Our Soul at Work
By Robert Rabbin
We all want to enhance our experience of work and enrich our work environments with greater meaning, purpose, joy, and deep human connection. We want our work to be a place of inspiration, where we can find full creative outlet for our deepest values and highest vision. What are they? Let's look inside our own self, into our own soul, for guidance.
If we're going to use the word soul in a business context, we'd better define it. Otherwise, this single word—often thought of as abstract, esoteric, and impractical—might create confusion, doubt, and maybe even cynicism. There are many definitions of soul, some more precise than others, put forward by various religious, spiritual, and metaphysical belief systems. For me, the words soul and spirit refer to the vital principle or animating force within all living beings.
Soul refers to those gorgeous moments of self-transcendence in which we experience communion with the whole of existence, in which we find ourselves intimately connected to everything and everyone. Soul evokes a dimension of living which swamps our little boats with love, and washes us out to sea where there is only silence and awe and wonder.
How can we integrate these elevated experiences of soul, these radical moments of pure living, with our sense of self in the mundane world? How can our work feed our soul and how can our soul feed our work? How are we to embody and demonstrate the values of soul at work, where so many other value systems demand our loyalty? What are the implications of soul for our lives at work? Here are some that I have discovered:
- Soul implies connection. This means we experience a real and living bond with others, and we honor this by treating them with respect, kindness, compassion, and dignity.
- Soul implies listening. This means we develop an attitude of openness, curiosity, and patience, so we can truly hear and understand what others are saying. Soul implies beauty. This means that our actions must preserve the natural beauty of life in all its manifestations. It means we will not destroy, pollute, defile, or degrade any expression of life.
- Soul implies truth. This means we must speak the truth, we must be accountable for our actions, and we must be straightforward in our dealings with each other and with everyone who is impacted by what our organization does. It means we are bound to be honest and transparent in our actions and intentions.
- Soul implies balance and harmony. This means we must keep our priorities in order and give equal time to our own personal growth, to our families, to our communities—to those pursuits and activities that enrich our whole life. Recognizing the need for balance, we will not be compulsive or greedy, we will not sacrifice the integrity of this moment for a future promise.
- Soul implies universality. This means that we are all shareholders in certain basic values. What do we all want? We all want to be appreciated, to be accepted, to make a positive contribution to others. We want to feel that our lives and our labors make a positive difference. We want to give, to serve, to be the reason for someone else's happiness and well-being. A popular bumper sticker reminds us to serve others in these words: Practice random acts of kindness.
- Soul implies inspiration and deep passion. This means that we live and work from our hearts, from what we truly love. If we follow our hearts to work, we will not need to be motivated by some cheap management trick to give our best effort. Our heart will always ask us to give our best, for the sake of love and passion. We will not need to be bribed. Enthusiasm, cooperation, and commitment are the hallmarks of a heartfelt life.
- Soul implies joy. This means that we work from joy, with joy, and towards joy. This is not a Pollyanna principle, because I think that everything we do in life is for the sake of joy. Let joy be our standard: if joy is present, we are doing things right, and doing things well. If not, we are doing things wrong, and we should stop and figure out how to get back on track. Can you imagine a performance review whose only question was: Please rate the amount of joy you experience, on a scale of one to 10.
- Soul implies going beyond conventional boundaries. This means we should always feel free to risk new ideas and new approaches to old problems. This means we should develop our minds and bodies and spirits so that they glow with creativity and innovation. This means we would welcome boldness, diversity, and initiative. We would be open to continuous learning and growth; and not just for the sake of profit, but for the sake of being creative, dynamic human beings.
- Soul implies clarity and awareness. This means that we speak and act mindfully. Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of our true motives and intentions. Mindfulness means to be deeply in touch with our thoughts and emotions every moment. Mindfulness means that we are able to see what is actually happening around us, and to not be confused or misled by our own projected fantasies and ideas of what is happening. This means we are committed to illuminating the unlit aspects of our subconscious that often drive us without our knowing.
These are some of the things I mean by soul, and some of the implications of soul in the workplace, as I see it. I am not proposing an exact formula, for it is the task of each person to give authentic expression to their soul.
But I do believe with my whole heart that we must at all times speak of soul, liberate soul, nourish soul, recognize soul, and reward soul in the workplace. This is how we can redeem our life from tedium, how we can work with a full spirit, and how we can honor our society.