Suffering and Vitality at Work

To what degree can you include your suffering in your work?

If you can’t include it you are likely far less impactful than you could be.

In Buddhism, there is a deep understanding that suffering exists, period. There is no way around suffering there is only more skillful means of how to be with suffering and to serve others who suffer. Suffering has to do with the fact of being human and all that that brings.

In our work lives there is also suffering. And there is suffering in other areas of our lives that influences our work. When we fixate on overly positivistic paradigms of work and professional life we cut ourselves off, not only from our legitimate and inevitable suffering, but from the wealth of vitality and power that when appropriately shared and harnessed can have an immense impact on our work and those we work with.

One of the truths of suffering is that it’s not possible to maintain images and overly perfected or controlled projections of culture. Dissociation in any form naturally leads to suffering. I believe this is one of the biggest issues we have to deal with in our present day work culture which emphasizes personal brands, abstract concepts of impact, and hyper-individuality as a result of the expansive creative freedom technology has brought us.

Several months ago one of my best friends died. He held a significant place in my personal, communal and work life and I had to begin facing, metabolizing and integrating the loss of his presence in my life. Facing his death naturally lead me to listen on a deeper level to the fact of my own inevitable death and what this meant for living now and all that I am invested in. This loss also pushed me to include the perspective of death more in my day to day life and moment to moment interactions, especially at work.

When you are grieving professional contexts can feel like they are the last place you want to be with your grief and they often lack capacity to know what to do with someone’s grief. Grief is for the forest, the counselor’s office, or for the confines of your privacy at home.

At some point this year during my own grieving I began, when it felt appropriate, to talk more about my own grief. I included it in conversations, in presentations, and in my coaching work. What this did was actually energize aspects of my work more and it gave permission to colleagues to embody more emotional freedom as well. The grief itself became a creative engine that could impact relevant contexts and conversations when I simply refused to suffer alone and come out of the dark.

When we forget or deny that suffering exists we decide usually unconsciously and with a lot of collective support to not include quite alive aspects of our existence. Suffering is alive, very alive, and it’s usually what deepens us into our human path and purpose. So we go on pretending we are on the path especially in work contexts when we’re not even close.

Whether you are a coach, facilitator, or leader please don’t forget to include reality in your conversations, your cultures, and your missions. People are suffering around you and there are ways to include and harness this fact. Have check-ins at meetings, include your own vulnerability when timely and appropriate, and check-in with people that seem to have checked out. Invite the creative power of suffering to create change, to create more safety, to burn through unconscious individual and cultural habits, and to create new norms and possibilities.

Work is not always nice. It is not always glowing. But it is certainly purposeful. And purpose can only really be found having, sharing and creating from the aliveness of our human experience.