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What is Good Work Guidance?

Learning About Good WorkGood Work gives you a feeling of genuine contribution and satisfaction. At the same time, it is work that allows you to recognize and develop your capacity to nurture others, to be receptive, and to sense the interrelatedness of life and your place in it.

Claude Whitmyer


"No Work, No Eat."     Pai Chang, 760 A.D.


What Is Good Work?
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With Good Work you break free from dependency on others for feelings of self-esteem while simultaneously experiencing more supportive friendships. In Good Work what you do is determined first by your innate interests and capacities, and second by the need to make money. Making money is still important, but you look for work that lets you do what you love and still pays the bills.

What Are the Challenges of Good Work?
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Good Work requires diligent, continuous effort. There are many changes you may have to make and many old ways of thinking and acting you may have to abandon. For example, you may have to give up:

Having people look up to you. People may think you're foolish for trying to change your life, especially if you already have what they consider a "good job."

Being the expert. Finding Good Work requires you to recognize that, although you may know a lot about a little or a little about a lot, you don't know everything about anything. If you give up being an expert you will almost automatically experience an opening up to possibility.

Agreement. Others may disagree with what you value or believe. This doesn't mean that either you or they are wrong. It only shows that the world is made up of many different viewpoints.

Being comfortable. Doing what needs to be done to find Good Work may not be comfortable. It may sometimes require you to do things you've never done before and put yourself in circumstances that may not be your favorite.

Being the "effect" of "causes." It's very difficult to make progress on the path to meaningful work if you believe you are helpless in the face of outside influences. You need not be either the center of the universe or a victim of powers beyond your control. To have meaningful work only requires that you be willing to participate actively and creatively in your own life.

Having it "all together." You may make mistakes. You may struggle with managing time and getting organized. Your life may be filled with chaos and confusion from moment to moment. In fact, when you take a clear look at reality you may well discover that you are seldom in absolute control. But you don't have to have absolute control to make progress. It's rather like surfing or skiing. You can throw yourself along the curl of the wave or down the slope and you can influence your speed and direction, but the wave or the mountain have a lo t to say about how you end up. Still, with perseverance and skill you can create a rich, rewarding experience.

Being in control. You can never completely control the forces of life surrounding you. The superior strategy is to expand your portfolio of skills, develop flexibility, and learn to dance with the opportunities that arise.

Understanding. You don't have to know everything about what's going on for your life to work. However, if you balance reason with the intuitive guidance that continually arises from within, you're sure to make progress toward your goals.

Judging. Slow and fast, forward and back, black and white, good and evil are all conceptual barriers to finding out who you are and how the world works. Tolerance and an appreciation of diversity will help you survive. Learning to see the world directly, rather than through a cloud of judgmental concepts, will make your life richer and fuller.

What Are the Steps to Meaningful Work?
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  1. Recognize that life is about learning what life is about. There are no mistakes, failures, or errors. There is only creativity, learning, and caring.
  2. Give yourself permission to be who you are in the moment, rather than some image of who you are "supposed" to be.
  3. Realize that you are not your mind, your body, or your emotions. You have little control over the thoughts, sensations and feelings that arise within you. But you can control your behavior. You do not have to believe your sensations, feelings, or thoughts when they do not support you. You can question your assumptions and change your behavior. When you behave the way you want to be, your thoughts, sensations, and feelings will change to support that behavior.
  4. Look within for your own answers. But give the "Wisdom of the Ages" due respect. As the Buddha said, "Work out your own salvation with diligence."
  5. Focus on solutions, not problems. We often find ourselves wrapped up in the "woe is me!—life is hard" syndrome. But every problem has a solution and we'll get a better return on the investment of our energy if we put it into finding the solutions to the problems we face.
  6. Acknowledge and nurture yourself. Learn to feel good about who you are and how you spend your time. If you don't feel good about that now, investigate why not. Are you simply repeating old family patterns? Are you doing things you know aren't good for you and feeling bad about it? Bring your habits and assumptions into the light and make some choices about what to change and what to hang on to.
  7. Choose first, then decide. A choice happens spontaneously—in the moment. It comes from an intuitive knowledge of what is right for you under the circumstances. Decisions involve reasoning and figuring out what to do—how to proceed. Make reason a servant of intuition and you will create a balance that leads to a richer, fuller life.
  8. Practice mindfulness.

What you must do is simple:

  • Begin with mindfulness.
  • Proceed with mindfulness.
  • End with mindfulness.

Mindfulness means present moment appreciation of our inner states and the world around us. It also means:

  • Creating new categories
  • Welcoming new information
  • Tolerating more than one view

And it means:

  • Letting go of the demand for categories
  • Disassociating from the craving for information
  • Detaching from the need for a point of view
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...mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment's thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives, based on our inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness, and insight.

Jon Kabat-Zin

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How Is the Path to Meaningful Work
Different from Just Finding a Job?
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First of all, there is a difference in strategy. When your goal is just to get a job, you might start by taking a test, such as the Strong Vocational Interest Blank, the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory, the Keirsey Temperment Sorter or any of a number of others that to measure your skill level or personality strengths. With or without the help of a career or job placement counselor, you then try to identify the types of jobs that will utilize your strengths and skills. The theory is that if you do something you're good at, you will be happy.

You might use the strategy of seeking work that is identical to work you've had before. You might change companies or industries but continue to do the same job. Alternatively, you might try to make some changes in your current job or look for a different one. If you are really desperate, you might take any job at all as long as it brings in some money.

If your goal is meaningful work, however, your strategy is quite different. You start by clarifying your values. By illuminating what you really believe in, what your vision of life is, and what your personal purpose is, you make it possible to clarify your goals. Clear vision and purpose lead to clear goals—goals you can feel passionate about rather than goals that society or others think should be yours.

[sidebar border] Ground Rules for Mindfulness in the Quest for Meaningful Work
  • Show up. Choose to be present. Being present allows us to access the human resources of power, participation, and communication.
  • Pay Attention. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning. Paying attention opens us to the human resources of love, gratitude, acknowledgment, and validation.
  • Tell the truth. Tell the truth without blame or judgment. Nonjudgmental truthfulness maintains our authenticity and develops our inner vision and intuition.
  • Be open to the outcomes. Be open, not attached, to the outcome. Openness and nonattachment help us recover the human resources of wisdom and objectivity.
From Angeles Arrien. The Fourfold Way. Harper Collins, 1993.
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Whether you've been tested or not, the path to meaningful work requires that the work you do be aligned with your vision and purpose. Generally that means you'll take work that you have a keen interest in?work that is "right" for you.

Another difference between just finding a job and seeking meaningful work is that you start from the beginning with a careful consideration of your finances. It is important to be intimate with your financial condition. When you know where you stand, you're better prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to you.

  • What is the value of what you own?
  • What do you owe?
  • Calculate the difference.

The difference is your net worth.

  • How much does it cost you to live each month?
  • Divide your net worth by your monthly budget.

The result is a rough estimate of what we can call "financial security." Given this sense of your financial condition:

  • How many months could you live without working?
  • How does that feel?
  • Is it enough?
  • Or do you need to include additional savings in your overall plan to find meaningful work?

It's not that you choose this strategy over all others, but that now you know in a measurable sense what your level of financial security is . . . .AND now you have a clear picture of what you have to generate to pay the bills.

Sometimes it's necessary to "finance" your move from one kind of work to another. It is difficult to feel safe about a change if you have no idea whether you can afford to stop working long enough to make the move. So, find out.

In calculating your monthly budget, avoid putting yourself in a state of deprivation. Many people are tempted to put themselves on a very low budget by cutting out everything that isn't absolutely necessary. They make these cuts in a moment of enthusiasm about the future. Then when the demands of day-to-day living cause their enthusiasm to wane, they begin to feel deprived. They become resentful and find themselves with an uncontrollable urge to splurge in order to feel better. They feel better for a moment after the splurge, but later they feel contrite and guilty and return to an even more severe budget in the hope of making up for their mistake. This is akin to the "binge/purge" cycle that many people experience around dieting.

It is better to calculate the level of austerity you think you can tolerate, then give yourself a small amount more than that. For example, if you've been taking your clothes to the laundry, don't cut the laundry out entirely. Just cut it by half or two thirds. The same goes for life's little luxuries, such as massages or special deserts, the things that you think you should do without. You cannot embrace an attitude of abundance if you always feel deprived.

This is especially true for time off. When we are trying to conserve money, one of the first things to go is our vacation. That's a big mistake. When you eliminate a vacation you eliminate an important source of rejuvenation. Without adequate rejuvenation, it is difficult to weather hard times or accomplish demanding tasks. It is very important to take time off, so look for less expensive vacations. Take shorter chunks of time off close to home, or find friends to visit who would be glad to have you drop by for a few days. Whatever you do, don't eliminate time off altogether.

Why is Simple Living Important?
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Another way that meaningful work differs from just any job is the reliance on simple living. Simple living is the purposeful strategy of reducing the consumer lifestyle and lowering your basic expenses as much as possible. Reduced expenses and consumption lead to a life with fewer distractions and responsibilities. This give you more time—and more flexibility about how you spend that time. In addition, you can finance changes in your work more easily if your lifestyle is inexpensive. On top of that, simple living is very "green," an important consideration in today's world of skyrocketing energy costs and pollution driven global warming.

A simpler life brings with it less care taking of so-called "labor-saving" devices and other property. And, it often means an enhanced aesthetic experience because of the simplifications you make to your living and work spaces. After all, a room full of precious objects is a junk shop. Good Work practitioners make purposeful choices about what level of lifestyle they really want to pay for. They turn their backs on the "consumer lifestyle" to embrace a lifestyle of that is values and purpose driven.

What is Present Moment Awareness?
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The present moment is when and where you are when you practice mindfulness. You can only make your best choices about Good Work in the present moment. Take a look at your thoughts right now. How many things are competing for your attention right now? You are reading these words and perhaps you are trying to understand what possible relevance my ramblings could have to your life. You might hear the sounds of people going about their business, the noise of traffic, a dog barking in the distance, a clock ticking nearby. What do you hear? Every few moments you might be thinking about what you must do later in the day or tomorrow—what you will have for dinner, what you will say to a friend when you call her tomorrow? And so forth. What are you thinking? What else are you attending to right now?

Please take a minute to bring your attention to this very moment. Notice your body where it is in contact with furniture or the ground. Feel your breath as it moves in and out of your lungs. Spend a moment taking in the whole space that surrounds you, without judging or naming anything.

Now, watch as your concerns rise up. What really needs to be done? What can wait? Which concerns arise from the pursuit of your vision and purpose? Which are actually the concerns of others that you have somehow become attached to?

As you get swept up in your observations and the rising of your concerns, notice what is going on. Notice how you lose your awareness of the present moment. Bring yourself back to the present moment by beginning this exercise again. Focus on your breathing first, then extend your attention again to notice where you are and what is going on. Look again at your concerns as they arise. Repeat this exercise whenever you wish to clarify what is important to you.

People who have meaningful work continually return to the present moment. That's where they intend to live. This awareness is the foundation of your search for greater meaning in work.

Why is Trust Important?
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Meaningful Work is impossible without a community of support, and trust is the key to building and maintaining that support. You trust yourself when you believe in your ability to judge what will be good for you. You demonstrate trust for others when you believe in their judgment and integrity. Others learn to trust you when you show that you are open to their input, willing to listen, and concerned about the impact of your decisions on them.

When you, and those with whom you live and work, trust one another, you create an atmosphere of openness and honesty. You learn to depend on one another without fear of "paying." You build a strong team spirit that permeates all your work and play together.

How can you begin to build trust or improve the level of trust in your existing situation? Beyond honesty and openness, beyond the willingness to listen, and beyond a concern for the future welfare of those around you, you must clarify your own goals and communicate your goals to your friends and supporters.

The single most important factor in building and maintaining trust is consistency. Trust is difficult to build and extremely easy to lose. If you want people to trust you, never leave your personal supporters out of the loop. If you make a decision that you expect others to carry out or to help you with, and you fail to give them the opportunity for input, expect the worst.

The greatest enemy of trust is a failure to keep your commitments. When you make a promise to yourself and fail to keep it, you undermine self trust. When you make promises to others and don't keep them, you undermine their trust in you. When others make promises to you and don't keep them, you stop trusting them. A simple rule to remember is this: "Life works best when we all keep our promises."

Next time you make a promise to yourself, write it down. Then look at the promise in detail until you see its smallest parts. Every time it occurs to you to do what you have promised, make it a habit to at least do some small part of it. Even though you may not feel like it--even if you are tempted to just sit there--do something.

Let's look at how this works. If you make a promise to yourself to start exercising every day, write your promise down. With only a few moments of thought, it is easy to see that exercise is made up of a lot of small movements: movements of your head, arms, legs, and so forth. From the moment you write your promise down, you are committed.

To keep your commitment, follow this simple procedure. Every time you think of exercising, get up and move. Even if all you do is turn your head from side to side, or raise your arms, you will begin to associate movement with the thought of exercising. If you don't get up and move, you will begin to associate exercise with lethargy. Which do you think will work to get you into a regular exercise program? Starting with even the simplest movements, you can gradually build, one movement at a time, a complete exercise program.

The same thing is true when you make a promise to others. Even if you can't complete the whole promise at the moment you think about it, try to do some tiny part of it, or at least make an appointment with yourself to do it. After all, setting aside time is one of the small parts of keeping any commitment.

Is Meaningful Work Really Possible?
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Given the complexities of the modern world, it's no wonder that many people ask this question. At the very least, we hope that our work will provide us with some sense of control over our time, some sense of the long-term consequences of what we do, and immunity from punishment if we speak up about the negative consequences of what we are asked to do. Most work today fails to live up to at least one of these criteria. We can take some comfort in knowing that if we take responsibility for the consequences of our work, then meaning begins to emerge from our efforts to make things right.

As we go about protecting and cleaning up the environment; making food, shelter, and basic healthcare available to everyone; working toward peace between nations and tribes; and whatever else seems to need doing, we can practice mindfulness, and work on clarifying our personal values.

That's how meaningful work differs from just finding a job. You clarify your personal vision of life and your personal purpose. Then you pursue the goals that are implied by that vision and purpose. This may require you to compromise in order to pay the bills, but you can still begin practicing mindfulness. This alone will help you develop the other traits required to make meaningful work possible.

How Hard Is It To Find Good Work?
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The process of finding greater meaning in your work is both simple and difficult. It is simple because what you must do is quite clear, and difficult because it requires faith, perseverance, and most important, diligent, regular effort.

Sometimes it may feel to you as if there isn't a single job left on the planet that really means anything. And yet, the work of those who are sincere in their efforts to do right must somehow qualify, even if the influence of modern commerce causes some part of what they do to be harmful to others.

It is difficult for me to condemn the organic gardening store that carries the greensand I use to rebuild the worn- out San Francisco soil in my back yard. True, a diesel powered truck hauls that greensand from Tennessee, spewing carbon monoxide and other pollutants all the way. As a consumer of the greensand, I am equally responsible. I might instead choose to purchase soil amendments that come from nearby or, better yet, start my own compost pile.

When I was growing up, no one even hinted that I was going to have to look at every detail of my life with a magnifying glass. But that may well be what is required if I am to stay true to my values and maintain my Good Work.

This is why practicing mindfulness and simple living is so important. By living simply I create an immediate reduction in the impact I have on the environment. The more simply I live the fewer choices I have to make about what will and won't hurt the environment and others. So simple living helps me avoid being swallowed up in the complexity of issues about what does and does not qualify as Good Work.

My mindfulness practice helps me with the remaining choices by encouraging an ongoing awareness of my personal purpose. Choosing what to do next, with my personal purpose in mind, is much less effortful. There is no easy way to identify what is Good Work and what isn't, but, for me, the guiding light has been this simple maxim: If you're not working on yourself, you're not working.

How Can I Begin to Find Meaningful Work?
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For residents and visitors in the San Francisco Bay Area, I offer ongoing guidance in learning and refining this process through one-to-one consulting sessions. If you live outside the Bay Area, telephone meetings are possible after an initial face-to-face session.

How Long Does Good Work Guidance™ Take?
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Each person is in a unique place in their lives and will use the Good Work Guidance exercises in a way that works best for them. Therefore, is is difficult to estimate how long it will take. Students have taken anywhere from several months to three years to make significant changes in their work lives.

After you have completed at least the first three courses of the Path to Meaningful Work home study course, you may be ready for some private, one-to-one guidance. These sessions offer you four kinds of support: 1) a deepening of your learning; 2) help with overcoming obstacles; 3) resources, such as referrals and reading ideas; and 4) emotional support and coaching.

These sessions cost $100 an hour and usually last 90 minutes. Please provide 48 hours' notice of cancellation to avoid a charge.

How Do I Arrange for Good Work Guidance?
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For more information, write to us on paper or by email. To schedule an appointment, please call.

meaningfulWork.Com
601 Van Ness Avenue, Suite E433
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-648-2667 Vox
415-520-5416 Fax
claude[at]meaningfulwork[dot]com

For more on this topic, read Mindfulness and Meaningful Work: Explorations in Right Livelihood (Parallax Press, 1994).

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Quick jump to:
What is Good Work?
What Are the Challenges of Good Work?
What Are the Steps to Finding Good Work?
How Is Good Work Different from Just Finding a Job?
Why is Simple Living Important?
What is Present Moment Awareness?
Why is Trust Important?
Is Good Work Really Possible?
How Hard Is It To Find Good Work?
How Can I Begin Finding My Own Good Work?
How Long Does Good Work Guidance Take?
How Do I Get Started?

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