Friday, July 8, 2011

Finding Meaning In One's Vocation

Hello there,

Wow, it has been a while since my last blog, almost one year. Crazy! How is that possible? Well, a lot changed....again. I no longer distribute compostable food service containers to the local food service industry. All noble intentions aside, I never really got it to the point  where I could make a living of it. So much for my attempt to regain a new sense of (my)self during the economic crash that started in 2008 and all the while trying to save the world from styrofoam and plastic pollution. Well, it’s not that I was actively seeking to re-invent myself. It’s just that I wasn’t really sure who I was after I got laid off  from “my corporate and social identity”. Let’s call it a corporate or career dis-identification process. In retrospect, I entered a new cycle of experience, one that gave me a new sense of awareness, not only in the context of my personal vulnerability on the “market place”. But also it led to a cycle of acceptance, surrender and submission to my ego as I will explain in the second half of today’s blog. Basically, today’s writing is an attempt to make sense of the happenings of the last 3 years. So as usually, my blog takes a bit time to read and process, so grab that cup of coffee, make yourself comfortable and let’s go for a ride:

It all began in 2008, as I was going through a company mass lay-off while in the midst of building our first home. I got hit the second time in 2009. Seems like we are rather disposable as employees. To top it off my hubby left his employer at the beginning of 2010, to give birth to his authentic self, or in other words, pursue his dreams. 

So, given the circumstances I had to come up with an action plan, as I really didn’t know how long it would take to get another job. To be honest though, I really didn’t want just another job that would totally disregard a work-life with meaning, energizing my spirit. You know, I’m talking about something I could do with full authenticity, passion, excitement, well, bottom line...purpose. A culture of purpose can impact profitability, but for some reason our corporations, our employers, just don’t seem to get that. People work different when working for a purpose, they bring passion to the table, they care what they do, they work more deeply, thoroughly, effectively, with authentic energy. I have been struggling to find this authenticity within the system that in practical terms will also pay my bills. How then do you execute that transition, or at least contribute to a new structure, a new culture of meaning  and purpose while facing the grim necessities of economic survival? Will we ever evolve into creating a structure that supports our material existence yet also provides fulfillment on the inside? Or are we damned to work in a dull, mindless, robotic, mundane fashion ‘til the day we die?

As Malcom McLaren points out in his TED Talk it seems that we “creative” people are struggling with how to authenticate an inauthentic culture. Yeah, no sh#%$! I like that to authenticate an inauthentic culture..... He talked about his declaration of war against in-authenticity. He pointed out that the struggle to find something authentic is actually part of our individual, personal least for those of us who choose to embrace that challenge. It’s not that I am even seeking that challenge. It seems that this question for greater meaning and fulfillment at work, or general in life, is consistently crossing my mind, involuntarily, regardless if I like it or not, it’s just there...all the time!

Maybe because I have not found a work environment yet that values the GNH versus the GDP. GNH meaning Gross National Happiness work. McLaren compared it to having a choice between a life of authenticity, or one of a reality that is free of the responsibility to contribute to one’s own evolution and growth. McLaren talked about that the best eduction being experience itself. And that to fully live your life you want to aim for becoming a magnificent, flamboyant failure versus settling for ordinary success. Failure at least shows you are trying to aim for something more then the ordinary. To fully experience life authentically and autonomously you gotta become fearless and go beyond today’s definition of success. To find your own authenticity you ought to go out there and embrace the unknown without having a clear map. That’s taking responsibility and aiming for what you can become, versus adhering to the reasonable voices of a conditioned culture. Okay, I hear you Malcolm, I can relate to most of what you say.  But somehow I feel I need a bit more of a context here. Who or what is behind that motivation to go beyond?

Well, either way, the past 3 years did feel like an adventure with no clear map. There was no financial security. Each one of us who experienced layoff’s and didn’t get back into another job right away had to become comfortable with not knowing what tomorrow would be like. Will I be able to pay the rent, or the mortgage? Will I be able to pay my bills? Will I be able to bring home food? Everyone has a different story, but what remains the same is how humbling this experience has been. I had to learn to think more short term, and not to worry so much what the future will bring. Feelings of financial, personal, or emotional security became all a tail of the past, or maybe they were illusions all along? Out of all of this I became way more present and my husband, and his love, present to myself, well present to life itself, and what the two of us as a team were capable of doing. Loss and attachment seem to be the price of abundance (James Hollis, PH. D., Finding Meaning In The Second Half Of Your Life - How To Finally Grow Up). It made me realize that every day is a gift, a a world of fleetingness... regardless the circumstances. As a result, I find myself living every day with a much deeper sense of appreciation, and grace, one I didn’t have before. 

Also, it’s as if the time off from the system gave me an opportunity to take a step back. It allowed me to become an observer watching from the outside in. But who or what was watching? I no longer was part of playing the expected corporate and social games, at least for a while. Inch by inch I moved a bit closer towards my own unique, independent, autonomous voice and power. It was as if something got set free. What part of me was it that felt freer, and happier?  I also got healthier, I got to take care of my self and attended health issues I have not had time to nurture before. I got more sleep, I ate smarter, I exercised more, was overall way less stressed, and found myself in better shape then I was in my Twenties!  

However, the fact was I was unemployed, and I really didn’t know what the future would bring. I took my share of responsibility of what was, and set out foot to craft a new reality for my self. I took another shot at becoming an entrepreneur. This time however, I was serious about becoming a catalyst for generating a structure that would somehow contribute to a new environmental consciousness or nurture social responsibility, with the hopes that this would take my life into a new direction that would actually make an impact. That’s how Afford Eco came about.

Yet, as I was working on growing Afford Eco, my passion and energy seemed to take a dive as I was facing financial and economic survival challenges, and therefore old doubts re-surfaced. My newly found serenity was overhauled by economic necessities. I realized, it would take a long time before I would become financially stable. Here it was again, financial survival was jeopardizing my vision, my idealism. Vision of what? Whose ideals were crushed? Regardless, I saw no other solution, but was forced to find another 8-5 job. Yikes, really? It seemed that I just went through full circle, forced to repeat the same vicious cycle again, but this time it was much harder to re-enter the work force for as now I have tasted the freedom, happiness and health working from the comforts of my home.

1 ½ years into it,  and approximately 500 job applications later I found myself back in the corporate world as a design, branding and communications professional. It happened all overnight. I was re-employed as fast as I got laid off. Like I said, overnight. And honestly, it had absolutely nothing to do with any of my networking efforts, referrals or friends. It was pure luck. It was one out of many emails I received on a weekly basis from my creative employment agency. I responded, with the usual expectation that it will not lead to anything, just like all the other 499 jobs I applied for over the past year. To my surprise, they thought I was a match, and therefore submitted my resume. I got called for an interview. After 10 minutes of 6 eyeballs starring at me, I was asked if I could start the very same afternoon. Here I was after 3 years of going through two lay-offs’s, recruiting my own clients, building a house with my husband, establishing an environmentally conscious business, well, somewhat, and attending weekly green business networking events, joining the local chamber of commerce, actively hosting and organizing events that promoted a sense of community, nurtured social responsibility and environmental consciousness, training for and competing in International Latin Ballroom dancing, and all the while trying to search my soul so as what to make out of all of these changes and challenges of the last 3 years! 

So, McLaren would probably shake my hand as I have failed, magnificently, flamboyantly failed....after all I went for it, I gave it my all, once again (I’ll spare you my prior entrepreneurial adventures). So shouldn’t I be congratulating myself? How then do you explain those feelings of a potential midlife depression I currently seem to be experiencing? I feel tired, lazy, bored, headaches, and constantly longing for something else in the arena of my work life. I feel like my idealism got greatly crushed. 

Then, I came across a book by psychologist James Hollis, PH. D., Finding Meaning In The Second Half Of Your Life - How To Finally Grow Up. Hollis says that these feelings are part of the process of one’s individual evolution, one’s growth. He suggest that the development of one’s personality goes hand in hand with the suffering experienced for passively complying to familial, societal and cultural values. In his book, he talks about a sense of restlessness and depression after the achievement, or the failure to achieve, one’s ambitions, driving powers, or in short, facing the all of those are in the service of building one’s ego. In fact, according to Hollis, the main task of the first half of life is to actually build ego-strength so as to engage in relationships, social roles and expectations, and to support oneself economically, basically to face the world. But then, at some point we over-identify with those very same ego roles that provided the initial success and survival (well, in the ordinary sense from an ego’s perspective). What initially served us in the first half of life will betray us in the second half of life, as to be witnessed in the depressed business man, abandoned spouse, or frustrated homemaker, he says. So in other words the very same strongsuits that made us successful in the first place seem to be responsible for the misery experienced in the second half of our lives. Hollis says that the ambitions, and goals of the first half of life were fueled and energized by our past conditioned images and complexes, as he calls it. Complexes meaning the choices we made in reaction to early observations, conditioning, and or family or socioeconomic or cultural expectations...which are not related at all to one’s own personal destiny...or the fulfillment of one’s soul. Or expressed differently, all those choices, ambitions, etc were not ours. So, in order to make sense of one’s life, we need to factor in another element...the human soul. The source of origin, that other energy that just is... prior to being conditioning.

Over the last couple years I've become aware of something called the consciousness, awareness, soul, God, Buddha, etc, or whatever you want to call it, by reading books and watching documentaries. But somehow I was missing that larger context as what to make out of this thing called consciousness. Also, I guess you could say I've been living with the belief that the self consisted only of one energy. The ego, and that it needed to be tamed, controlled, perhaps destroyed and replaced with something else, after all it seemed to be the source of all my suffering. Now, that I was reading Hollis's book, I'm coming to the conclusion that I am consisting of at least two energies that are trying to get my attention simultaneously. That in turn then explains the struggles I feel from within, between the wants and demands of my ego, and the yearning of my soul. Going forward, I might conclude there are additional energies at play, but for now to coop with the current process of my journey, let's just keep it at two :-), the ego and the soul (or the heart and the head, or God and you, whatever terms work for you).

As I was coming to this new conclusions, I felt like all the missing pieces of the puzzle were suddenly falling into its place, providing a bigger picture of the human journey. I concluding that I’m going through some sort of transition known as “the mid-life crisis” in my career. Thinking that having kids could fill the void is just another foul play by the ego. Hollis was able to verbalize an aspect of myself and provide a perspective of what I have been feeling but didn’t really understand. I highly recommend his book. He says that those feelings of restlessness, doubt or depression are actually part of “growing up”, it’s a letting go of childhood complexes, it’s the process of “letting go” of what comforts, validates, reinforces, strengthen one thing, the ego. Or in other words, those feelings of suffrage are experienced by the ego which is now  being forced to , finally, grow up. In fact, he is saying that these feelings stem from the process of the ego dis-identifying with those goals, ambitions, as we are becoming aware that we are more than economic animals. He says, what we are experiencing as a sense of depression is simply another call to serve. It’s a call to serve in the service of our soul, to serve the individuation of our soul, the fulfillment of our own personal destiny (versus a life serving the values and expectations of mom, dad, society, tradition or our culture). It’s about becoming autonomous and authentic. It’s still a cry from within, however this cry is rooted in the depth of our soul asking us to wake up, to grow up, to let go, and become ourselves. This takes quiet a bit of awareness, and the ability to distinguish between the demands of the Ego, and what he categorizes as the calling of the soul.

Hollis says that during the second half of life, the Ego will be asked “to accept the absurdities of existence....” Yep, I agree, it feels as if I just went through a cycle of surrender and acceptance. Initially I was not sure what surrendered. Now I can see it may have been the ambitions, ideologies, aspirations, goals and dreams deriving from my Ego (after all who doesn’t want the 15 minute fame), versus the calls in the service of my soul that constitutes my “individuation”. Hollis says that ultimately our vocation (not conditioned carreerism) is to become ourselves....”becoming ourselves actually requires repeated submissions of the Ego”. However, he says, it takes quiet a bit of awareness to distinguish when we are serving the soul (individuation) versus the needs for ego reinforcements, as ego constantly seeks comfort, control, dominance, security, approval of others, etc. “It’s challenging to distinguish our rebellion against social norms believing this is individuation, when it is merely self-indulgence masking our difference. The seduction is so easily achieved because the ego wishes to serve itself and avoid service to the soul. What pulls us out of false rebellion or the easy torpor of the familiar is that the soul’s protest has grown painful to ignore”. “In the end, the meaning of our life will be judged not by our peers or their collective expectations, but by our experience of it...”. If we don’t make that distinction between ego and soul we will eventually betray ourselves, resulting in a life of misery, lack of fulfillment and meaning, well, depression. I don’t know if we can ever control our ego, as it seems to be as important and essential to our survival, at least the first half of life. Yet, Hollis says, we can reposition our ego in the second half of life, and use its strength in the service and fulfillment of our soul. The solution might just be found in the set up of an empowered relationship, between ego and soul, between masculine traits and feminine ones.

So maybe that’s what McLaren was talking about. The driving motivator behind a life that goes beyond ordinary success is the soul, or consciousness, or whatever you wanna’ call it. The observer that was watching from the outside in trying to make sense of the system, may after all have been my soul. Initially, I simply couldn’t distinguish if the motivation, vision, dreams and despair I experienced were part of the narcissistic demands of my ego, or arising from the land of my soul knocking at my door...asking to wake up. Now, the next question is how do you bring forth, how do you nurture, cultivate, fuel that energy called the soul in the second part of your life

So long......