I started blogging shortly after giving birth to my daughter Ayla. I
decided on a mommy blog because, well, there was nothing else on my
mind post-partum. But last summer, the winds shifted in my life and
suddenly I felt the urge to expand my view of myself, from parent to
person, and mother to woman.
Yes, parenting is an endlessly fascinating aspect of being alive.
And true, there is no end to the challenges confronted by parents and
their children. But now when I look at the title of my first blog–Labor of
Love–I think about the work I need to do for and to myself, as an
individual, rather than solely in the context of raising a child.
There were a few telltale signs that I was ripe for change. First, I
ceased being interested in parenting books–this was a surprise since I
had been a bit of a Jean Leidloff-Barbara Coloroso-Penelope Leach junkie
since pregnancy. But last May, I went cold turkey. When I plucked a
book off the shelf for a late night read, the titles that stood out were
about women (Elizabeth Lesser’s Broken Open), death (A Memoir of Living & Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) and spirit (Michael Newton’s past life page-turner, Journey of Souls).
I read voraciously through the summer and fall. When I dragged myself
out of bed in the morning to be confronted with a parenting
crisis–groggy from my late night reading sessions–I trusted my intuition
to guide me to the right solution. And most of the time, my parenting
didn’t seem to suffer from the lack of constant research and discussion.
And if it did, I was willing to live with my own shortcomings.
Another sign was my sizeable thirst to be reunited with life again.
Of course children are about as alive as a human being can get, but most
grown adults are not satiated by a steady diet of child’s play. I felt
the urge to get out of the house more often–to dialogue, to teach, to
hear live music, to watch documentaries, and to attend conferences where
I could learn and grow. I found these excursions energizing and
entertaining. I began to wonder about my purpose in the world again. I
spent many nights thinking deeply about my gifts–outside of potty
training and family scheduling–and began to crave my work as a writer
and teacher again.
And then, during a recent Ladies night, we broached the topic of
adolescence. Not ours, but the prospect of our children growing up and
seeing us as we are, through teen-aged eyes. There is no parenting book
that can save you if you’ve dedicated 16 years of your life to your
children at the expense of yourself. If your kids want to know how to
be in the world, and you can only point to your own unrealized potential
as a human being, a parenting book won’t save you.
At some point in the future, our children will judge us not just by
how we parented but also by how we lived. They will learn how to make
the right choices only if we build strong relationships, do work that we
love, and are part of communities that reflect our beliefs. Our
parenting must shift from the blocking-and-tackling work of changing
diapers and preventing playground meltdowns to living fully, and sharing
the process of how we do so with our children.
And so, this winter, I decided that I needed to start “laboring with
love” for myself. If I engage in the hard work of learning to love
myself and nurture my gifts–and I let Ayla see and participate in my
life–I will be loving and parenting her, too. I won’t give up on hugs
and play and swim classes, but I want to strike the right balance
between focusing on her life and on mine. In my view, children thrive
when they are raised by parents who are whole people, and whose everyday
life reflects the richness of what it means to be alive.
Thomas Friedman wrote a provocative post in his NY Times column about the oil spill. In it, he quoted a friend who wrote:
“I’d like to join in on the blame game that has come to define our
national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of
Mexico. This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s
fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault
because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I
ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live
my life. If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the
1990s didn’t do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn’t do it;
if the current economic crisis didn’t do it; perhaps this oil spill will
be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my
Is it right for individual citizens to claim some blame for this catastrophe? Is the public pointing too many fingers and not taking enough responsibility?
One of my personal passions is neuroscience–more
specifically, translating some of the most important neuroscientific findings
into leadership and workplace insights. One recent finding, summarized in David Rock’s book, Your
Brain at Work, is that our conscious-thinking brain resources–located in the
prefrontal region–are less plentiful than we might think. From a brain perspective, we are at our
best for only a small part of each day.
As such, we need to use our brains wisely, and not waste processing
power on low-order activities like answering e-mail or surfing the Internet.
We’ve all had the experience of trying
desperately to come up with an idea without success and then zap!, a superb
idea arises 7 hours later, while we’re in the shower!
People who seem to have richer, more powerful
insights at work (and at home) don’t merely think harder than the rest of us.
Instead, they learn to switch off
their thinking on command. In his
book Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks suggests that major insights are gleaned by quieting
the mind, something akin to allowing your brain’s engine to idle. Idling, in turn, inspires various
parts of our brains to communicate and synthesize higher order responses or
“answers” to our problems.
So the next time your boss wants to know why
you stepped out of the office or were caught daydreaming, just point him or her
to this post, and give yourself permission to just drift away…
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Last week, after reading his latest book–Food Rules–I
realized that his simple, back-to-basics approach to food could also be applied
to work. I spent the better part
of this morning developing my own précis of work wisdom.
intuitively. Almost everyday. Rest deeply.
Let me explain why I chose these six words.
Work Intuitively. After I began working from home, I realized that I had been
working counter-intuitively–that is, against my own natural rhythms–for
decades. My former modus operandi at
work involved tackling my inbox first thing in the morning–instead of taking
some time out to conjure up new ideas, plan my day or read proposals while my
mind was relatively clear.
Within an hour of being in the office, my head would be spinning, and
I’d be frustrated with the deluge of tasks and meetings I’d have to get through
before going home. Now, whether
I’m working from the office, or my home-office, I try to organize my schedule
around my personal peaks and valleys–so that I’m maximizing my effectiveness,
and tailoring my day to my particular mood and energy level.
But working intuitively is about more than superb time- and
self-management. It’s about using
your gray matter to do your soul’s work.
It’s about taking your heart with you to the office everyday, and
knowing that it won’t ache for meaning and connection afterward. It’s about doing work that counts, that is, work that will nudge
the world even one millimeter closer to inclusion, sustainability and
interconnectedness. When you are doing work that you ought
to be doing, you intuit that all of it
matters, from the high-level strategy meetings down to the tiniest
administrative tasks. I believe
this philosophy of work is contained in two simple words: Work intuitively.
Almost everyday. I passionately believe that we should work nearly every day
because human beings thrive at work.
Work gives us purpose. It
brings us in contact with our natural gifts and talents. It connects us to others. It enables us to learn, and to grow. We think we want more leisure, but what we really need is to work hard, in many different areas of our lives.
On some days, I need to work at building knowledge, so I
read, interview interesting people or attend a workshop. On other days, I need to work at strengthening
my personal relationships and so I schedule plenty of time for meetings,
coaching and having honest conversations with colleagues and friends. There are days when I need to work on my small garden, or my
cluttered closets. I have days
when I need to work at being a better daughter, sister, mother or partner. Each day brings a broad range of
opportunities to work at becoming more fully yourself, and more tightly
connected to those around you. If
you work intuitively, almost everyday, I’m certain your life will add up to
Resting is hard. We think
that we’re well rested when we’ve gotten 7 or 8 hours of sleep. But rest, like work, is complex and
layered. True, our bodies need to
rest. But so do our minds [That’s
why taking a day off work doesn’t count if you’re checking your blackberry
every 3 minutes.]
And not only do we require mind and body rest, we need to
get rest in lots of different forms [not unlike the way our bodies craves
vitamins and gets them by eating fruits, vegetables, grains, fats and proteins.] Sometimes we rest deeply by simply staring out the window of
a car, train or plane for hours on end.
Deep rest might arrive after a long conversation or while sitting
silently in front of a setting sun.
Sometimes we need to rest alone, and sometimes rest arrives in the arms
of another. If we want to work
intuitively, almost everyday, we need to embrace the necessity of deep
Now that I’ve explained my 6-word synopsis on work, I’d like
to hear yours. What six, or seven,
or eight word combination best sums up your philosophy of work? Email it to me,
with a brief explanation of why you chose each word, and I’ll try to feature as
many as I can in future posts. You
can reach me at: email@example.com.