We’re getting into the good part of our journey. We have moved through the darkness of a damaged relationship with work. We have looked at the type of pain we feel when our relationship with work is damaged, and we have looked at the causes for the pain we experience.
Now, we are going to explore the elements that constitute a healthy relationship with work. We will focus on what we need to have in our relationship with work for it to be at its most healthy.
Ahh. Oh, when work works, it is glorious. Seriously. You wake up energized and enthused in the morning, ready to go to work, eager to express your gifts and talents because it gives you great pleasure to do so. You feel inspired, excited, and maybe even a little scared. But that’s okay. Because when work works, you feel a flutter inside of excitement and challenge. And you want to get to it. When work works, work is serving you. You are not serving it. You are its master.
Sound good? Or does it sound too good to be true?
I can tell you it is absolutely true. Having a healthy relationship with work is possible.
I want to share with you five elements that healthy relationships with work are built on. These elements are the foundational building blocks for deriving all of the promises that the True Nature of Work holds for you. If you want to have the lifestyle you desire, if you want to have work that allows you to be joyous and free, you need to ensure that these five elements are in your relationship with work.
Let’s spend some time now looking at the elements that comprise a healthy relationship with work. Again, I recommend that you take notes as you read through these elements. And, answer the homework questions. We will use this material further on in the book.
Here are the five elements that we are going to explore:
- Alignment with your gifts and talents and your boundaries.
- Work serves you.
Alignment with your gifts and talents and your boundaries
There are two parts to understanding this element. First, we are going to explore what being in alignment with your gifts and talents and your boundaries means. Then we are going to take a look at how you can define your gifts and talents and your boundaries.
Let’s start with the meaning of alignment. For a relationship with work to be healthy, we must be in alignment with our gifts and talents and our boundaries. By this, I mean that our work does not contradict or conflict with our gifts and talents or our boundaries.
I love the definitions of alignment. I want to share them with you because they are truly illustrative of how we need to look at alignment.
At its core, alignment is a “state of agreement.” Additionally, alignment represents the “harmonization of aims” and the “matching of behavior, thoughts”. When we think about alignment, we need to think about it in terms of our work being in line with our “matched” to our gifts, talents, and boundaries. For example, if your gifts and talents tend towards the physical healing arts such as physical therapy or massage therapy, and you are a physical therapist or a massage therapist, you are in alignment with your gifts and talents. However, if your gifts and talents tend toward computer programming, and you are working as a massage therapist, you are not in alignment with your gifts and talents.
Why is alignment fundamental to a healthy relationship with work? Well, we have spent a lot of time already talking about the sense of hopelessness and powerlessness we feel if we are not in control of our career. One of the ways that we can be in control of our career is by ensuring that the work we do is in alignment with the talents we possess. We talked about boredom. We talked about how we can “check out” when we are doing work that we are not engaged in. Alignment is the way that we combat feelings of boredom and lack of engagement. Lastly, we talked about Fulfillment. The easiest way to feel fulfilled by your work is to be doing work that you love, that inspires you and that brings you joy. Work works best when we use it as an avenue to give our gifts and talents.
Is your current work in alignment with your gifts and talents? Meaning, do you have the opportunity to express those gifts and talents through your work? If not, you can look for ways to incorporate your gifts and talents into your current role, thereby increasing your alignment. If this is not an option, ensure you complete step 3 of this process, Design Your Relationship with Work. It is an opportunity to create a blueprint for having work that is in alignment with you.
If you’re not sure about what your gifts and talents are and want to start identifying them, take a look at the Gifts and Talents Discovery Questionnaire in the appendix. It’s a good place to start.
Now, let’s talk about being in alignment with our boundaries. In a healthy relationship with work, your boundaries are clear, intact and respected. That’s because you’ve been clear about your boundaries up front. You have been honest with yourself about what your boundaries are. Next, you have been clear with your employers, colleagues and/or clients about your boundaries. In other words, your boundaries are public. They are not held in secret.
But let’s be real. Most of us haven’t spent time identifying our boundaries. And even if we have, have we had the fortitude to have the right discussions with prospective employers, coworkers, current employers and/or clients? Probably not. As a result, our boundaries are, more often than not, being violated by people who do not even realize they have crossed a boundary.
How do you know when your boundaries have been violated when you’re not even sure what your boundaries are? You will know that a personal boundary has been crossed when you have that feeling that tells you that you are not being treated the right way. You might feel that you’ve been disrespected, or that you’ve been compromised in some way. Basically, it’s a feeling that tells you something isn’t right in this situation.
To discover your boundaries, you must know what you are willing to accept in employment and in an employment environment, and what you will not accept. Many of us have identified our salary boundaries, e.g. “I will not accept less than $75,000 a year in salary.” But what about our environmental boundaries, workplace culture boundaries and so forth?
A client of mine, Felicia, worked for a nonprofit organization as a relationship developer. She was doing work she loved to do, and she was good at it. Felicia has a bona fide talent for connecting with people. This job allowed her to use this talent. She also had boundaries she was aware of when she accepted the position. One of her boundaries was to always be treated fairly and respectfully by her employer. The nonprofit provided alignment with her gifts and talents as well as her boundaries.
Unfortunately, as the nonprofit grew, in a large part due to the work Felicia was doing, the company’s policies changed. Specifically, the clients Felicia developed and had strong relationships with were taken from her and given to a third party to manage. Basically, all the hard work she had put in was for naught. The nonprofit was taking those clients and handing them over to someone else to not only continue to work the relationships but to get credit for the relationships as well. This new policy violated Felicia’s personal boundary for fair and equitable treatment by her employer.
Boundaries are critical. When you know what you will accept and what you won’t/cannot accept in work and a workplace, it makes decision-making all that much easier. It makes the process of accepting a job offer easier, and it makes the process of deciding if this is a client you want to work for easier. And it makes the conversations, the interview or intake sessions easier because you have boundaries to discuss.
In Felicia’s story, the work she loved started feeling very uncomfortable because her boundary had been violated. At that point, she needed to make some decisions about whether she could continue working for this employer. She decided she needed to have a conversation with her employer. Because Felicia had clear boundaries, she was able to go to the employer and be specific about what didn’t feel right to her regarding this new policy. Her boundary was a guidepost that helped her to give the employer suggestions on how to make the new policy more fair and equitable. As a result, both parties were able to reach a mutually beneficial resolution.
In creating a healthy relationship with work, our job is to be able to define and articulate our boundaries and to ensure that our place of employment, our employer, or the work we do with clients is in alignment with our boundaries.
Before we wrap up the topic of alignment, I want to add one more thought. I believe that society gives short shrift to the concept of alignment when it comes to seeking employment and preparing to enter the workforce. This goes back to what we talked about earlier regarding not having good models for creating a healthy relationship with work. You need to know what gifts and talents you possess, that bring you joy, inspire you, make you want to create and express. This information is critical to finding the type of work that aligns with what you are here to give.
I believe the reason that so little emphasis is put on the importance of alignment is that alignment puts the individual employee in the power seat, and society prefers to have unaligned employees. An unaligned employee, one who is unaware of his or her boundaries, one who is unaware of his or her gifts and talents, is much easier to manipulate, and dare I say, exploit. It is much easier to get an unaligned employee committed to and stuck in the Time4Money Exchange. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon each of us to strive for alignment. It is alignment that creates not only a healthy relationship with work but puts each of us in control of our own career.
- List five gifts and talents that you would like to share with the world.
- List five boundaries regarding your work and/or your workplace that are critical to you.
- In my current employment, am I in alignment with my gifts and talents and boundaries?
- Describe a time when your boundaries were violated.
- Have I had the right conversation with my employer so he/she is aware of my boundaries?
Expression. Oh, the joy of having the opportunity, the time, the space to express that which is authentically ours.
To have a healthy relationship with work you need to have within your work the space to express your authentic voice. Meaning the gifts and talents that you are here to give. We have to be able to give voice to them through our work.
All the creativity, intelligence, insight, and desire within you deserves to have an outlet. You can’t keep it bottled up inside. Nor should you. The world is waiting for what you have to offer. Work can be the perfect outlet for your expression. Our need for expression is fundamental, primal, as if the need to express was configured into our DNA. We need to give voice not just to our thoughts and feelings but to the unique, brilliant and creative spirit within.
How happy we are when we can express ourselves through our work. It is the perfect symbiotic relationship: you need to express, to give voice to what is authentically yours, and work exists for that purpose. Unfortunately, on a daily basis, your Expression is being silenced, ignored, devalued, and negated by the workplace and the society that supports it.
For the element of Expression, our task is twofold. First, we must identify that which we desire to express. When we look to create expression in our relationship with work, we need to answer the question “What do I need to express?”
To answer that question, start by asking yourself: What within myself have I silenced? What gifts and talents have I kept dormant? What have I suppressed? What have I let others around me silence within me?
There is something within you that you want to express. There is something within you that would bring you great joy to give voice to. This is what we need to discover. Most of us don’t know what it is off the top of our heads. Most of us have not spent the requisite time required to identify it.
Once you’ve identified what you need to express, the second step is to find ways to incorporate your Expression into your work. It could be as simple as subtle shifts in your current role or adding new responsibilities to your current role. You might discover there is no place for your Expression at your current place of employment. In that case, you get to begin a new and wonderful journey to find work that will support your expression.
There have been times when I have told clients that it’s time for them to find a better avenue for their expression than their current employment. This advice has been followed by deep groans of displeasure. I remind them about what they’ve just discovered. They’ve just identified that what they’re currently doing for work doesn’t meet their needs. They’ve just discovered that what they’re doing for work is never going to give them the pathway they need for their Expression. Although this is scary to hear, it is a moment to be celebrated. Truth always leads to opportunity. In this case, opportunities to find work that will meet your needs. Now, I’m not pretending it’s easy or that finding the right work happens in an instant. Transitioning jobs can be stressful. But what better thing to have on your “to do list” than making your relationship with work serve and satisfy you? This is your moment of personal liberation.
Brian had such a moment. However, before he felt like celebrating, he felt scared and vulnerable. All from the realization that here was no change to express his gifts in his current role. Brian was working as a recruiter. Through our work together, he came to discover that which he truly wanted to express, his love for analytics. He loved telling a story through numbers.
What scared Brian was the fact that in order to have the role he wanted, he would have to step way outside his comfort zone. He need to network, do informational interviews, social networking and apply for all the appropriate roles he could find. When the fear got the best of him, he would call me. I reminded him of what he could not see while in the fear. His truth. The lifestyle he desired. In 4 months, Brian landed his new job in analytics. He told me that he was so thankful that he kept pushing himself beyond the fear – so he could have all that he wanted.
- List one to five gifts and talents that you would like to express. (You can repeat gifts and talents you noted in the previous homework section.)
- Do I have the level of Expression I want and/or need in my current work situation?
- Is it possible to incorporate greater expression in my current work situation?
o YES o NO
- If you answered yes, list five ways you can incorporate greater Expression into your current work situation.
- If you answered no, list five new avenues to explore for greater Expression.