on December 4, 2012
I just finished reading Michael Carroll's book, Fearless at Work, on a Sunday night, so I really should have been more aware of how my Monday morning return to the office would go.
I enjoyed savoring Carroll's book. Fearless at Work is based on 37 mind-training slogans known as lojong. These are used to help train the mind and help you re-frame situations and gain clarity. While I have studied lojong before and knew a few by heart, I was overjoyed to have real life examples for each of these slogans. This made his teachings very easy to remember when I had to quickly recall how to bring more mindfulness into my office.
I had the opportunity to put this to the test first thing Monday morning. I had an email from an angry customer, stating that the newest reports were wrong and she had already scheduled a conference call (which included our directors) to discuss the situation. Normally, my stomach would clench up, I would grit my teeth and my mind would spin off into a million different scenarios of ways to defend myself. I knew I could prove that this report was exactly what had been asked for and it was this person's lack of input in previous meetings that caused this entire situation, and she was actually at fault.
Suddenly, my mind remembered Carroll's words in the book -"Discover the jewel of fearless abundance." While at first glance this saying may seem inappropriate to the situation, Carroll's words rang loudly in my mind: "The uncertainty that has been bewildering us is, in fact, the very freedom that we have been looking for. We have blinded ourselves with cowardice and overlooked the fact that we have no need for assurances and that our groundlessness is delightfully awake and free." It struck me that the mere urge to defend and justify would only cause more harm and not solve anything. This slogan talks about exploring our confusion and trepidation with confidence and curiosity. By jumping into the situation with no preplanning and trusting in our own basic goodness and wisdom, we become aware that all of the analyzing and worrying about possible outcomes never actually protect us from fearful situations. Once we trust in this confidence, we no longer struggle to keep our workday "stress free." This was a powerful reminder that my environment is full of moment-to-moment change; stress only comes if I fight against the way things already are.
So as soon as my meeting began, instead of describing all the ways that this person was wrong, I held the meeting in a mind of curiosity. I asked questions that might have seemed too simple but turned out to be crucial. "What about this report can you not use? What parts do and don't work for you?" and slowly, out came the true story. The person who set up the meeting had misread the report and actually only needed to make a few minor tweaks. By the end of the call, the directors were thanking me and remarked how helpful I had been.
Fearless at Work is filled with real life examples much like my own that help bring these ancient Buddhist teachings to life in a corporate environment. But more than that, Carroll celebrates our own inner wisdom which can be accessed at any time. He doesn't give formulas for more productivity or how to run a better project team. Instead, he says that we all actually want to feel confident, more than anything else, at work. Instead of a book outlining "10 Ways to Reduce Stress at the Office," he gives instructions on limitless ways we can become aware of our own resources. We can't control office politics or who gets what assignment. What we can take refuge in is the knowledge that we really can handle whatever comes our way. Change in life cannot be eliminated, but our natural fearlessness could be brought in to sit next to us at the office at every moment, guiding our reactions and interactions the entire day.
I wish this book could be used in every office, but what we all can do is pick up a copy and bring forth our own steadfast strength while doing the work in front of us.
(as reviewed for BuddhaChickLife.com)
Pick 100 people at random, and ask them if they are happy with their jobs. Probably few are. Most feel unfulfilled and underappreciated. Ask them if office conflicts leave them drained, and most will say yes. In fact, many people feel downright powerless at work. Yet, the typical white collar worker spends 50 or more hours in this condition.
Yet some will tell you they are happy. Even if their boss is a jerk. Some will tell you those conflicts didn't drain them, but helped them to understand.
The difference isn't because one workplace is better than the other, though that is often true and often a contributing factor. The difference is in how you handle it. An example of my own personal experience follows this review.
Why do people slave away for 50, 60, or 70 hours a week? There's a great example in this book, and I like the way Michael explained it. In a word, it's fear. When you allow someone to control you by fear, you do not gain that person's respect. People who are afraid to tell the boss, "I'm not going to slave away here 12 hours a day" because they might not get the boss's approval and thus not receive a (meaningless) promotion are fooling themselves. Because the boss sees how weak you are, you don't have the boss' respect anyhow.
As Michael explains, sometimes you have to "let it break." If things are so mismanaged where you work that somehow it's on your back to carry things, your sacrifice is actually meaningless. The solution is to fix the management problem, not sacrifice your mental and physical health. But almost everyone goes the sacrifice route out of fear of something presumably worse, such as failure. As Michael points out, letting a flawed system fail isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it's exactly what needs to happen.
In this book, Michael doesn't have all the answers. But neither does he pretend to. In this book, he draws on his extensive training in Buddhism and its philosophy, showing how to apply that inner peace and strength to situations in the workplace. He has used this same approach in his years as a successful executive coach.
He uses real examples to illustrate how applying certain principles can markedly change a situation for the better. He's organized these into 38 slogans. Each slogan represents a Buddhist principle for "enlivening fearlessness on the spot in everyday life." Fear, insecurity, and need for approval are among the main drivers of unhappiness in the workplace and elsewhere. Replacing these with fearlessness helps you avoid being sucked down into a morass of negativity and destructive behaviors.
Fearlessness has many benefits. For example:
Rather than feel stress, you can respond to unexpected problems with a peaceful sense of confidence that you and your team will overcome whatever it is.
Rather than react by blaming someone else, out of fear of being blamed, your fearlessness allows you to attack the problem instead.
If you're defensive out of fear you'll be looked down on for a mistake, you look petty and you look guilty anyway. With fearlessness, you own up to the mistake and others are genuinely motivated to helping you.
In this time of extreme economic stress, people are understandably anxious. But being anxious and fearful in the workplace is like trying to swim with a big rock tied around your waist. Michael provides insight that can lighten your load.
This book consists of 38 chapters in 235 pages, plus it has five appendices related to specific meditation practices.
My personal experience
Many years ago, I worked for a jerk of a boss who had toxic personality problems. He was dishonest, for one thing. I'd turn in brilliant work, and he'd put his name on it (but not mine) and pass it along to his boss. He was lauded several times in the company newsletter for work he'd stolen from me. When I confronted him about this, he said that was his privilege as the boss. It wasn't just me; he often left my coworkers fuming.
Then came my first performance appraisal. After a few minutes into this farce, I stood and walked to the door. He said, "Wait, where are you going?"
I calmly told him he had no power to motivate or demotivate me, I knew I did brilliant work, his opinion didn't matter to me, and I had better things to do than sit and listen to the lies he had written. As he sat there in stunned silence, I then told him something like, "I see how my coworkers leave these abuse sessions all upset and sometimes in tears. I'm not giving you that power over me. Only I can make me upset. And that is not going to happen"
First he told me I for sure would not get a raise, and there would be disciplinary action if I didn't sign the review. Now, it's important to point out that I was as calm as if we were discussing what we'd had for lunch. I had no fear of him, and that was crucial in this situation.
My reply was, "Why don't you just write that up and send it to your boss?" As a scowl crossed his face, I said in the most sincere and pleasant tone, "No, I mean it. I have no problem with that. I would do the same thing in your place." I needed to be assertive, not rude. My lack of fear allowed me to proceed that way.
Then I walked out. For the next several days, I maintained my happy demeanor because none of this fazed me. But my boss was hugely unhappy. I'd greet him, and he'd grunt something back at me.
What he didn't know was that, a few days before my appraisal, I had put together my own appraisal with supporting documents using the same form (which I snagged from HR). I had sent that to his boss and to his boss' boss, with a note asking them to read it in case they received conflicting information. Among the supporting documents were statements of praise I had assiduously collected from customers, vendors, heads of other departments, and people outside our company but inside our industry.
I also included a list of things I liked about my boss along with some suggestions of how he could do better. Among those suggestions was to stop putting his own name on work done by subordinates and taking all the credit. I cited specific examples of work he'd stolen that way. I ended on a positive note about how I enjoyed my work and tried to let this show in the quality of what I produced.
After a few days, he sent his hysterically inaccurate, vitriolic appraisal of me up the food chain. But it was too late for him to get the first shot. His boss, and the VP his boss worked for, had already stopped by my desk to tell me what a great employee I was and to keep up the good work. My boss was completely unaware of this.
I never did sign that appraisal, but I did get a hefty raise. My boss was replaced not long after. The key for me was drawing upon that inner calm from my years of martial arts training. I was centered, with nothing to prove and no need for someone else's approval. I was fearless. I know that "fearless" works, because I've been there.
on July 24, 2013
Carroll, a student of Chogyam Trungpa - well-known Tibetan Buddhist teacher in the U.S. in the 70s and 80s - has successfully taken the Shambhala Warrior practices into the world at large, mostly through working with businesses. In the Buddhist style of lists, he offers 38 slogans to inspire fearlessness in everyday life. The 38 are put in five categories: Primary Slogans, Exploring Cowardice, Taming the Mind, Fearless Presence, and Living a Skillful Life.
The first slogan is: Face the Fierce Facts of Life. I love this one. So basic. Its subparts: it hurts to be human, anything can and does happen, we are born and die alone, we are going to die - soon - and when we do, most of the world won't notice and those who do will forget . . . often. This makes me smile . . . broadly, and reminds me of what I love about Buddhism - the no-nonsense realism.
Slogan 27 is to Hold Sadness and Joy. Very wise. Here Carroll talks about noble tenderness and tells a story about rescuing an injured sparrow as a boy, becoming attached to the bird, then seeing it fly off, never to return. There is a built-in poignancy to life that requires a fearless vulnerability to be fully experienced.
This book also has some excellent appendices. I particularly appreciated the ones on mindfulness meditation and how mindfulness cultivates social intelligence. One result is the capacity to give total attention and listen fully to another, understanding the other rather than just making our own point. Another result is learning how to be rather than learning what to do, thereby being at ease with who we are under all circumstances.