The Middle East School Leadership Conference takes place on Wednesday and Thursday of this week (21 and 22 February), and so I am back in the sleek hustle and bustle of Dubai, ready to speak at, and enjoy, the event. My talk will be on ‘Self Compassion for School Leaders’, and so – in amongst my meetings and coffee catch ups with lovely coachees ahead of the conference – I am grounding myself in readiness by dipping back into Dr Brené Brown’s book, ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ (the 10th anniversary edition, in fact, with a nice new foreword). This process of grounding myself in this way is particularly good for me, as I know I still have the tendency, if unchecked, to focus on the negatives of my own imperfection; learning to focus on the positives continues to be a discipline that I practise, and part of that discipline lies in being actively and regularly re-inspired. Anyway – allow me to share my musings …
Now, I am conscious that a significant number of my extended LinkedIn network are diehard Brené Brown fans, and could probably quote whole chapters; please, please feel free to share your favourite Brené insights in response to this post on LinkedIn! For me, in this reading of the book, and in the context of a few months of global travel, engagement at conferences, and reflection on how I can balance impact with reward, I found myself drawn especially to what this insightful research professor has to say about meaningful work. She reminds us of Malcom Gladwell’s three criteria for meaningful work, as outlined in his ‘Outliers’ – complexity, autonomy and a relationship between effort and reward (reward in its widest sense, not specifically financial reward); she also explains what she has learned during the course of her research. Here are some key points (from pages 142 and 143):
“We all have gifts and talents. When we cultivate those gifts and share them with the world, we create a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.”
“Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives … When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear and even grief.”
“Using our gifts and talents to create meaningful work takes a tremendous amount of commitment, because in many cases the meaningful work is not what pays the bills. Some folk have managed to align everything- they use their gifts and talents to do work that feeds their souls and their families; however most people piece it together.”
“No-one can define what’s meaningful for us. Culture doesn’t get to dictate if it’s working outside the home, raising children, lawyering, teaching or painting. Like our gifts and talents, meaning is unique to each one of us.“
Just let those words sit with you for a moment. What resonates? What realisations or reassurances do they cause to twitch in you? Where, on reflection, would you place you lesser, at this moment, along the spectrum of meaning in your work? Bear in mind that ‘work’ does not necessarily mean your ‘job’; it does, however, reflect what it is that you opt to do, and how you choose to expend your effort. Meaning is important in life; meaningful work is important in life … clearly, meaningful work signifies different things for each of us, so the real question is – do we know what ‘meaningful work’ signifies for us in particular? As unique human beings, with all our quirkinesses, we are forging individual pathways through our lives, but we are far from alone; our paths crisscrossing inexorably and sometimes frenetically with those of others, in a gloriously entangled collective; how are we shaping our pathways so that they nudge us all forward, hopefully seeking to leave the world a bit better when we leave it than when we joined it?
If I could grant you a wish today, it would be that you could answer this question along the lines of ‘I think/feel/hope I am getting there’, because working out the meaning in your work, and practising it, is a phenomenally satisfying journey. Regardless of where you are on the journey, however, my wish for you is that you will take time this week to appreciate, and embrace, the meaningfulness in your work.
And enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! Onwards and upwards, as ever!