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Soul Annihilation

“Work is a soul sucking experience,” I mulled during my few moments of eating breakfast this morning. Despite devoting years to trying to understand exactly what this work thing is we do, why we do it, and how to make it less soul sucking, I found myself at ground zero once again.

What event had placed me here? The day before, I had been in yet another corporate meeting where a decision to move forward was in the process of being reversed. It was as a result of a theoretical argument made by non-operations people about how operations “should” be done. There was merit in their view, but it ignored the day to day reality that our operations people had vetted with clients. We were on the verge of postponing a decision that would enable us to put a stake in the ground and to do something different to engage our customers and beat the competition. It was a commitment to change. But people were waffling. Systems theory would have predicted that all systems try to retain homeostasis, so I understood intellectually what was going on in the organization; the organization was attempting to maintain its own center of gravity, that is, protecting itself from change.

But what was really going on with me, personally? Why had this de-energized me? Frustration? Yes. Chagrin? Maybe. But it went much deeper.

When had I been happiest recently? The answer was clear: when I was painting a potting bench my husband had hand-made for me. At the time, I had found my joy curious. With complete and utter wonder, I watched the paint that I had chosen glide like silk over the bench. Side by side we painted, silently caught up in the spell of accomplishment, awed by the results of our efforts and the simple peace of being with one another. There was evident progress and satisfaction from a job well done.

I thought about my draining corporate experience and how something as simple as painting could be so rewarding. Then it occurred to me that what I was experiencing during my breakfast mull was alienation. Karl Marx described alienation as the result of living and working in a world based on social classes. The idea goes that the average person in this complex web of social classes loses the ability to lead their life and chose their own destiny. By working “for” someone, something, (not ourselves) pursuing our own destiny – life, is at best secondary. Many times it is not thought about at all. Thus, we cannot determine the character of our own actions or those of others, define how we relate to others, or own the things and use the value of the goods and services we make with our labor.

I wonder if we are experiencing a spike in the collective experience of alienation. Perhaps the surge and pull for “organic,” moving back to small farms, getting “off the grid”, disconnecting, etc.  is reflective of our collective unconsciousness of alienation. Additionally, there is more marketing on how to simplify your life, some examples of which include a venue called the “Container Store” and a magazine called “Real Simple” that has as its mission how to help you simplify every aspect of your life. (I find it curious that month after month the magazine is quite thick, making me think it is really not so simple to be real simple.)

We all feel this alienation pull at us from time to time, but especially when we experience a disconnection between our destiny and how we make our money. The literature abounds with research and self-help books that proclaim that success comes from doing what we love. Perhaps doing what we love is what helps us also to avoid the abject despair of alienation, too.

I write about perception, hopefully with depth, that helps us more clearly capture our individual purpose. By making the unconscious conscious we ensure we can more closely align what we love with what we do and avoid the feeling that we are mere cogs in a machine someone else created for us.

What makes you happy? When were you last happy? These questions must be mulled over so that we are not lulled into giving up our time and energy for “the other.” Otherwise, where does that leave us at the end of our short precious life?

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