Personal Growth - Spirituality at work
by Shivi Verma
Are you doing more than your fair share at work, but getting little appreciation? Do you feel discriminated, ignored and sidelined? Are you a victim of politics? Is your boss dictatorial or manipulative? Is the culture at work unethical? Are you afraid of losing your job? Is your work unsatisfactory? Do you dread going to work each day? Do you snap at your spouse and kids for no reason? Is your health taking a beating? If your answer to most of these questions is in the affirmative, it’s fair to assume you aren’t happy at work.
Let’s face it. Most of us spend the maximum time in a day at work. If those hours are unhappy, frustrating or traumatising, what are our chances of being happy? Of making our family happy? Of safeguarding our health?
And yet, all too often, we believe that it is impractical to expect a congenial work atmosphere, cooperative colleagues or a supportive boss. We struggle on, consoling ourselves with the thought of the pension or the PF we will be entitled to at the end of the day. Or we put in our papers and quit, only to find nothing much has changed, and the same problems dog our footsteps.
Can we instead take responsibility for our well-being and proactively work towards protecting our spaces? Can we create a happiness bubble around us that no one out there can burst? Can we continue to upgrade our productivity, competence and dynamism despite a toxic environment?
Azim Jamal: Align your life's purpose with
your professional purpose I remember a colleague called Sanjay Singh in the former organisation I worked for. In a workplace mired with distrust, plotting, scheming, and politics, he seemed to be peacefully and happily getting along with everybody. I watched him closely and saw that he was blessed with the two great qualities of tolerance and self-control. He minded his own business and refused to be drawn into any office gossip, politics or groups. He had the capacity to listen to the complaints and criticism of his colleagues without ever adding his own two bits. He never flirted with female colleagues even though he met with a number of encouraging glances. He never competed with his colleagues for attention, limelight or prestigious projects. He was sharp and knew who to trust and who not to.
Provocations rolled right off his back. I once recall that just as he was going to cross over, a junior colleague impudently put her foot across so he would trip. He immediately stopped, folded his hand in a namaste, and said, “I cannot walk over your foot.” She had no option but to withdraw her foot and let him go on. Amidst the hurly-burly of office dynamics, Sanjay Singh was like a yogi, calm and perfectly centred.
What Sanjay has done, we can too. All we need to do is to apply the laws of spirituality at the workplace. These laws are structured to help us flow with life, to resolve our problems with the other, and to expand in strength, efficiency, dynamism, endurance and acceptance. In short, spirituality will enable us to handle any and all problems with wisdom and discrimination. It will even guide us to quit when a situation is untenable.
Rule No 1: Take responsibility
If we want to be happy at work, we must take responsibility for our happiness. This is the most powerful principle for change. Instead of blaming the boss or the colleague, we look to see where we have gone wrong. Instead of fretting and worrying about a mistake, we see how we can make amends. Instead of wilting in a toxic work environment, we take responsibility for changing it. When we do this, situations stop pulling us down and instead become instruments of growth. Instead of becoming discontented, demoralised or indifferent, each negative situation actually becomes an impetus to growth! This is alchemy, and our capacity to use this in all situations is a measure of our spiritual maturity.
Ruhi Aggarwal, an analyst in a Delhi-based IT firm, was unable to get along with most of her colleagues. After starting a spiritual practice, she discovered that she too had been responsible for the situation. She had been unable to draw her boundaries with insolent behaviour. She had either snubbed those who put her down or simply ignored them. Taking responsibility for the situation by changing her behaviour resolved her problems at work.
Says she, “When my project leader overlooked me for promotion even though I had performed well, simply because I had refused to go on a date with him, I resisted the temptation to react. Later on, I requested my senior boss to change my project. When he asked why, I told him the truth in a very impersonal way. Not only did he change my project, but also sent me there with a promotion.” In her new office, she is much more careful with her judgments and reactions. She draws her boundaries with politeness and deference, and is liked by others.
Ramesh Varma, an engineer in a US-based optical fibre firm was a shy and reserved person. He was advised by his peers to change himself and be more dynamic. In the meantime, his company received a project about which nobody had any knowhow. His boss dumped the entire work on his shoulders. Ramesh took it as a challenge, but soon found that he needed assistance.
Afraid of appearing inadequate, he refrained from talking about it, until with his wife’s encouragement, he had an open conversation with his superior. He told him politely that the expectations from him were far bigger than his capacity, and that he could not do what he was asked to with absolutely no help.
“After that, he appointed six people to help me with the project. My relationship with him improved and so did my self-confidence. I understood the value of pro-active behaviour, acknowledging my limitations, and expressing myself to my seniors with diplomacy. Thankfully, my future is now safe in the company.”
Rule No 2: Get your priorities right
What exactly are you looking for in the workplace? Is it money, career prospects, prestige, or self-expression? Do you feel called upon to do something to serve humanity? Once you know why you are here, you will be able to better adapt your expectations. Quite often, when we have many responsibilities, we do not have the luxury of doing work that we want to do. For the sake of our dependents we must plug on. Such awareness will give us the patience to stay at the workplace and work harder to resolve our issues. If however, that is not the case, and what we want is not what the workplace can give us, we can look for something better adapted to our needs with a clear conscience.
Azim Jamal, author of Corporate Sufi, says, “If our life’s purpose is not aligned with our professional purpose, we experience tension and unhappiness. When the two are aligned, we find that we are performing optimally in our work life and are using our innate gifts.”
Make it a practice to regularly reflect on the big questions of life: Do I know my purpose in life? Do I know the purpose of my corporation? Am I finding meaning and fulfilment in my work? If I were dying today, what would be the one regret I would have? Do I have a personal vision and mission statement that is aligned to both family and corporation?
Siddharth Sthalekar, an IIM graduate from Mumbai, decided that he wanted to walk the path of serving humanity after serving in an investment banking firm for a couple of years. Along with a few likeminded friends, he started an initiative called Moved by Love, where people are encouraged to offer their services as a gift and in turn, receive what they are given as a gift ( read Trading in love on Pg 62 for more details).
Stephen Covey: Respond instead of reacting Delhi-based Purnima Dewan worked for an insurance firm that hired and fired at will. Her unstable tenure wore her out. Each day, she would trudge to her office wondering if this would be her last day at work. Basically a creative person who liked to paint, embroider, and design with fabric, she asked the Universe to help her find her perfect job. Gradually, she found herself slipping into the role of a designer and coordinator of a boutique started by her daughter. “Since my daughter had not quit her job, somebody needed to be present at the unit. I easily and seamlessly fitted into the role,” she beams.
Rule No 3: Never react
No matter what the situation, refrain from off-the-cuff reactions. Our reactions are inevitably controlled by emotions and emotions are good servants but poor masters. It is reactions that expose us to bad karma and trap us in unpalatable situations. This was the Buddha’s great insight, and it forms the crux of his solution. If we respond instead of react, eventually we will overcome our karma, both good and bad, and free ourselves of the cycle of birth and death. Not reacting is that important. In his Seven Habits, Stephen Cover paraphrased this principle in his 1st Habit, which was about being pro-active:
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and happiness.”
Obviously since we are not born Buddhas, we will react on occasions, but at least when the matter is serious and may involve our future or our reputation, we need to be able to control our reactions and operate out of wisdom. Always take time out. As far as possible, sleep over it. The next morning will bring more clarity, guidance and detachment. Says Ritu Bose, a former general manager of a chain of five-star hotels in India, “Whenever someone else took the credit for my job, or I faced injustice, I would tell myself that it was natural in a competitive environment. This allowed me to not take it personally. I would also ask myself if I would remember the incident next year. I saw that I would not. In the larger context of life, these happenings were minor. With an expanded consciousness, I could place the incident in the right perspective and act through intellect, rather than react from emotions.”
Rule No 4: Cultivate self-esteem and self-confidence
A toxic work environment can pull you down. In order to rise above it, you need to cultivate your self-worth and confidence. Resolve to nurture yourself with positive thoughts, and affirmations. Insulate your self-esteem with heavy doses of self-praise, and learn to love your negatives too. Recognise that it is okay not to be perfect, while at the same time aim to better yourself. When we love ourselves, we do not flog ourselves each time we commit a mistake, or each time a peer or superior criticises our performance. We simply resolve to be more careful next time. Self-love is the greatest shock absorber we can have. Once in my previous organisation my boss pulled me up in a meeting for a job not well done. He told me to go back to my native place if I did not know how to function in a big city. Later on, my colleagues teased me with the same remark. However, I stood my ground and told them not to take that comment seriously, since it did not affect me at all. Later on, even my boss asked how I could stay so unruffled despite his searing criticism. I told him, “Sir, I know that you appreciate me personally. What you said at the meeting was part of your job. And as a junior it is my duty to listen to what is implied, not what is said.”
Rule No 5: Communicate right
The workplace is all about learning to cope with other people; and one of the most important lessons in that area is to communicate right. We are poor communicators. We either blow up or refuse to engage. But when we learn the art of clarifying situations or expectations or misunderstandings, when we explain our situations or ask for help, we bring clarity and openness into the space. Most issues can be resolved once we understand how to talk about it.
Ekta Singh works as project manager in an IT firm, which she perceived as hostile and demanding. However, as she progressed in her spiritual practice, she began to experience an inner calm that enabled her to deftly deal with negative situations and turn them around. She says, “Once a male colleague began to resent reporting to me because of ego. He went and complained to my superior that I was uncooperative, demanding and partial. My boss brought this to my notice. I felt the unfairness of the accusation; but instead of getting angry with my junior and my boss, I requested a meeting with both of them in the conference room. There, very politely, I asked my colleague about the instances where he felt I had given him a raw deal. I told him I was ready to change my style if he could prove that I had been unfair to him. During the ensuing conversation, he lost steam and could not stand his ground. His politics got exposed. Since I did not lash out and continued to treat him with respect, he thawed and his attitude towards me changed after that. My boss too began to respect me more. My credo is; live moment to moment in awareness.”
Anil Bhatnagar: Right communication can wriggle you
out of uncomfortable situations Often, your boss might ask you to do something you might consider unethical. Here too, right communication is crucial, for you do not want to have to call your boss dishonest. Corporate trainer Anil Bhatnagar suggests that you adopt the attitude of a learner in such a case. He says, “Honest people feel that they can insult corrupt people...which goes terribly against them. The fun with dishonest people is that they can never ask you to be dishonest directly. So treat them with respect. Learn to ask innocent questions when the boss ask you to do something unethical. He will be forced to put his cards on the table, and because he is unwilling to do so, he will back off. Always project yourself as a learner before the boss. Never reveal to him that you know what is on his mind.”
Communicate right also means knowing when not to communicate. Insulate yourself from gossip and politics. Both these will mesh you in a net of negativity from which there is no return. Rajni Khanna, lecturer from Bareilly, says, “Never get involved with negative talk at the office. If people try to involve you in such things, turn the topic into some interesting and positive direction. After an hour or two, do deep breathing and meditate for a minute. It will keep you cool.”
Validates Maninder Cheema, a deputy general manager at SEBI, “Listening to gossip affects us. So do not give it energy by believing it, or participating actively in it. All these reinforce its hold on us.” One of my mother’s colleagues has mastered the art of detachment from gossip. She would raise her eyebrows, eyes full of disbelief, and say, “Really? I did not know that!” each time someone would tear apart a colleague. She would repeat this sentence over and over again and finally pretend to recall an important task, and excuse herself. This earned her everyone’s trust and loyalty.
Rule No 6: You are not your work
Extreme identification with your job can make you obsessive, fearful, possessive and imbalanced. It takes away the objectivity needed to resolve matters judiciously. Says Maninder Cheema, “A certain degree of detachment is necessary from your work. Many people when asked who they are, say, ‘I am VP in such and such company, or I am an analyst, or engineer or developer. Identifying totally with one's designation in a company leads to grief every time there is a setback...it hits at your very identity.” She adds, “Cultivate hobbies and activities outside your job which give you happiness. Develop the courage to say no if expectations from you clash with your values. Learn to have a work-life balance.”
Ekta Singh is into social service. On weekends she likes to offer help to people through NGOs. “I keep time aside for it and do not let my official commitments invade this side of my life. I go on spiritual retreats and holidays to refresh myself. I keep telling myself that my identity is not limited to the designation I hold in office,” she says. Such activities give you a much-needed release. You learn to prioritise, and focus on what you actually want from life. They also give you the courage to follow your dreams if your present work is frustrating you.
Many people have been able to convert their hobbies into full-time careers, when they found a dissonance in their workplace vis-a-vis their own inclinations, or values.
Rule No 7: Take up a spiritual practice
Says Purnima Dewan, “The practise of spirituality has made me so optimistic. Earlier, my mind would play spoilsport whenever I wanted to positively change anything in my life. I was always self-doubting and would easily give up. Spirituality has made me realise my inner power. I know that it is in my hands to change my reality.”
Ragini Jaiswal a 39-year-old professional, had a hyper critical boss. No matter what she did, he would always find fault with her performance until she lost confidence. It was then that the Buddhist Sokka Gakkai practise came to her rescue. The sangha taught her to keep sending love to her boss while she chanted the lotus sutras. This not only helped her to develop unconditional love, overcome her own negativity but also miraculously had a calming effect on her boss. He began to appreciate her and now both are on excellent terms with each other.
“I never enjoyed good relations with people and had to suffer a lot in my life because of it, but only now I realise that all of it was because of my own infirmities,” she says. Ragini has become a staunch follower of her local Bharat Soka Gakkai chapter, and devotes her Sundays to spreading the lotus sutra and volunteering for the organisation.
Breathing exercises too help to balance our inner worlds. When agitated, your breathing tends to be fast and shallow. So deep slow breaths will infuse calm into your being as well as your surroundings.
Prita Mazumdar was delighted to have ultimately landed her dream job in a publishing house. But her boss doubted her capability which in turn made her uneasy and nervous in his presence, which would reinforce his doubts. She happened to attend a programme on meditation and learnt the importance of deep breathing. She applied it in her workplace. When in the presence of her boss she began to practise deep breathing. This calmed her down internally. With peace and confidence writ large upon her face, the boss began to respond to her positively. He began to trust and like her. “We do not know how much our energies rub off on each other. Therefore, if we reflect calm and peace from within, others too begin to relax in our company. Deep breathing makes me stay connected to my inner divinity,” she says. Spirituality increases the canvas of your experience. Whatever appeared too big for you to handle, now becomes manageable, because in the journey of the soul’s evolution these hurdles are basically springboards to lob you higher.
Rule No 8: Have a mentor
Find someone you can trust either within or without the organisation and seek his or her advice on how to deal with your issues. You will benefit from their objective and perhaps more mature perspective. It is always important to see how the situation looks like to an outsider, because we ourselves are often misled by our egos. Learn also to benefit from good self-help books that hold the wisdom of many management gurus who have spent a lifetime understanding the world of work.
Says Delhi-based Hansita Sharma Srivastava who works at Adharshila Global, “I happened to read a book called Lord Rama - The Ultimate Management Guru. I follow it always. The mantra is to be as non-judgemental and balanced as you can. But when matters reach a head, one asserts oneself and puts the offender firmly in his place. Like Lord Ram or Shiva, who act to destroy evil, and then again go back to their usual bliss.”
Hansita applies this principle successfully in her office. “People either change or leave. Or I make it clear that they should. The essence is that I never lose myself in the process. My subordinates work for me with love, not fear. This increases their efficiency and also makes them vigilant about safeguarding the trust that I place in them. This takes time but works amazingly well.” Participating in workshops too can help us resolve our issues at workplace. Mumbai-based Arun Prabhakar was forced to leave his high paying job when a trusted colleague deceived him. The betrayal affected him deeply and broke his self-confidence. He wanted to take another job, but anger, pain and shattered self-esteem made it difficult for him to concentrate on this task efficiently. After much cajoling by his wife, he unwillingly registered for a Heal your Life workshop being conducted by healer Nancy Jade.
“There, through lots of inner child work and affirmations, I was able to forgive the colleague and get rid of the emotional baggage. I also saw that this pattern stemmed from my subconscious belief that whoever I trusted would eventually betray me. I am a more sensible person now. I have leant to not forge emotional bonds at the workplace,” he says.
Rahmat Aziz, a top-honcho in a faith-based organisation, was forced to quit after serving loyally for more than eight years. An attempt at resurrecting himself made him attend a leadership training programme. There his mentor made him take a Logan assessment test. Through it, he discovered that conflict-resolution was a key area that he needed to work upon. Whenever he used to get upset with his boss or colleague, he used to go in a shell, which created further misunderstanding and aggravated the problem. He learnt to resolve issues with his peers and superiors. Now he is on his way to creating a training and mentoring programme for mid-career professionals. This learning has helped him to forge better relationships at home also. Talking out, discussing the areas of hurt and expectations has improved his relationships.
Says Azim Jamal, author of Corporate Sufi, “An employee faced with a difficult situation must distinguish between what they can change and what they cannot. The more they focus on what they can do, no matter how little, the more empowered they will become.”
Rule No 9: Cultivate your intuition
Your inner guide is your best compass to help you negotiate the treacherous waters of the workplace. If you learn to cultivate it by becoming sensitive to your gut instincts and honouring it, you will know intuitively which workplace to join or not to join, which colleague to trust and the key decisions to take at work. Here are some of the signals with which your soul is trying to guide you. After taking a decision, do you feel heavy or light? If heavy, the decision may be the wrong one; if light, it may the right one. Do you feel a sense of exhilaration when you consider certain possibilities? If so, that is the way to go. If you feel depressed, then avoid going there.
Listening to your inner guide will put you in the flow of the universe. Without much effort you will find yourself achieving success because you will know when to act and when not to and what to do and what not to. Santosh Joshi, a chemical engineer in a big firm was filled with a sense of unease regarding his calling. While he sat in meditation, he received a divine message telling him that his purpose in this life was to heal people. Interestingly, his wife Aruna too received the same message in her meditation alongside him. This removed all doubts from Santosh’s mind. He quit his high-profile job and is now a successful past-life regression therapist in Mumbai.
Rule No 10: Do the right thing
It is often tempting to be unscrupulous at work. To take or give cutbacks, to manipulate and conspire against others, and to lie or steal. Most of us rationalise that sharp practices are all right at work because we are not fully responsible for what we do, but that logic won’t cut any ice with the universe. We are responsible for our actions whether at home, the workplace, in public or in private, because we are one person no matter where we are. When we compromise our integrity, we lose touch with our soul, and therefore with our guiding forces – our conscience and our intuition. We will no longer know how or what to do in situations and through this, we will dig our own doom. So do what is right. If there is no space to do that at work, then look out for another job. It was Jesus who said, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” (Mathew 5:29-30) Better anything than compromise on your integrity.
Rahmat, who was forced to quit after a change in the leadership made it impossible for him to function ethically in his workplace, says, “My experience has been that no matter what, you shouldn’t compromise yourself. It may be smart to understand workplace politics and do a little bit of networking now and then, but losing yourself over career achievements isn’t a good bargain at all.” He adds, “It is nice to be important, but I think it is more important to be nice.”
Rule No 11: Know when to quit
All of us have something to learn from our situations at work: Patience, non-reactiveness, assessment of people’s energies, learning to assess which way the wind is blowing, finding your strengths, overcoming your weaknesses, learning to stand up for yourself, emotional balancing, non-attachment, tactfulness, humility, effective communication are the lessons a toxic workplace is waiting to teach you. Therefore, do not try to jump out of it unless you have learnt these lessons. Once you have done so, in all probability, you will automatically find yourself a new situation. Perhaps someone will offer it to you or you see an ad in the paper and know intuitively that it is the next step for you.
Sometimes, a new job may not present itself but you will know instinctively that it is time for you to leave. You will find that the energies have shifted or perhaps you will get guidance from within. Sometimes, you are actually told what to do.
Susheel Nair, a Bangalore-based restaurateur, was looking after a holistic retreat centre together with his wife Kapila, when, four years after working there, both of them were given a message in their meditation that the time to leave was now, and that they should hand in their resignations that very day. Subsequently, the couple set up a restaurant, Vriksh, which is being run on spiritual principles.
So bide your time, for your path will unfold, beautifully, effortlessly.
See more articles on Personal Growth : http://www.lifepositive.com/Articles/PersonalGrowth
Subject: Practical tips - 7 October 2013
Thanks Shivi Verma. I myself have survived work place conflicts by constantly reminding myself that this will not matter to me a year from now, a month from now, a week from now... or even next day! And i think of my extreme smallness compared to the expanse of the universe and decide it does not More...
by: Purnima Coontoor
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