People go to work to sustain themselves and produce value in the world. Yet work environments can also be stressful, filled with challenging responsibilities and personalities, and feel misaligned with our most deeply cherished values. Instead of sustaining us, the workplace can sometimes feel simply draining, and at worst, unwholesome for both ourselves and the world.Is the modern workplace a potentially corrosive but necessary environment, or is there a path for heart and spirit come alive through inner transformation at work?Below are five principles distilled from a small group break-out session at a recent ServiceSpace retreat (special thanks to Viral for anchoring the circle and for his inputs!) for achieving more happiness at work while keeping inner transformation at the core.1. Perfection is a ParadoxWe’re often looking for the perfect environment in which to plant ourselves, but our lack of clarity around perfection creates much misery. Perfection turns out to be a paradox: everything is already perfect… and it could still use some improvement. The reconciliation comes from recognizing that the workplace is a vehicle for our own delivery, rather than us serving the delivery of the vehicle. If the external environment seems less than ideal, it may be reflective of some internal work that needs to happen, ranging from as mild as dropping a focus on the negative, to as drastic as building the confidence and clarity to step up or move on. In short, the environment is doing exactly what it needs to do for you at this moment on the arc of your journey, and you must put in the effort needed to figure out how to respond.2. Protect Your ValuesWith commutes, smart phones, and deadlines, our professional lives often extend far beyond the traditional 40 hour work week. This squeezes time for family, exercise, relaxation, and other nourishing necessities. Given this onslaught, establishing boundaries that protect what you value most is paramount
. Do you need time away for retreats? Is leaving the office by a certain hour important? Deliver value to your employer, and then firmly communicate boundaries around what you hold as most sacred. Be prepared to make a sacrifice to protect your values, because you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Remember that sacrificing for your values will often make them clearer to you and others, while ripening your merits to generate new synergies and opportunities in other dimensions of life.3. Build High Quality RelationshipsHumans are social creatures and need to have cooperative and respectful relationships with others to thrive, yet the demands for productivity often squeeze the time available to build anything more than superficial relationships with co-workers. Sometimes co-workers also seem disinterested in deeper interactions, or we ourselves can feel like maintaining our distance. Holding to this status quo can leave the office feeling like a soulless machine that slowly saps everyone inside it, so it’s important to try and gently change course.The foundational principles for building high quality connections are to be true to who you really are, refrain from judging others, and to speak with an intention to respectfully connect and deepen. Studies show that even a five minute positive conversation with a co-worker boosts productivity and engagement, while having a friend in the office raises job satisfaction significantly. Creating the space for a context around shared values and co-creation (like Wednesday meditation, or Forest Calls in the ServiceSpace ecosystem) help establish balance that can see you through shaky times.4. Connect to Transcendent Purpose and Cultivate MasteryA recent TED talk by Dan Ariely highlighted research showing that the three factors that most significantly deepened satisfaction with work are autonomy, mastery, and sense of transcendent purpose. While autonomy is not always in our control, connecting to purpose and achieving mastery are often catalyzed by our choice of perspective. This truth is most illustrated by the parable of three men chipping rock in a quarry. The first man was asked what he was doing, and he replied that he was chipping rock. The second man was asked the same question, and he responded that he was providing for his family. The final man, doing identical work, was asked the same question, and he said that he was building a cathedral. If you’re just chipping rock, you make yourself a common laborer, and while providing for your family may give you a personal purpose, finding the cathedral in your work can generate the inspiration and motivation that ripens into mastery while fulfilling the need for a transcendent purpose.5. Cultivate Awareness and EquanimityIt takes humility to acknowledge our many blindspots with regard to the true state of our co-workers, company, customers, and even ourselves. Knowing the correct response to the challenges we’re faced with can be virtually impossible with all of these unknowns. Other times we lack the fortitude or balance to do what we know is best despite clearly seeing the path. When uncertainty and imbalance become our reality, the master virtues that catalyze progress are awareness and equanimity. Practicing stillness to allow our dust to settle helps the right action arises effortlessly, and understanding the fleeting nature of every trying circumstance is absolutely foundational to maintaining morale when turning challenges into successes.Ultimately, the most transformative practice is to be watchful of the thoughts and intentions in every moment, and mindful of whether they contain seeds of truth, goodness, and beauty. If we plant those seeds correctly, we’re already nurturing an inner transition away from anger, fear, and laziness, and a harvest of inner transformation and happiness is bound to eventually come our way.