I’m learning that input sometimes comes through the blog, but just as often from outside of it.
One reader was confused about what bystanders, and making excuses for not acting in the ways that we should, has to do with bringing more meaning and purpose into our work. Since that’s the point of the last post Knowing What To Do , let me take another stab at it.
When your principles are vindicated through your work, both your work and your life are enriched. But this doesn’t just happen. It requires preparation.
Before you can take a stand on important things (and derive all of the personal benefits that will come to you from doing so) you need to know what your values are, and have some prior experience testing them out in real time. When you have prepared yourself beforehand, you have a far better chance of knowing what to do when the situation demands a principled response from you: when a woman has fallen in your path, when your children are being victimized, when a truly serious issue is presented in the course of your work.
On the other hand, when we don’t take the time beforehand to think about what we value the most, it can be nearly impossible to “think straight” when confronted with the emotional turmoil of a truly consequential situation. My example was child abuse, but there are similarly serious kinds of dishonesty and victimization that happen everyday in the workplace.
In addition, when we have not gained the kind of experience that comes from acting on our values in small ways, it can be nearly impossible to know “what to do” when confronted with a serious set of circumstances that demands a strong and unequivocal response from us. Taking a stand in a situation where less is at stake can always prepare you for the situation where the stakes are higher.
When we don’t have these kinds of preparation, we make excuses for not acting like we should (such as thinking it’s enough to protect just your own children when there is widespread abuse) and worrying about things that are beside the point (like Conlin’s wife’s feelings). In the last post, I was arguing that if the parents in the Conlin tragedy had been ready, they would not only have acted more effectively for the children involved, but also felt more empowered as human beings when they did what the circumstances required.
The same kind of clarity and empowerment are necessary in our work if we want to be truly happy doing it.
Dilemmas both big and small that challenge us to respond in a principled way present themselves at work all the time. When we understand beforehand what is important to us (like honesty, respect, helping others, valuing relationships), and test those commitments by acting on them regularly, we have a far better chance of knowing what to do when something truly serious arises in the workplace, when emotions are high, and maybe our job or the jobs of our colleagues are on the line.
When we know what to do, and our decisions about work are connected to our deeper motivations, we gain a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.