Even before September 11, many people were feeling the symptoms of burnout, overwork, or just confusion–over what they were doing professionally, in their home lives, or in attempting to balance the two in an increasingly demanding world. Or they were feeling the strain of following their principles at work while still wanting to be successful.
Whether you’ve shared these feelings or your clients have, it’s no laughing matter, and in the wake of September 11, many people feel that they need to change things. Now. Drastically. Change can be frightening, and many people–and businesses–would rather endure almost any known difficulty than risk the unknown. But when change is inevitable, even vital, we’ve found some books that can help.
When the Canary Stops Singing: Women’s Perspectives on Transforming Business, edited by Pat Barrentine (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 1993) offers some insights that, despite the book’s copyright date, could have been written in the wake of recent events. Barrentine has amassed an impressive collection of essays that deals with various aspects of business and the individual’s place within and outside of it, by authors who are themselves successful businesswomen, entrepreneurs, and consultants.
The title of the book refers to the fact that miners used to keep canaries with them in the mines to signal the presence of poisonous gases. Because the birds are more sensitive than humans, they would sense the gases early enough to allow the miners time to escape with their lives. Barrentine posits that women, for so long excluded from the business world and therefore not fully integrated into it as are men, are more sensitive to the “wrong” things about business that can destroy one’s spirit in the pursuit of security or success. She, and the other authors in this anthology, argue that many of women’s difficulties in the workplace are not due to any inherent problem with the presence of women but are due instead to difficulties with the workplace itself. She paints a picture of a workplace that demands more than it is entitled to, in ways it is not entitled to, in order to further a structure that is in the end harmful.
The best part of the book is the solutions that are offered–methods that can lead to a less toxic work environment for everyone, and even a less toxic result for the planet as a whole. It is uplifting, encouraging, and optimistic: something we could all use right now.
Living a Life That Matters: Resolving the Conflict Between Conscience and Success, by Harold S. Kushner (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, is another tour de force. In it, Kushner examines the basic need of everyone to believe that they are worthwhile, that what they do is important and has a real effect. Readers familiar with Kushner’s previous books will not be surprised that this book offers readers hope that the good they do does matter, particularly in a time when we need so desperately for good to matter.
Bringing Your Soul To Work: An Everyday Practice, by Cheryl Peppers and Alan Briskin (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2000), is an unusual book in many ways.
As I’m sure you know, I frequently read books for this column while on deadline, and while they get a thorough reading, often I wish I had more time to linger over a book. This is one book I will be going back to once deadline is over. It asks reflective questions of the reader that help determine what matters most in life and in work. Then it offers exercises to figure out ways to incorporate those essentials into the reader’s professional life and private life.
One way to do that, say the authors, is to address all those parts of ourselves that we stifle. We may have traits or gifts that live in our “shadow” selves that we may feel embarrased about or even shameful, but those may be some of our greatest gifts, and by reclaiming them we will become a more complete, better-balanced person.
Perhaps as a child you were told that you were too active or not artistic or incapable of playing an instrument. These may be the key to reinvigorating our lives now. An adventurous spirit stifled to satisfy a demanding school can be reawakened to infuse adult life with more zest and joy; a talent suppressed because of unjust criticism can be reclaimed and lead to fulfillment. Further, such hidden interests, talents, and desires can lead to a whole new way of looking at the lives we currently have and the jobs we currently do, and perhaps offer solutions to problems that had been insoluble.
Even if you’re not fighting burnout, this book can make a difference in the way you see what is important to you and help you to devote more of yourself to what matters most.
Body and Soul
In the Spirit of Business: A Guide to Creating Harmony and Fulfillment in Your Worklife, by Robert Roskind (Celestial Arts, 2001) is a very different approach to improving life in the office. Instead of exercises exhorting teamwork and strategizing, you’ll find discussions of love and fear, and how the one frees us and the other limits us. Issues of integrity, balancing home and work lives, making enough money to be content, and working together to achieve the best results are all addressed by Roskind in his thoroughly different approach to work. One of our biggest problems, he says, is fear–whether it’s fear of the unknown, fear of failure, or fear of rejection. Operating from a place of love instead of fear will remove limits that keep us from achieving our goals, having a happy family life, balancing our office responsibilities with those toward our families, and ensure that we honor our convictions in dubious situations.
Now that you’re on the path to change, in life and at work, how can you really rediscover what it is that drives you to get up in the morning and want to do things? Check out The Passion Plan and The Passion Plan at Work, by Richard Chang (Jossey-Bass, 2000). These books are a more step-by-step approach to finding out what makes you tick, what makes your business tick, and how to set the pendulum going again when it’s running down.
Whether your passion is specific (making music) or general (helping people), and whether you follow it in a specific way (someone whose passion is making music, for instance, might play in a band or on a street corner, or play in nursing homes and hospitals) or a general way (someone who wants to help people may choose to do that by volunteering to help with tax returns), when you can identify it and find ways to channel it, says Chang, your life will become richer and you will achieve your goal–Profit with a big P. Profit, as he defines it, is what you really want out of life, not necessarily money. Regardless of your income, if you are not receiving your Profit, you are not living up to your potential, nor are you enjoying your life as much as you could.
Taking this all one step further in the second book, Chang offers exercises to discover what your organization’s true passion is, where it went astray, and how it can rediscover its driving force. Through examples of businesses such as Ben & Jerry’s and Southwest Airlines, among others, he demonstrates that businesses, too, can be driven by passion, have missions beyond their commercial purpose, and offer employees a stimulating place to work.
If you or your clients are looking for inspiration, motivation, or hope, one or more of these books may be able to help. Rekindling the fire that makes us want to get up in the morning is a pretty good thing to have in the middle of winter.
Senior Editor Marlene Y. Satter can be reached at [email protected].