t appear strange, weak or morally suspect. People are desperate to speak their truth and acknowledge that they do have a spiritual foundation. I truly enjoy talking to people about that, and find that it comes up with every client I work with.
So why is it awkward to talk about it in a more public vehicle like a blog or ezine? For me, I don’t ever want anyone to feel uncomfortable or like I am preaching or pushing my beliefs on them (because I am not!). I am lucky enough to have in my close circle of friends Unitarians, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Buddhists, traditional native medicine people, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Jews and probably a few Atheists. I grew up with Methodist grandparents, but non-religious parents. Throughout the years, I have had a whole series of spiritual influences that have shaped my connection with Creator. I don’t affiliate with a religion, but engage in regular spiritual practice and prayers with my husband, who comes from a traditional Dine (Navajo) medicine background.
So thanks for letting me take a little risk and share my thoughts with you on this subject. Does anyone else have the same struggles when discussing spirituality openly in connection with your work?
Well..I haven’t fully escaped yet – it’s that build a business while still working full-time approach, but I am in motion & heading that way! It makes the rest of it easier to deal with, and still hanging in the trenches certainly makes it easier for me to relate to my clients!
I saved this post because I wanted to respond. As a minister now (Unity)I can freely talk about spirituality and do so on my blog. When I was in the corporate world working in human resources,I felt frustrated because of the fine line in discussing such things. But most people have a need to connect and when we connect on a heart level with people it is a sacred experience. It doesn’t have to be about religion or even about God. It is more about acknowledging the oneness of us all on this planet and how we can serve and assist each other in fulfilling our individual missions. It is so much bigger than each of us individually. I think all of us who read your blog sense the deep spiritual beliefs that underlie your messages.
Hi Matt and Paula!
Thank you so much for your careful reflection and thoughtful comments on integrating work and spirituality. I agree with you … if our spiritual life is important to us, it is impossible to leave it at the door. But at the same time I do get the heebie jeebies when people jam religion down my throat upon a first meeting. It can make for a hostile work environment for the person who may not agree with the spiritual beliefs of a co-worker or manager.
The way I approach it in coaching is usually to ask people if they have any spiritual beliefs or practice any religion. If they want to “go there,” they open up and tell me about them. If not, we use the term that Matt describes as “life purpose.” Then we discuss the choices they are making in light of their priorities.
I am just fascinated by the variety of different beliefs out there, and take the “Whatever works for you” approach with my clients.
As for the “check your personality and uniqueness at the door” that you described Paula, that gives me the shivers. Thankfully you escaped from the corporate world and now are bringing your full and wonderful self to the rest of us.
Thanks for the great post. I’ve been pondering this for a week now.
I think it is almost impossible to separate spirituality (which in my thinking ties in with authenticity, life purpose, values) from business. And I think it holds true regardless of what your spirtual beliefs (or religious practices if you choose to express your spirituality in that manner) are. Why is that? Because “where you go, there you are”. And WHO you are at the essence is inherently spiritual.
Whew…ok, that’s a deep paragraph. But, whether someone is stuck in a cubicle unhappily somewhere or running their own business their innermost vision, purpose, and values impact their professional life both on a day by day what choice should I make about xyz today to the big overarching “what should I do with my life? what do I want to be when I grow up?” type of questions.
It is part of the HUMAN experience. And, while corporations want to downplay that little fact (hey, our employees are bona fide humans!) people can’t really just check themselves at the door and expect to have a satisfying work-life.
I was once told to check my personality and uniqueness at the door by a manager. I just looked at him cross-eyed like how is that possible? But he thought nothing of the request as it was his way of conforming me into the person he wanted (not the person I am). And, it didn’t matter that my work was of exceptional quality.
I look forward to future posts where you tie it all together….
Thanks for sharing this important issue. From the atheist perspective, some kinds of “spirituality” topics can turn me off if I’m not careful with my reactions. However, much of what you talk about is more in the “life purpose/priorities/goals” category, and – for me – is relevant at all levels.
Also, I think it’s incredibly important for issues like the egregious management behavior to be openly discussed, so that progress can be made. Again, I don’t consider it a spiritual issue – a “moral” one (non-biblical) possibly.
Thanks for the post!