Wholeheartedness in Business Instead of Busy in Business

July 7, 2012

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
— Pablo Picasso

“The antidote to exhaustion is not rest. The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”
— Brother David Steindl-rast

I was recently sitting in the office of a senior executive of a major corporation in the San Francisco Bay Area. We were meeting for the first time. During this conversation he shared with me his disappointment about work. “What happened?” he pondered. He had begun this job with such excitement and enthusiasm and now he felt discouraged and tired. “How did I get so busy, and disconnected? What happened to the enthusiasm and excitement I had for life as a child? When did my life get so out of balance?”

It is easy to fall into ruts of thinking, patterns of activity, false and undermining assumptions about our lives. If we continually make choices to be safe and secure, little by little we can find ourselves safe, secure and our edges dulled, work as more drudgery then heroic, and our relationships predictable.

Some questions I began with: Is there something you love about your work? Or, what might you love about your work? What do you look forward to doing? What brings you joy? What inspires you?

I asked: Who has been your most inspiring mentor, in your life or that you have read about?

I also recounted a short but powerful dialogue that comes from the Zen tradition: A student approached her teacher and says, “I’m feeling discouraged. What should I do?” The teacher responds by saying, “Encourage others.”

This executive has three people who report to him and oversees a department of more than 30 people. Imagine how his team must feel. Even if he doesn’t express his dissatisfaction, I imagine others can feel it and are influenced by it. Our emotions are contagious. Sometimes a way to shift our own mood is to become more aware of those around us. How can we help those we work with; how can we encourage others.

I also asked about some areas of his life that I think of as the most obvious and often the most important:

  • Sleep: what can you do to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Exercise: do you walk or play or exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Food: do you pay attention to eating good, healthy food.
  • Conversations: do you have at least a few meaningful conversations each day, conversations where you are connecting on the level of your emotional life.

It's good for all of us to take time to ask these questions as the answers to them directly affect how we work and how we live. What are some questions you can ask of yourself to best balance your work and life?