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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

WORK MATTERS

The soul knows what it wants

By Sharon Aschaiek
Editor


Our souls are starving. This is the very first line of the new book Take Your Soul to Work, and the one that struck me the most in this 328-page wakeup call on the effects of our misguided work practices.
Tanis Helliwell


You might wonder what the soul has to do with work. Work is the domain of productivity, performance and profit, not spiritual pondering. Not so, says author Tanis Helliwell, who argues quite convincingly that true career success can only be achieved by considering the deeper meaning of your chosen path and following your passion, or as Helliwell says, your soul's purpose.

But in a work-obsessed culture that assigns you status based on your job title, too many lack the confidence to pursue their true calling. The result, Helliwell says, quoting psychotherapist Thomas Moore, is a widespread feeling of "emptiness, meaningless, vague depression, disillusionment about marriage, family, relationships, loss of values, yearning for personal fulfillment and hunger for spirituality."

To be sure, it's an argument that's been made before in different ways. Helliwell wants us to follow our passions, embrace positive thinking, and reject working for bottom-line-oriented organizations that suck the life out of us. But Helliwell's tack is different: Using references to the chakras, yin/yang and the cycles of nature, and punctuated by quotes from the Dalai Lama and Shakespeare, Take Your Soul To Work provides philosophical and social arguments for why you should -- nay, must -- align your work goals with your soul's goals.

"There are so many people in all walks of life who are going through low-grade depression," Helliwell says over the phone from her Vancouver, B.C. home. "People have to figure out their purpose, their unique contribution to the world."

Helliwell, who has written two other self-improvement books, also runs the International Institute for Transformation, which runs programs and offers literature to help people improve their personal and work lives, and even make a difference in the world. She also teaches, works as an organizational consultant, and is an established keynote speaker. From Nov. 11 to 15, she will be running the

Transform Your Work retreat at the Kingsview Retreat where participants will develop their SQ (spiritual IQ), increase their life energy and problemsolve (cost is $995 plus accommodations; call 1-800-745-4779 or visit www.iitransform.com for details.)

"It is my life's work," she says. "(The institute is) committed to helping others live and work with purpose."

The first step is recognizing the difference between a "job", which fulfills only financial needs, and "work", which satisfies our emotional, mental and spiritual needs and makes life meaningful. Too many people have jobs, and feel trapped in those jobs -- because of financial obligations, fear of change, low self-esteem.

First, figure out if your work is meaningful to you, or as Helliwell says, if it's on the high road. Ask yourself, Does your work diminish or increase you? Does work give you joy, creativity, meaningful learning, love? Does your work benefit the world in both the short and long term?

"If people feel like they're not doing what they're supposed to do in the world, and not contributing to others, they start feeling bad. We try to help people raise their level of self- confidence," Helliwell says. "I don't know any fearless people, but I know people who can act when they're afraid -- that's all we have to do. The more people act to do and be what they want to be, the more that opens their threshold for how much risk they can take."

The book is packed insights on making the transition to a "soul-infused personality", as Helliwell calls it, that cover the value of being an optimist, staying open-minded, meditating and praying, and recognizing and appreciating the interdepence of humanity. She uses many models, some familiar, some not, to illustrate these points, including the power of the seven chakras, and the wisdom of working and living according to nature's cycles.

"I think the foundation of most of our problems is that we have removed ourself from the natural organic cycle of the earth, and what we've tried to do is perpetuate summer, which is a time in an individual's life or in an organization's life where everyone says yes to what you want to do and you're making megabucks," she says.

"In nature, this is only one quarter of what the natural world is about. Healthy organizations allow their people to go through cycles and realize people need time off, sabbaticals, job sharing and new projects to recharge themselves."

In discussing soulless organizations, Helliwell talks about the "dehumanizing atmosphere" of organizations that don't treat its employees with respect and regard them as replaceable parts."

But Helliwell sees a light at the end of the tunnel: While many employees feel stuck in such organizations, many others have been driving completely opposite, positive trends: first, an increase in the number of the self-employed. Statistics Canada reports that there were 2,346,000 self-employed people in Canada -- a number that, with few exceptions, has increased steadily since 1976, when there were 1,193,300.

Secondly, more people are opting to work for small companies, because, as Helliwell writes, "they better feed people's hearts and souls."

"Older people hire themselves back (to companies they've worked for) as consultants. Younger people are starting their own businesses because they have nothing to lose, and find that they like being self-employed," she says. "I think it's wonderful that people are finding alternatives."



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