The Secret of Work

Work. One word can elicit so many thoughts, debates, discussions.  For the past number of years and if Im honest, since graduating, work and what 'to do' in life has been a prevailing question. 

I have always wanted in my life to do work that I am passionate about, that I believe in and that I truly feel offers something to others.  Where conflict arises for me is to fulfil these categories while also maintaining a steady or sustainable income in order to have a good quality of life and to have enough time to enjoy my life/hobbies/sports. 

There is also the concept of personal motives, challenging oneself, feeling that gifts, talents and experience are being utilised and valued. 

So by achieving balance in these areas, there in lies the dream job! Helping others, earning a sustainable income, having quality free time and feeling personally valued and motivated for the work. Easy!

Is it always that easy or simple? 

When I feel confused or find myself thinking a lot about certain things, I find reading from others or turning to ancient texts for wisdom and inspiration helps to put things in perspective. 

Indias Ancient Scriptures describe life as resting on two unshakable pillars, the first is Rita, which is deeply connected to Dharma, our life purpose, that which supports us and holds us together. 

The second pillar is Yajna, the 'offering' principal of service, giving of oneself for the welfare of others.  In practical terms, Yajna means that everything we do should be for the welfare of all those around us.

These pillars show us and guide us to the realisation that life is not given to us for pure enjoyment, our highest duty is to give back to life.   When you ask yourself what work you should do, do not consider salary or prestige as first and foremost but how you can make the world a little better.

Here the Bhagavad Gita gives us a precious secret: how we work is as important as what we do. Your job may be nothing more glamorous than a janitor in a hospital, but if you are following right occupation and doing your best to put the welfare of those around you first, you will be contributing to other people’s lives, even though you may not see it happening. These are spiritual laws.

We don’t have to envy others because the jobs they do seem to be more prestigious or creative or because other people seem to have more skill. We are where we are, doing what we are doing, because we have something to learn from that particular context. What and who we are – all that we have thought, done, and desired, our upbringing and our education – has brought us to that job and to those co-workers, and that makes it just the situation we need to grow. With growth will come a new context to work in, new people, new challenges, greater opportunities for service.

Is there any job that is 100 percent perfect? Is there any position where you do only what you think you should, where your employer gives you meditation breaks and allows you to tell her/him how to conduct her business according to your interpretation?

Every job has its requirements that are not our own. Very few jobs are pure. No occupation is free from conflict; no task guarantees to protect us from stressful situations or from people with different views. And no job is free from drudgery; every line of work has a certain amount of routine. So the Gita says, Don’t ask if you like the work, if it is creative, if it always offers something new. Ask if you are part of work that benefits people. If you are, give it your best. In that spirit, every beneficial job can become a spiritual offering.

Our lives have become so physically oriented that we expect the spiritual person to have some kind of insignia, some special aura. The only aura that the spiritual person emits is kindness. One Western mystic sums up the spiritual life in one short phrase: “Be kind, be kind, be kind” – kind to those who are kind to you, kind to those who are not kind to you. It is one of the surest tests of wisdom. A ship is not tested in the harbour, where the water is quiet; it is tested on the open seas. The greatest scientist, the bravest soldier, the most brilliant artist can go to pieces in times of personal trial – the loss of something they valued, a sudden reversal of fortune, a tragedy in the family. The mystics ask, What use is a ship that is seaworthy only in good weather? And for most of us, the best test is not the big storms but the innumerable little squalls of daily living.

When you go to work, it should be the same. Wisdom is not simply for the home; if it is genuine, it will show everywhere. It’s easy to smile when a colleague remembers your birthday with a card, but that is no test; your ship is still in harbour. What do you do when he takes an early evening and leaves all his old files in your box of things to do? How do you respond when a colleague asks you to watch her desk for fifteen minutes and comes back an hour later with a big shopping bag on her arm? What do you do when your boss calls you in at five minutes to five and wants to talk over mistakes on your current project? The person who is established in wisdom won’t become defensive; he or she will slowly try to calm the storm. He knows he gives his best to his work, so he is secure; he can remain courteous and listen objectively while his boss rants and raves. Afterwards, instead of cold treatment, such people often get the red carpet. They are an asset everywhere: because they cannot be agitated, they help everybody around them to stay calm too.

Whatever our occupation, we can make our whole life a work of art, so that everybody who comes in contact with us benefits from our patience, our understanding, our love and wisdom.