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When work no longer feels like work

Some of you may already know this rather popular story.

A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?” The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a cathedral!”

This story demonstrates the importance of finding meaning and purpose in our work. It differentiates people who look at their work as a job, a career, or a calling.

I want to push this concept one step further.

If we are really serious about pursuing our work as a calling, we will become our calling. We become our calling when we let go of reaching a desired outcome (i.e. finishing the cathedral construction), and instead enjoy the flow of doing the work of our calling in every moment (i.e. love the act of laying down bricks, regardless of whether the cathedral is built or not built, admired or not admired).

Over 10 years ago, I realize I want to create happier places for people to work, which led me to build a career in workplace culture consulting, and more recently, coaching individuals to alleviate their workplace suffering one person at a time.

I believed that I have been pursuing my calling for the past 10 years, but it’s not until recently that I realize I had been lying to myself.

In my pursuit, I continued to evaluate my success and failure based on whether I achieved specific outcomes. I worried about outcomes such as whether my client appreciated my work, did my work create impact, how many people came to my workshop, how I did on my performance review, etc.

The pursuit was not purely based on a calling, the pursuit was based on achieving something that builds my ego.

I’m not saying measuring progress is a bad thing. Measuring progress is helpful to know what is or is not working.

However, what I am saying is – if I am my calling, outcomes will matter much less than doing the work itself. Success will be defined by the enjoyment I experience from doing the work, and not be defined by achieving an outcome, even if the outcome is to create a positive impact in the world.

With my ego stricken, I now experience a sense of release and freedom to enjoy my work. The need to be perfect, to look good, to be productive, to be appreciated, to be growing, and so on and so forth, can fall to the back of my awareness; while I bring the experience of doing my work to the foreground. The ability to be in flow is enhanced by being intentional about paying attention to how much I enjoy the process of doing my work.

Work no longer feels like work when we become our calling.

We are human beings, not human doings.

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